Outlying businesses expand Champaign commerce

By Christina Peluso

The growth in Champaign is undeniably a major player in the community and the city’s economy. From the heart of downtown to the University’s Campustown, the growth continues.

Now it’s spreading to the outlying areas of the city. From office parks to residential space to expansion of the research park, there are new growth hotspots both working with and building off each other, bringing great change for the area. These larger developments are catalysts for growth in their own right, and they are bringing in dollars to the community.

The value of construction in Champaign for 2005, based on building permits issued as of Sept. 27, was just over $142 million. That growth trumps last year’s record total of $110 million by over $30 million.

Colleen Braun, assistant to the City Manager for Development, named a few key developments that she feels are important. Among those listed included the expansion of Market Place Shopping Center, the new Wal-Mart, a Supervalu produce distribution center, a new office park and the redevelopment of the Chancellor Hotel.

Braun felt the expansion of Market Place Shopping Center was important because many of the new retailers are considered high-end retailers. J.Jill, Coldwater Creek and Ann Taylor Loft all opened on Oct. 15.

“This brings in a new tier of retail,” she said.

Braun said this new tier of retail came about because of other stores in the area. Somehow, we broke into high-end retail, she said. At the Old Farm Shopping Center, there is a Jos. A. Banks, a Talbots and a Chico’s. Their presence attracted others, Braun said.

She said that the opening of these new stores is very important. Instead of going to Chicago or Indianapolis to find these shops, residents can now shop here.

“It will keep tax revenue here in the community,” she said.

The shopping center also seems pleased with the expansion.

“We’re always looking to expand our retail mix,” Nora Dukowitz, marketing manager for Market Place Shopping Center, said.

The expansion of Market Place Shopping Center, called “The Courtyard,” is a response to a trend in retail centers, Dukowitz said. There’s been a shift towards “lifestyle communities” that have a more outdoorsy or downtown feel. Dukowitz also said the Champaign market was ready for growth as well.

“There is a market in Champaign that is untapped,” she said.

There is a great deal of 30-something women who are affluent and ready to buy, Dukowitz said. People are finally taking notice of that demographic, and it is becoming apparent that is growing here, she said.

Apparently, these new retailers couldn’t come soon enough. The 30-something female demographic wanted those retailers here, Dukowitz said.

Bobbi Earl, communications assistant at Coldwater Creek, echoed the same sentiments. Because Coldwater Creek is primarily a catalog-based company, they were able to look into their databases to see what locations would be profitable. Coldwater Creek customer databases showed a high volume of customers in the area. That, along with the fact that the company liked the ambiance of the shopping center, made the company decide to move to Champaign.

City Planner Cac Kamak believes the South Research Park is another essential factor in the community, and the expansion of the park will play a key role in the city.

The research park was a collaboration between the University and Fox Development Corporation. The research park houses various companies such as Motorola and State Farm Insurance. Kamak feels that the city has to work to keep these companies here and provide them with tools for success.

At one point, Champaign was the home of Netscape. Since the Internet giant’s leave, the city has been working to keep companies like Netscape happy with the community.

“It’s been working really well,” Kamak said.

Keeping these companies here is important because, as people stay, other services will be needed and other growth will come, Kamak said.

The research park, which was established in 2000, is once again expanding. There is a new building in the works and a hotel and conference center as well. Once again, both the University and the private sector are collaborating their efforts.

“It’s good to have that balance,” Kamak said.

Fox Development is working on the hotel that will be in conjunction to the University’s hotel. The new office building is one of many in different stages of planning.

“It’s only the start of something larger,” Laura Frerichs, vice president of business development and marketing for Fox Development, said.

The hotel will be connected to the conference center and will be the only four-star hotel in the city.

“We really thought it was a need in the community,” Frerichs said. “We’re hoping this will be very attractive.”

Frerichs and Fox Development hope the new hotel will attract high-level conferences, which will bring more business to the area. The corporation has been discussing the hotel and conference center since the inception of the research park, Frerichs said.

“It’s nice to see it really moving forward,” she said.

Though the projects are separate, the University and Fox Development work very closely.

“We work to make sure we’re mutually benefiting,” Frerichs said.

While buildings are built on a speculative basis, Fox Development likes to have one anchor client. This leaves room for expansion. Currently, Fox Development has new clients moving into the Strata Building, and they expect more expansion in the next few months. Prestigious private sector clients are looking to expand extensively, Frerichs said.

She said the research park offers a great opportunity for clients. It gives them a chance to have a collaborative effort with University professors, first hand access to the University and access to interns. Lifestyle and cost of living are also attractions.

The workforce in Champaign and Urbana is also highly desirable.

“Our workforce in Champaign-Urbana is one of the most highly educated communities in the state,” Frerichs said.

Something around 20 percent of the adult workforce has beyond a bachelor’s degree, and that’s a huge factor for companies to locate, she said.

The research park is also a valuable entity for the community because it added professional jobs that are highly desirable, Frerichs said. Champaign has really become a regional economic draw. Champaign attracts labor from a 60-mile radius. It’s turned aggregated potential into one regional center, Frerichs said.