Building stands in way of new parking garage

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Eric Chima

Some much-needed campus parking could be arriving at the expense of a historic local building, but its owners are fighting to keep the structure intact.

The Georgian, an 80-year-old Champaign apartment building, was adorned in yellow ribbons and “Preserve the Georgian” signs Tuesday morning as its owners held a press conference declaring their intent to stop the University from removing the structure to make way for a 900-space parking garage.

In February, the University sent the owners of the building a letter making an offer for the building and threatening to invoke eminent domain powers – the right for a government arm to forcefully purchase a property at market price – if no sale was negotiated. Five days later, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution designating the edifice as a local historic landmark.

The press conference drew support from Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart, former Mayor Dannel McCollum, and the heads of several local historic associations.

Marc Miller, the attorney for the Youngerman family, who owns the building, said he hoped the growing support would convince the University to find another way around the parking problem.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind saving the Georgian,” Miller said. “The concerns of the family are just to preserve a historic building while not hindering the University’s campus goals.”

The Youngermans have contacted a Michigan parking consulting company, Carl Walker Parking, which has created four separate parking plans that would avoid the removal of the Georgian, Miller said.

“We’re all very hopeful that common sense will prevail,” Miller said.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the present plan, which has been in place since November 2003, was the best one for the University.

“They say they have (other alternatives), but the University has to consider more factors than just the ones this person hired by the owner considered,” Kaler said. “It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘let’s put a garage here.’ We have to consider the needs for other campus buildings and academic facilities.”

Kaler said the University would make an effort to preserve the legacy of the building before removing it.

“Before any development will happen, they will conduct a Historic American Buildings Survey – making drawings, taking photographs, building a record of the building’s features,” Kaler said.

Kaler added that the Preservation And Conservation Association (PACA), which tries to preserve historic buildings in Champaign County, would be allowed to inspect the building and remove items of historic significance.

Whether or not the designation of the Georgian as a historic landmark will hinder the University is still uncertain, said Kevin Phillips, Champaign’s Zoning Administrator. A city law states that if a government agency wants to tear down a building eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it must pursue any alternatives before doing so. Phillips said the city’s designation helped make the building eligible for the register.

Alice Novak, the consultant in historical preservation hired by the Youngermans to write both the local landmark and national register applications, said the University’s approach to acquiring the property was inappropriate. She said the University is required by law to consult with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency before proceeding with plans to demolish a historic building, and has failed to do so.

“They’ve gotten it all wrong by not talking to the property owner and consulting with them and just sending an eminent domain letter,” Novak said.

Karen Kummer, who represented PACA at Tuesday’s press conference, said the organization supported the preservation of the building.

“Architecture is community, and we’re losing the sense of community in the University as they build monolithic buildings at the expense of buildings like this one,” Kummer said.

But Robert Kelly, director of Campus Parking, said the University must alleviate the parking problems in the part of campus where the building stands, regardless of public sentiment for the building.

Kelly said that there is a three- to five-year waiting list for a parking spot near the core of campus, where the Georgian is located. There are only 400 spaces in the area now, so the proposed garage would more than double capacity. He said that if no other practical plans emerge, it would be necessary to remove the building for the garage.

Former Champaign mayor McCollum, who hosted the press conference, said the owners would not sell the building for any price. He implored the University to find other alternatives.

“Just think what happens when you start blowing these buildings down, there’s no campus integrity left,” McCollum said. “The University knows now there is sentiment to save this building, so the ball is in their court.”