Champaign prioritizes University partnership

By Joe Parrino

The Champaign city council aims to help the University become a magnet for choice faculty and new businesses.

Tasked with setting goals for 2006 and beyond, the council’s Tuesday and Wednesday study sessions focused frequently on the University Research Park, the Unit 4 School District and other subjects relevant to both city and campus.

Continued expansion of the Research Park on south campus was a high priority for Mayor Gerald Schweighart.

“The businesses drawn to this development could create 5,000 jobs,” Schweighart said.

Located near the corner of First Street and St. Mary’s Road, the Research Park is home to 50 mostly high-tech companies. The University designed it as a cradle for promoting businesses and is trying to compliment it with the surrounding area.

The recent demolition of Aunt Sonya’s Restaurant and the remodeled Chancellor Hotel on Neil Street and Kirby Avenue will make way for a new conference facility able to accommodate large business or academic events.

Schweighart was encouraged by recent University gestures towards cooperation. He received several personal visits from University President B. Joseph White and was able to discuss the Research Park plans.

“The old president never did that,” Schweighart said.

The quality of the Unit 4 School system was described as vital to the retention of professionals associated with these new businesses and with the University in general.

Council member at-large Kathy Ennen referred to this group as a creative class, which added the overall character and energy of the community.

“When they pick up the newspaper and read about dissatisfied teachers and discipline problems in the schools, they’re not going to want to settle down here,” Ennen said.

Partnership with the Unit 4 School Board was possible and imperative, Ennen said.