Council approves continued development of Research Park

By Patrick Wade

The Champaign City Council unanimously supported an annexation agreement Tuesday night allowing Fox Development Corp. to keep Phase IV of Research Park development on schedule.

Phase IV of the Research Park development consists of a hotel and conference center, child development center, amphitheater and retail center – facilities that Fox Development Corp. CEO Andrea Ruedi said will create a “live, work and play atmosphere” in Research Park.

“We really want to create more vibrancy,” Ruedi said.

The first phases of development in Research Park began in 2000 and has produced 435,000 square feet of office space occupied by 53 companies and nearly 1,100 employees, according to a report given to the council.

The hotel and conference center, which will be located at the corner of First Street and St. Mary’s Road, is expected to open in 2008 and will have 126 rooms spread out over five floors and 38,000 square feet of conference space.

Peter Fox, chairman of Fox Development Corp., said that he expects the hotel to adhere to four-diamond standards.

He added that the only other four-diamond hotel on a college campus is The Blackwell, located at Ohio State University.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be as good as the people who operate it on a day-to-day basis,” Fox said.

The University is permitted to remove the company who operates the hotel if the operator does not keep the hotel running at four-diamond standards.

Because the hotel is relatively small, Ruedi said it will not be able to accommodate all the attendees of the large conference area.

She said she expects guests to spill over into Champaign and other area hotels.

“Hopefully it’ll be a win-win for everybody,” Ruedi said.

The child development center will begin enrollment over the summer and open in August. It will have the capacity to accommodate 120 to 200 children, Ruedi said.

Since the development of Research Park began, Fox said that about 1,200 jobs have been brought to the area, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“If we’re really going to make a difference, we have to get to 10,000 (jobs),” Fox said. He added that he hopes to reach this benchmark within five years.

At-large Councilmember Thomas Bruno said Phase IV of the Research Park development will bring much needed amenities to the Champaign-Urbana community.

“I think there are people in this community who would like to experience a higher level of goods and services and not have to get in a car and drive three hours,” Bruno said.