Urbana City Council hears economic development plan

By Eli Murray

At the Urbana City Council meeting Tuesday, Laura Frerichs, director of the University’s Research Park gave a presentation on how the city could improve on technology sectors.

Frerichs detailed Research Park’s Business Cluster Development Report for attendants. The report calls for a focus on the development of three business clusters: data analytics, management and computing; energy; and biomedical and bioengineering. These clusters were chosen for the strong foundation already provided for them by the community and the high growth opportunities for each of them.

Carol Ammons, Ward 3, expressed concern that with the growth of technology-based sectors, the community would need to find a way to train potential job candidates. Frerichs said Research Park was in discussion with different departments at the University and Parkland College to offer short courses that non-students could register for and gain training to work in the technology field. As an example, Frerichs cited mobile app development courses offered by Research Park.

Frerichs said she would like to see the community market itself as an attractive location for professionals who have families. She said the diversity of downtown Urbana is a start to attracting families, but that Urbana could benefit from a more complete wireless network, as well as an extension of UC2B so that professionals could conduct business from home.

Bill Brown, Ward 4, said he thought Urbana offers a community that encourages creative development. He cited the success of NCSA Mosaic, an early web browser created by University researchers, which he said received creative support from the community. 

With this collaboration in place, he said he can see other businesses thriving in the community.

The meeting wrapped up with a report on curbanas by Kate Ferrer, Urbana’s economic development specialist.

Traditionally called parklets, curbanas are wooden platforms that extend into parking spaces along the street. The structures are not permanent and would only be in use during the late-spring into mid-fall seasons. Along with allowing for public seating, curbanas would also offer local businesses café-style outdoor seating.

Curbanas are a space for public seating along Main Street. Parklets have become more common in urban areas across the U.S., Ferrer said.

Mike Madigan, Ward 6, expressed concerns that downtown Urbana was currently in a state of major growth and that it may not be beneficial to take away parking spots along Main Street. 

The curbana pilot program is set to run from April to October of this year. 

Other matters addressed during the meeting

— Mayor Laurel Prussing said she was in the process of selecting members for the Traffic Stop Study Task Force and would bring it before council for approval at the next Urbana City Council meeting on March 17.

— Urbana City Council approved 7-1 an ordinance allowing for a reallocation of Tax Increment Financing funds to create a seating area in the northeast corner of parking lot 10-X at Lincoln Square Village. The new seating will primarily serve patrons of Market at the Square,  a gathering place for local food growers and venders, artists, and community members,  but also the tenants and patrons of Lincoln Square. The total cost of the seating area, which will triple the current seating capacity, is $22,000. Of the total cost, half is being funded by TIF District #2; the other half is being funded by Market at the Square.

Eli can be reached at [email protected]