Champaign City Council votes to amend agreement for Campus Center project

By Angelica Lavito

The city of Champaign voted unanimously to amend its agreement with JSM Development for the Campus Center project at 524-526 E. Green St., formally called Parking Lot J. 

The change eliminates a clause in the agreement that previously required JSM to transfer the property back to the city if it failed to meet any of the terms in the agreement. It also calls for JSM to replace some of the support beams over Boneyard Creek, as it runs under the project site. 

Bruce Knight, planning & development director for the city of Champaign, explained that access to the Boneyard Creek runs between the buildings, so it will be easier to replace the beams now. The replacement beams are expected to last for another 40 years, but Knight said the project will be more expensive and harder to complete once Campus Center is constructed. 

“Even now, the developer needs to open that up and replace some of the beams, so this is an opportunity to replace them all and get that extended life,” Knight said.

Busey Bank, which is financing the Campus Center project, requested the amendment be made in order to proceed with the project. Council member Marci Dodds, District 4, expressed concern that the project had begun without securing finances.

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“I will support this, but I sure wish the financing was in place prior to construction start. I assume the company does too,” Dodds said. “I’m surprised it wasn’t. It would’ve saved a lot of time that taxpayers paid for.”

Champaign will be granted a second mortgage on two of JSM’s properties that total around $4 million in equity for the completion of the project, according to the study session report. If the money does not come through for the project, it would cost an estimated $3 million to demolish the current construction of the Campus Center project.

JSM architect Scott Kunkel told the City Council the Campus Center has an appraised value of about $47 million. Knight said because of this, the bank would be in a better position to take over the project if JSM were to default, rather than demolish the project. 

“At some point, as the building starts going up, no matter what calamity is at fault of the developer, you would have enough of a building there that no one would economically say it makes the most sense to bulldoze this and bring it back to a surface parking lot,” said Tom Bruno, Council member at-large.

City council members expressed their support of the project and cited its impact on the local economy. Mayor Don Gerard said the city is on pace to have over $200 million in the private sector this year, compared with $80 million in 2010.

“I think this was one of the catalysts for consumer confidence in the local economy as well as the city of Champaign,” Gerard said. “While it has cost some staff time, and while it has not probably been the easiest for the developers, and may not be as comfortable as we wish it had been, I do believe this was at the ground floor of a real economic boom.”

Angelica can be reached at [email protected].