Champaign celebrates history, moves forward

Although many students were back in their hometowns, Champaign’s 150th summer was a busy one, filled with festivals and new development.

The city threw a two day music festival downtown July 9-10 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Champaign’s incorporation in 1860.

The festival brought thousands of cheering fans to the streets of Champaign to enjoy music from rock, blues and funk to gospel and dixieland jazz.

The fun began July 9 with a “music crawl,” where musical performances took place in 11 different venues around Champaign’s downtown. July 10 brought around the traditional music festival style with 19 musical acts playing on three stages throughout the day in the streets.

Josh Houchin, stand-up bass player for The Prairie Dogs, was just one of many musicians prepared to interact with the crowd on July 10.

“It’s such a great honor to play here in a well-publicized event,” Houchin said. “Champaign has such a great crowd and community supporting us, and it is really fun to play for something like this music festival.”

While the theme of the festival was “Celebrate Today” and music filled the air, some people reminisced about the city’s past.

Champaign resident Randy Primmer remembered visiting Champaign as a boy from Mahomet.

Now 55 years old, Primer, who moved to Champaign in 2007, said the city has changed a great deal since he used to visit the downtown, which once was home to several large department stores and two additional movie theaters: the Rialto and the Orpheum.

“When Market Place came in (in 1976), it killed this downtown big time,” he said. “It’s great to see what they’re doing now and that the city is willing to put the money into it and pick this up.”

Champaign City Council

In honor of the University and its connection to the City of Champaign, members of the Champaign City Council passed a resolution that renews the status of Kirby Avenue – from Mattis Avenue to Champaign’s eastern city limits – as “Illini Boulevard” at their Aug. 3 regular meeting.

Originally approved on July 5, 2000, “Illini Boulevard” was the first honorary street name approved by the Champaign City Council. According to a report from the city manager to the city council, all honorary street names must be renewed after 10 years.

“The only reason we’re here is two reasons,” Kyle Robeson, the Champaign resident who proposed the renewal, said before the meeting. “One was the railroad, which was the early part, and then the second part was they put the University here.”

Since 2000, the city has approved of 29 honorary street names, including two this year.

Community members asked for more community involvement in the Champaign Police Department’s complaint process at the city’s June 22 regular study session.

A report was presented to the council that proposed changes to the police complaint process, which was done in an effort to mend the relationship between residents and the police department after the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington in Champaign last year. The council accepted the proposals.

Many citizens said the changes would not be enough, and the changes should be embedded throughout the entire process.

“I think if you just accept this, in terms of the human relations commission, you’re not advancing very far,” said Belden Fields, professor emeritus in Political Science.

While the report proposes more public education about the complaint process, such as how to file a complaint and increasing the amount of location complaint packets are available, community members felt citizens did not have a big enough part in the process and proposed the creation of an independent citizen review board.

Boneyard Creek progress

Crews worked on the second phase of the Boneyard Creek construction and renovations, an ongoing project aiming to better link Campustown and downtown Champaign, throughout the summer.

The large project, which is located between Springfield Avenue on the south, University Avenue on the north, Second Street on the east and various First Street businesses on the west, is on schedule to be completed by the end of the year, said City of Champaign Resident Engineer Louis Braghini during a tour on July 27.

When the $10.75 million project began in March 2009, the park was mostly just dirt. While there is still a very large volume of dirt, the park is beginning to take shape, with such features as the White Street bridge that divides the park’s north and south water basins and limestone slabs placed on the west side of the south basin that will simulate a waterfall.

Smaller concerts would be able to take place at the park’s amphitheater, which is scheduled to be installed in the southwest corner of the project.