Elements of Urbanism: Champaign/Urbana

July 3, 2013 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Shahid Khan, the most prominent figure that links Champaign/Urbana, Illinois to Jacksonville, proudly flies a Jacksonville Jaguars flag outside of his Flex-N-Gate corporate headquarters in Urbana. The twin cities lie less than five miles from one another, creating a close-knit community the locals refer to as “Chambana”. Both cities have maintained several of the older buildings in their downtown sectors, remodeling them into modern office buildings, condos, bars, and restaurants, which has preserved the history of the cities and helped to sustain the close feeling the communities share. They also display art statues throughout downtown. Today, Metro Jacksonville's Kelsi Hasden provides us with a brief tour of downtown Champaign and Urbana.

Tale of the Tape:

Champaign Population 2012: 82,517 (City); 233,788 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1860)

Urbana Population 2012: 41,581 (City)

Jacksonville Population 2012: 836,507 (City); 1,377,850 (Metro-2012) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Champaign (39,563)

City Land Area

Champaign: 22.4 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2012)

Champaign-Urbana: +0.82%
Jacksonville: +2.40%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Champaign: 145,361 (ranked 224 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Champaign: 3,099.5 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2012

Champaign: +14,999
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Champaign: N/A
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Champaign: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Champaign: College Corner - 268 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2012 (City limits only):

Champaign-Urbana: N/A
Jacksonville: CSX (231), Fidelity National Information Services (353), Fidelity National Financial (434)

Urban infill obstacles:

Champaign: N/A
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Champaign: Neil/Main Streets
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Champaign: 97 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

About Champaign

Though surrounded by farm communities, Champaign is notable for sharing the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with its sister city of Urbana. The city was founded in 1855 as West Urbana, when the Illinois Central Railroad extended its service to the area. Today, with the university serving as an economic anchor, several well known technology companies have local operations, leading to the area's Silicon Prairie recognition.

C1: Flex-N-Gate (www.flex-n-gate.com)

Khan worked at the automotive manufacturing company Flex-N-Gate while attending the University of Illinois. When he graduated he was hired as the engineering director for the company. In 1978, he started Bumper Works, which made car bumpers for customized pickup trucks and body shop repairs.[4] The transaction involved a $50,000 loan from the Small Business Loan Corporation and $16,000 in his savings.

In 1980 he bought Flex-N-Gate from his former employer Charles Gleason Butzow, bringing Bumper Works into the fold. Khan grew the company so that it supplied bumpers for the Big Three automakers. In 1984 he began supplying a small number of bumpers for Toyota pickups. By 1987 it was the sole supplier for Toyota pick ups and by 1989 it was the sole supplier for the entire Toyota line in the United States. Toyota Sensei instruction drastically transformed the company efficiency and ability to change its manufacturing process within a few minutes. Since then the company has grown from $17 million in sales to an estimated $2 billion in 2010.

By 2011, Flex-N-Gate had 12,450 employees and 48 manufacturing plants in the United States and several other countries, and took in $3 billion in revenue.

C2: Jags flag outside of Flex-N-Gate


Downtown Champaign

In the 1980s, part of the downtown Champaign area (Neil St.) was closed to vehicular traffic to create a pedestrian mall, but this short-lived experiment was scrapped when business declined. As part of a revitalization effort, One Main Development constructed two new mixed-use buildings: One Main and M2 on Neil. The City of Champaign gave $3.7 million in tax incentives for the building of M2 and agreed to pay nearly $11 million for a new parking deck.

This growth in downtown Champaign coincided with the larger growth of the "north Prospect" shopping district on the city's northern boundary. The growth in the north Prospect area relied, in part, on leapfrogging, moving out to the countryside and developing more remote farm land that eventually connects to the main development. Given the overwhelming success of such suburban shopping areas nationally, new development within any city center represented an alternative to the dominant movement out and away from the cities.

In April 2007, One Main Development broke ground on M2 on Neil, a nine-story, $40 million, mixed-use project - the largest ever for downtown Champaign - located at the corner of Neil and Church Street. M2 on Neil features retail and office space, and 50 upscale condominiums. The project was expected to be complete in late 2008, but experienced delays in construction, partially due to $5 Million in mechanics liens filed against One Main Development, as well as a large fire on an adjacent property that caused substantial facade damage to M2.[19] Construction on the commercial shell and core and the residences was completed in the Summer of 2009. New condo owners began moving into M2 in April 2009, and 13 of 51 have sold. The property began offering condos for rent with flexible lease periods in early 2010. 25,000 (of a total 100,000) square feet of office space was complete and occupied by the Enclave at M2 in July 2009. The remaining commercial space in the building is build-to-suit space and is completed as new tenants move in. The first ground-floor tenant, a branch of local BankChampaign, opened its doors in November 2009. In November 2010, construction began on the anchor retail tenant, Destihl. The restaurant and brewpub opened in Spring 2011, and two other restaurants opened in ground-floor space in Fall 2011. In mid-2011, the second floor was rendered vacant once again with the sudden evacuation of Mezolink, after Mezolink's partner was indicted in a multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme.

The City of Champaign has constructed a six-story parking structure on Hill Street adjacent to M2, intended to service the greater Downtown; it was completed in May 2009.
For more information on Downtown Champaign visit the Champaign Center Partnerships website.

C3: Fair trade store Ten Thousand Villages (http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/), sister-store to now-closed Neptune Beach’s A World Away

C4: Inman Hotel (www.inmanplace.com), was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1989 and currently assists the elderly and people with disabilities

C5: The alley serving older commercial storefronts in the block bounded by Neil, Chester, Walnut, and Taylor Streets has been transformed for pedestrian and entertainment uses.

C6: The alley between Chester and Taylor Streets provides a visual glimpse of what was once proposed for the alley behind downtown Jacksonville's Underbelly and Florida Theatre.

C7: The rear of the Lincoln Building, which has been renovated into the Lincoln Place Apartments.

C8: The Dragon's Table at 205 North Market Street.

C9: An old building in downtown Champaign.

C10:Built in 1924, Champaign's old train station was constructed by the Illinois Central Railroad to accommodate football traffic to Memorial Stadium. For many years, it was a major stop for the Seminole Limited, which was created to carry passengers from Chicago to Jacksonville.  That Seminole was terminated in 1969, but its stronger sister train, The City of Miami, soldiered on until Amtrak took over the private passenger train operations in 1971. By the time Amtrak took control, The City of Miami, was the most popular train on the two remaining Midwest-Florida routes, this raised immediate questions when Amtrak chose The South Wind, eliminating the 'City.' Amtrak renamed their train The Floridian, a few years before the closure of the Jacksonville Terminal, predictably ending in dismal failure and discontinuance in 1979. The famed City of New Orleans, also called on Champaign. Today, the Conservatory of Central Illinois, the only not-for-profit community music school serving downstate Illinois, is located in the old train station.

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