Wednesday, June 19, 2024

City looks to partner with potential Country Fair developers

Must read

CHAMPAIGN — City officials plan to create a new Tax Increment Financing District to aid in the redevelopment of several properties — including the Country Fair Shopping Center, which could be sold to new owners soon.

The city council is scheduled to consider a resolution related to the matter at today’s 6:30 p.m. meeting.

The 32-acre Country Fair site, which has been on the market for more than a year, is under contract to a team of investors who are doing their due diligence before closing on the property, Senior Planner for Economic Development TJ Blakeman wrote in a report to the council.

“The potential buyers include a team led by The Matanky Realty Group and includes Shoora Savire LLC of Nevada and Lanlir LLC of California,” he said.

“During ongoing discussions, the development team has indicated their interest in acquiring and redeveloping the entire site.”

He added that the potential buyers seem very willing to work with the city of Champaign and local developers to incorporate the city’s priorities into the project, including “walkability, high-quality design, new public streets and circulation patterns, and the reintroduction of transit to the development.”

City Manager Dorothy David has authorized a cost-share agreement to engage an architectural firm that can begin work on a conceptual plan for the project.

“This work is scheduled to begin within a week,” Blakeman said. The city plans to cover half of the $50,000 design contract in order to ensure its priorities are included in the concept.

Developers have indicated that redeveloping the site is not feasible unless the city provides “significant financial assistance” with the project, city officials said.

To this end, the city is looking to create a TIF to help provide funding.

The proposed resolution, if approved, would enable the city to use funds from the TIF to reimburse certain expenses incurred by the city and the developer on the Country Fair project prior to the TIF’s creation, Blakeman said. This includes the cost of the design contract.

According to Blakeman, the TIF district would cover about 218 acres, including the shopping center, the Champaign Park Apartments, Country Brook Apartments, Round Barn Shops, Shops at Glenn Park, Schnucks Plaza and the former CS Johnson Factory.

He estimated that the city would expect to finish creating the TIF between September and November of this year. Multiple public meetings with opportunities for input will be held during the TIF adoption process.

Redeveloping the shopping center during the early life of the TIF will help generate increment that can be reinvested into this site and others within the district, Blakeman said.

“The Country Fair Shopping Center opened in 1959 as Champaign’s first suburban shopping center located on the far western edge of the city at the intersection of Illinois Route 10 (Springfield Avenue) and Mattis Avenue,” he said. “Country Fair features two large commercial structures surrounded by four developed out lots.”

The combined square footage of the two main structures is a little over 300,000 square feet, and they have over 2,000 parking spaces between them. According to Blakeman, about 30 percent of the center is currently vacant.

Country Fair is currently owned by GMS Management, which put the property up for sale in September of 2022.

“Since 1985, the property has continued to decline in value,” Blakeman said. “The property’s equalized assessed value has fallen from $6.6M (adjusted for inflation) in 1986 to just $997,330 in 2023. While the center has struggled to maintain full occupancy for decades, the location of Country Fair is well positioned for redevelopment.”

“Obviously, there are a lot of vacant tenants in the shopping center,” said Ian Dennehy, the owner of Champaign Gymnastics Academy. “So I just think a more full, vibrant scene would be good for everybody in the community.”

CGA has been located in Country Fair since its founding in 2012. Dennehy said that while the shopping center has been a great location, staff are excited about the possibility of new owners who might make some “meaningful improvements” to the site.

“We’d love to stay in the location if there’s some improvements to the area,” he said.

Assuming the council approves the resolution tonight, city staff will work with developers and the design team to create a conceptual plan for the shopping center, Blakeman said. They would then negotiate a development agreement and determine how much the city would invest in the project, with the council reviewing a draft of the contract during a study session.

The city plans for most of its investment into the project to come from TIF funds and is willing to share up to 50 percent of the new district’s revenue with the project.

“It is important to note that City staff have been in contact with other property owners in the proposed TIF boundary that are also interested in redevelopment of other larger properties outside of Country Fair Shopping Center,” Blakeman added. “Should their projects advance before the start of the TIF later this year, additional resolutions may be sought for those projects as well.”

City staff have been working with the Country Fair development team and other property owners in the area for over six months, he said.

Latest article