At its March 13 meeting, the UI Board of Trustees authorized university officials to negotiate the sale of up to 1,300 acres of farmland near Allerton Park to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for prairie restoration.
Under the terms of the Allerton endowment, the sale is contingent upon the approval of the president of the university, the alumni association and the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.
President James J. Stukel told the board that alumni board president Joel Weisman has approved the sale, but the university is awaiting a decision from Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow.
According to the measure passed by the trustees, the number of acres to be sold will depend upon an appraisal of its value.
Allerton Park was donated to the university in 1946. The gift included the mansion, 1,500 acres of surrounding garden and woodland and 3,775 acres of nearby farmland.
Turning the farmland back into prairie would be "a really substantial addition to a wonderful prairie ecoregion," Chancellor Nancy Cantor said, adding that the university would continue to lease the remaining acreage as farmland.
Two Piatt County residents spoke against the proposal, including James Reed, who presented a petition that he said contained 1,000 signatures opposing the sale.
Reed said the university would obtain more revenue from leasing the farmland than from investing the proceeds from its sale. Moreover, converting the farmland into prairie would harm the local economy by decreasing property tax revenue.
Charles Morris, fire chief for the Mid-Piatt Fire Protection District, expressed concern about the dangers posed by controlled burns that are used to maintain prairie land. Allerton Park, which includes an adjoining 4-H camp, has limited access by road, making evacuation difficult in an emergency, Morris said.
"Prairie burns are unpredictable," Morris said. "… We have grave safety concerns already at Allerton Park. Don’t compound the problems by adding more safety issues."
Cantor responded that the university and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have developed a fire-management plan. Cantor also said that tax payments will continue for several years and that Piatt County will receive a one-time grant equivalent to 7 percent of the land’s selling price.
The trustees also approved an architectural design for the East Campus Center, a complex containing retail businesses and apartments that will be located near Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
The trustees authorized agreements to lease the land to JSM Management, the project’s developer, for 50 years with an option for 25 additional years. The board also authorized an intergovernment agreement with the city of Urbana converting Gregory Place to a pedestrian mall. The city will relocate parking meters on California Avenue to a nearby site.
The East Campus Center, which will be funded and managed by JSM, will face Gregory Place between Nevada and Oregon streets.
The $5 million first phase of the project will include 21,000 square feet of retail space on the first level, topped by three floors and 51,000 square feet of "luxury apartments" with underground parking for 60 vehicles.
Robert Todd, associate vice president for administration and human resources, said the development will replace retail businesses that were lost when the university purchased property for the Chemical and Life Sciences Building.
"This will compensate the city for taking that land off the tax rolls," Todd said. "It’s also a way for us to provide additional quality housing close to campus."
The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in August 2004. The second phase will begin "when it becomes economically viable," Todd said.
The trustees also approved a contract that named Gilbane Building Co. construction manager for the $77 million renovation and expansion of the Intramural Physical Education Building (IMPE) and Campus Recreation Center East (CRCE).
The original contract proposal included a $3.5 million fee for all services. However, the fee was reduced to $589,000 and covered only work on the design portion of the project. A contract covering Gilbane’s remaining work on the project will be presented at the trustees’ May meeting.