Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks as they respond. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, and these interviews are not endorsements. Hopefully, they will provide you readers with some insight into the importance of local races, and help you develop a sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.

Champaign residents will be electing three city council members for at-large seats. That means you do not have to vote for someone representing your particular district, rather you will have all names to choose from on your ballot. There are eight candidates vying for these three spots, including three incumbents.

Pattsi Petrie is challenging for one of these at-large seats on the city council.

Smile Politely: You served several years as a county board member, why are you now seeking a seat on the city council? What are you hoping to improve and/or accomplish?

Pattsi Petrie: An available opportunity to be part of a team working for the city in which I have lived for 48 years. Over the years, there have been attorneys, bankers, financial advisors, realtors, engineers, etc. on the city council, but never an urban planner. Various questionnaires focus on downtown, midtown, and campus developments, the Yards project, the Fields project under the umbrella of sprawl, economic development, equality and equity within city policies. As I canvass and talk with residents, the skills and experience that I will bring to the team work overlay very well with these issues that I am learning also concern Champaign residents.

SP: The Community Coalition has been a good first step in beginning to discuss community violence. Now, beyond conversations and collecting data, what specific actions can be taken to address the issue of gun violence in the community?

Petrie: Everyone with whom I have conversed mentions concern about gun violence in Champaign County and specifically north Champaign where a large percentage of the incidents have been occurring. The past and present approaches, such as Access Initiative, Community Coalition, and Fresh Start have not turned “the ship around.” First Followers has recently been recognized during the Martin Luther King celebrations because this small dedicated group has been successful with those returning to the community after serving a judicial punishment.

Just last evening, a community resident mentioned that nothing has worked so far. That it is time to take a step back, reassess what has been tried, evaluate a paradigm shift by engaging community input, and more effectively bringing the ministers “to the table.” While attending the community meeting held at Parkland last Thursday evening to discuss gun violence, again I heard the suggestion that the ministers need to step forward and become part of the solution.

Collaboration must include the clergy, five police departments, cities, county, CUPHD, MHB, UIUC, not a defined list. During conversations, there is a sense of frustration expressed that so much money, time, energy, commitment have been expended; yet the gun violence curve continues upward.

Therefore, metaphorically, it is time to arrange for representatives of the 5 police departments, MHB, CUPHD, UIUC, a representative from each of the communities, a representative from local health facilities — these are not etched in stone — to produce an intergovernment agreement (IGA) containing next steps, including generating sufficient-seed money for implementation for three year-pilot mental health project. The three years will give a cushion of time to write grants for additional funding. This is a community of economic means. Since there is consensus gun violence and a lack of a mental health facility are a major issues, these entities might financially support this approach.

This will not happen yesterday, as we learned from Bexar County, TX (a good model), that it takes 3-5 years to design services to meet the community needs along with writing grants as funding sources. This is a necessary commitment.

SP: What sort of developments should be prioritized for Downtown Champaign?

Petrie: These answers evolve from several recent “Talk with Pattsi." The following is an aggregation of what I heard.

Several individuals support the Yards project because it will bring a convention center, a multi-athletic center, another hotel, additional amenities, affordable housing, and walkability to the downtown area. Several are not fans of the changing profile of the area, nor the Yards project. It was pointed out that it makes sense for the hockey facility to join the other athletic facilities on the south campus because parking is available. Question is how to squeeze in the necessary parking into the downtown location for the Yards. This can be done at a huge expense. That money along with a grant could be directed to a monorail running parallel to the RR tracks connecting Savoy to downtown Champaign, suggested by an individual.
On the whole people are not thinking 25 years ahead, but for one individual. This person picked up on the recent university strategic plan of increasing the student population to 60-80,000 and what that will mean for the combined C-U population of 130,000, and 209,000 in the county. Increasing the student population is a game changer that needs attention.

To an individual, people would like to see the downtown as an area/space for all ages not just a certain sub population during evening hours. During the day time, downtown is not very alive with activity. Another individual emphasized that downtown serves one population subset solely. Downtown needs more diversification through population density that will need more than food and drink, but also neighborhood infrastructure, including retail, grocery store, repair shops, etc. The point is that downtown ought to be an active 24/7 with a ever changing population over the course of 24 hours.

One individual pointed out that the town/gown relationship is not as effective as it could be and change could benefit the community. Too many out of town developers are driving the look and redefinition of community rather than being done by locals who are invested and do not leave town when the project is completed. This individual concurs that the downtown ought to have balanced uses, more like a 24-hour space, and improving the landscaping by improving connectivity throughout the area. The individual also mentioned that the use of developmental incentives are misdirected to projects that would have happened rather than toward projects needing a financial push to completion or expansion.

A fourth individual emphasized the loss of historic character, not just downtown, but throughout the community. The point argued is that history and economic development can coexist. These are not mutually exclusive. The individual also mentioned that downtown does not serve the whole community although community tax dollars have been used to target a population subset, not the whole community.

For children one person suggested a kinetic learning center as an enhancement to the Children’s Museum, a place to display community history, and connectivity of trails to and thru downtown. 

Conversations turned to strengthening the airport as a regional airport. High speed rail, meaning 220, will not happen tomorrow. But this potentially is a huge game changer that discussions and planning ought to begin. The Illinois High Speed Rail Association, now that there is a Democratic governor, through the association lobbyist will working with the governor to establish a task force to seriously study the when, how, financing of high-speed rail.

It is apparent that residents have comments and ideas about the downtown and beyond. Step one is to garner these comments throughout the community as the conversation beginning.

SP: An area of Champaign that is sorely lacking in a healthy economic and recreational infrastructure is North Champaign. What ideas do you have for stimulating that region?

Petrie: The work done by the Center City Commission many decades ago aligns with this question.

I begin this response with these comments because I was a member of the Champaign Center City Commission during Mayor Joan Severn’s tenure. The commission members, as one would expect, were community leaders at all levels. The project on which Neil Strack, Professor Bruce Hutchins, several architecture students, and I worked was developing a design plan for downtown Champaign and then extending the development north and southeast along the Boneyard. The resulting product was an amazing redevelopment concept, enhanced by having architecture students involved. Basically, the plan demonstrated how much economic development could occur yet preserve the low profile look of campus town; beautify and integrate the Boneyard as an amenity; and create connectivity to the north end and Market Place, which was being developed, and east to Urbana. I am not aware that this plan has been given serious consideration.

Another opportunity to enhance development in the north end would have been to have built Central spanning the intersection of Bradley and Neil. This location is still in central area of Champaign. The properties at all four corners are publicly owned.

I posted designs of high schools with 4 towers connected by cat walks, used for cafeteria, library, computer lab, etc. The tower model has sufficient versatility to change as the delivery of education will be changing in the next 50 years.

An educational extension of that location is how to integrate the high school and students with Stratton and Franklin. There is potential for connectivity.

A secondary plus would have been the development along north Neil that has been wonting since Market Place caused the movement of so much north of the freeway. This development could have been an expansion of the park at the NW corner, which is on the drawing board, neighborhood business infrastructure, more housing, and connectivity from Champaign downtown to Market Place area.

When I was president of little league, one of the coaches, Bob Buoy — a local architect — on many occasions explored ideas how to develop north Neil. Another local architect recently challenged my idea by mentioning the whole idea might have into the Spaulding area. In any case, any of these visions would/could have created economic development and a distinctive entrance to downtown Champaign.

SP: The City of Champaign currently does not have any funding mechanisms for the arts in the community. What responsibility does the city have to the arts community? Do you see it as an essential service in the same way as new construction and infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?

Petrie: First, a tip of the hat to the work of 40 North and the citizen group behind the small pieces of sculpture distributed through out the downtown area. That stated over the years,  have pondered with all of the talent in this community if there is not more that can be done.

Our sister Big 10 institutions annually have a summer juried art fair that brings exceptional artists to the community, is economic development, and show cases our communities. Many decades ago, one summer a small version of this description occurred in downtown Urbana decades ago. Never again. So, the question is why not. We have a UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts that has national known faculty and talented students. How to integrate all of this into the art scene? Maybe there are barriers of which I am not aware? What are the contributing factors in Madison, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, etc., that form a critical mass as the trigger mechanism to make this happen?

Unfortunately, the professor who taught outdoor sculpture is now emeritus. Spring semester when the class was taught after a lot of hard work, the professor received permission for the students to display the final projects throughout the campus and beyond. It was amazing how the campus became alive for one afternoon. Terrific pieces. But never captured to extend the viewing life of the projects by moving them inside University buildings, displaying at Lincoln Square, or any other enclosed, but large space. There are plenty in the community.

These paragraphs detail the local potential. Step one is to investigate why aren’t the talents being integrated. Next figure out how to overcome the barriers. And last if funding is one of the issues, how to incentivize local resident support to make us a “go to” art community.

Photo from Facebook