After more than a decade of planning, Olympian Drive has a chance of being completed now that State and Federal funding might be in place. In April of this year, both the City of Urbana and the City of Champaign councils voted in favor of an intergovernmental agreement for the design of Olympian Drive to be paid for with a $5,000,000 grant from the State of Illinois. Since then, political tension has steadily increased.

What makes this topic very interesting to me is that the political tension escalated to a level where the Mayor of Urbana decided to personally attack a small business owner, her business, and her clientele over a political disagreement. Until I read that, I thought Olympian Drive was a done deal if the funding came through. If Mayor Prussing feels it is necessary to discredit a goat farmer because of her business model, apparently there is more to this story than I initially assumed. As a self-diagnosed political junkie, I immediately wanted to learn more.

I've been trying to answer the following questions:

  • Is it necessary to complete Olympian Drive?
  • Will completing Olympian Drive create jobs?
  • Are the benefits worth the costs?
  • Is it feasible?

It has not been easy to get straight answers to these questions. In fact, I'm still trying to get answers. There have been many valid arguments on both sides of the debate, but it has been easy to get distracted by all the posturing and name-calling. Since I am still unable to answer the most basic questions about Olympian Drive, here are some observations that I thought you might find interesting:

Regional Planning Commission Project Overview: http://www.ccrpc.org/olympiandrive/index.php.

1) City of Urbana Projections:

If you want a better idea of how our community can benefit from extending Olympian Drive, the City of Urbana presented three scenarios in this memorandum dated April 12, 2010. According to the most conservative of the three scenarios in this memo, there will be 3000-4000 jobs created within 25 years and the proposed development area will be approximately 50% developed. If the Apollo industrial subdivision in Champaign, according to city staff in the April 20th Regular Council Meeting, developed 155 of a possible 500 acres over approximately 20 years, how can Urbana expect to develop 510 of 940 acres within 25 years as outlined in the Limited Build Out scenario? On the other hand, this memo only discussed property tax revenues and did not take into account the full economic benefits that new investment and wages could bring to the region.

2) Magic Fairy Dust:  On April 20th, Marci Dodds presented a very interesting argument against extending Olympian Drive.  

3) Do Good Consulting:  Several land owners and the Goat Lady herself hired Laura Huth from Do Good Consulting for public relations.  To learn more about Do Good Consulting, you can visit their website here. People often hire experts to represent them (lawyers, real estate agents, accountants) and it is good to know there is a local expert who is willing to represent small business owners and land owners in political matters.

4) Vector Communications: The City of Urbana hired Vector Communications to perform public relations public engagement services. This move has drawn criticism because this firm is based out of St. Louis, Missouri and they are being paid with money from an Illinois Jobs Now! grant.  You can review the proposal (pdf) outlining the services Vector will provide the City of Urbana along with their fee schedule (Excel file).

5) Facebook Pages:  If you get a chance, check out the Facebook pages Stop Olympian Drive Group (586 fans) and I Support Completing Olympian Drive in Champaign County (318 fans).   Of course the number fans might have changed by the time this article is published. Either way, reading the posts on both group pages is very interesting.  

6) Pac-Man:  Allegedly, you can make out a Pac-Man shape when you look at aerials of Champaign County. The argument is that by completing Olympian Drive, growth will be more concentrated instead of pushing new development further outwards and eliminate the Pac-Man effect. At the very least, check out the cool map features on the City of Champaign website and see if you can make out the Pac-Man.   

7) Goat Lady: Just in case you missed it, the Chicago Tribune wrote an interesting article about the Olympian Drive project. "If they want to go live someplace else and dig roots and pick berries," says the mayor, "they can go and live someplace else."

8) Stakeholders: If companies and investors were investing in the community based on widely-accepted plans to complete Olympian Drive, wouldn't it be unfair to change the plans after they have made investments? I was not around in 1997, so it is a fair to assume these plans were widely-accepted?

9) Not For Sale: According to a post on the I Support Completing Olympian Drive in Champaign facebook page, "Fact: there are 8 land owners affected with only 4 opposed. The other 4 stand firmly behind the project." I suppose this could read that those in favor of the project do not include a majority of landowners. If there are "only" four opposed, couldn't you also argue that there are "only" four in favor? Could we also say that those opposed are "firmly" opposed just like those who are "firmly" in favor? I consistently hear accusations from those in favor of Olympian Drive that the other side is engaged in spin. From what I can tell, the pot is calling the kettle black.

10) The Compromise: There is a counter proposal to connect Lincoln Ave. directly with Olympian Drive rather than extend the road all the way to Route 45. This seems to accommodate most of the project goals and the wishes of the land owners who do not want to sell. According to this memo (pdf), it is a viable option. Since the County Board doesn't appear to be favor of extending Olympian Drive to Rt. 45, it might the only feasible option at the end of the day. While the compromise proposal to connect Lincoln with Olympian has not been widely discussed, Brendan McGinty supports it. He is important because he is the Chair of the Economic Development Council and a member of the Champaign County Board. Other members of the County Board are also in favor of the compromise proposal, including Alan Nudo, as reported by the News-Gazette, who believes there are many other board members who support connecting Olympian Drive directly with Lincoln.

Looking forward, it will be interesting to see if those in favor of completing Olympian Drive will entertain the compromise plan and work towards getting that done. If not, we'll have to see if the County Board will support extending Olympian Drive all the way to Rt. 45. In the meantime, if someone can help me answer my questions, I'd really appreciate it.

Eric Bussell is a commercial REALTOR® with Next Level Real Estate Brokers. He lives in Philo, Ill., where he serves as a Precinct Committeeman for the Champaign County Republican Party. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement of East Central Illinois. Be sure to visit Eric's new Halfway Interesting blog (www.halfwaytinteresting.com), launching August 15th.