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Here’s how things looked and tasted at the new Portillo’s in Champaign

With the new Portillo's location opening in Champaign, there is a ton of clammering to get the first bite by many, many people in the community. That much is to be understood, and when we got our golden tickets to visit on the first "sneak peek" day of sorts, we were excited. The restaurant doesn't properly open until May 23rd, but we paid a visit today to check out the action.

Upon entering — as expected, people were lined up around the entire place, exchanging their golden ticket for a limited/random menu (for training purposes, per the employee mentioning why some menus were different than others). Understandable, and as everything is complimentary — this is how it works for an opening as anticipated as this one.

We were able to order some standard Portillo's menu items: italian beef (dipped, with hot peppers) and a bacon cheeseburger, plus one side of cheese fries and another side of onion rings. The woman next to us was kind enough to lend us her chopped salad for photo purposes. The food was good, of course — pretty standard Portillo's fare if you've ever eaten at one. We were a little disappointed we couldn't order a Chicago style dog, having a poor luck of the draw with our "random" menu.

No worries though, we were glad to get to taste Portillo's here in Champaign-Urbana.

Overall, the food was good, and we were in and out of there in fairly quick fashion — it'll be interesting to see things once they get up and going, functioning during normal days.


Rodney Davis can’t criticize President Trump, and that’s sad

It's been a week since we've heard from Rodney Davis after his open office hours, and my what a week it's been.

We have a President on the brink of a scandal, an ousted FBI Director who is accusing him of trying to intervene in an ongoing investigation, and throughout the whole thing, no one from the administration can seem to get their story straight. 

Have no fear, citizens of IL-13 - Rod is here and he's doing exactly what you'd expect him to: not criticizing our President, and being as partisan as he possibly can.

In a prepared statement on "The Comey Memo," Davis calls for former-FBI Director James Comey to release his memos in question and to testify in front of Congress. That's not the irrational part, though. Here's a paragraph from Rodney's prepared statement:

"You have Democrats on the House floor calling for the impeachment of a U.S. President based on a memo no one has even seen or saying they’ll fight every day until he’s impeached. Democratic lawmakers and the media need to stop with the rhetoric and hyperbole so our committees can gather the facts and make their recommendations."

To compare, here's a statement from Republican Adam Kinzinger, who represents IL-16, north of Champaign County, via The News-Gazette:

Kinzinger, whose district includes Ford and Iroquois counties and other areas north of Champaign-Urbana, told CNN today that Comey’s alleged memo regarding Trump’s private remarks about dropping an FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn “is very concerning.”

“The American people deserve answers,” said Kinzinger, a Republican from Channahon. “But I think it’s time that we look at the idea of, whether it’s an independent commission or a special prosecutor .. that we do whatever is necessary.”

So if anyone was wondering where Rod's priorities lie, they are safely with the Reality-TV-Star-In-Chief who had stumbled his way into running the United States. He can't muster one criticism. Not one!

Instead, he feels it necessary to go out of his way to attack Democrats for a scandal they had nothing to do with, and the media, who are simply vetting and reporting what is revealed to them.

Rod also throws in a great nugget at the beginning implying that Comey's memo is fabricated, or may not exist.

...except for this tidbit, taken from The New York Times:

An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

It's also important to note that James Comey is not just some FBI agent - he was, at the time, the Director of the FBI. Is it possible that he's making the whole thing up to sink the Trump campaign? Maybe, but that is a lot closer to a conspiracy theory than it is to what appeared to have happened here.

For Rod to not acknowledge the flippant and damaging nature of the President's handling of this situation, on the surface, is nothing more than the partisan pandering we've come to adore from Davis. Deeper down, however, it shows that Rep. Davis is more concerned with his own party than the well-being of his own country. That, my friends, is one of the most troublesome qualities for a politician to possess.

We'll see you in 2018, Rodney. Don't wait too long to leave the sinking ship!


Friday Night Live is back June 2nd

Starting June 2nd, Friday Night Live is back in the streets of downtown Champaign. Started in 2012, Friday Night Live is a series of free street performances through out downtown and is open to the general public. Great way to get out of the house and enjoy some local food, drinks, and entertainment. 

Friday Night Live is presented by 40 North and will run every Friday night, all summer until August 25th. Performances will be held at the intersections of Neil & Church, Neil & Park, and Walnut & Chester in Downtown Champaign.

For more information, check out the Facebook page. 


Bookmobile! announce new album and first single

Local punk trio Bookmobile! have announced the release of their first full-length album. Rocket to the Moon will drop on July 8th and has its first track available for streaming, titled “Hamm’s and a Pepsi (To Go).” The album release show will be at Bentley’s in Champaign on July 8th, and serves to kick off their West Coast summer tour. More details on that are to follow.

This will be the first proper release for the mischievous garage punk band, who have been spreading their hijynx across the region and the country since 2013.

Stream the single below and preorder the album on the group’s Bandcamp page here.


New local ice cream shop, Red Bicycle Ice Cream, opening in June in SE Urbana

There's a new local ice cream joint headed for southeast Urbana — Red Bicycle Ice Cream — set to open in "late June".

Check out their website here, and some information from the site:

Our ice cream is made by hand in our kitchen.  We make our ice cream & sorbet in small batches using local ingredients.  Our dairy products come from Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury, IL. We feature classic & creative flavors and our dipping cabinet holds 16 flavors. Check our Facebook page to see our flavors for today.

The address is 2740 Philo Rd, Suite D, Urbana, IL 61802, open Wednesday through Sunday from noon-9 p.m.

And just for the hell of it — plus, summer is nearly here:


Free instructional drumming session, Drumology, happening May 19th

The Champaign Park District and Banks, Bridgewater & Lewis (BBL) Fine Arts Academy are teaming up to present Drumology, a 2 hour session where kids ages 12-18 can come and learn drum basics or any other musical instruments. This is an awesome event if you, or anyone you know, are looking for a way to get more involved in music, without wanting to commit just yet. 

This is a free event, check out the event page to register and the graphic up top for more information. 


The Land Connection’s Farmers’ Market kicks off today

The Land Connection's Tuesday Champaign Farmers' Market kicks off today, with new hours. The Downtown Champaign market (Washington and Neil, Champaign) starts at 3:30 and ends at 6:30 p.m.

Today there will be a cooking demonstration by Dish Passionate Cuisine — sweet potato gnocchi with garlic greens, ingredients you can find at the market. 

For more information, check this month's Market Watch, where we provide specifics for the market, including where to grab more cash and whether or not you can bring your pets (you can, on a leash). 

Image from Facebook. 


New Urbana mayor releases budget plan for 2018

The 2018 budget for the City of Urbana was released today, the first under new mayor Diane Marlin. You can peruse the details below to find out what tax increases and spending cuts are planned over the next year. The city council will vote June 19, and the budget would take effect on July 1.

For Immediate Release – May 15, 2017

Marlin Says Urbana Fiscal 2018 Budget Will Require Sacrifices

A proposed $45.9 million city budget provides “a foundation for the future,” according to newly elected Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin.

But getting to that better future will require sacrifices over the next few years, the mayor warned at a news conference Monday, where the city’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget was released.

Declining sales, income and hotel-motel tax revenues -- combined with no resolution to the ongoing Carle Hospital property tax court case -- will leave the city general corporate fund balance $1.2 million below the recommended $4.9 million or 15 percent of recurring general fund expenditures by this June 30.

Marlin is proposing a number of budget cuts and one major revenue increase to begin to close that gap.
“The fiscal challenges we face are daunting and will require sacrifices, but I am committed to addressing them head-on,” Marlin said. “The city of Urbana is taking the difficult but necessary steps to build a foundation for the future through financial transparency, accountability, and practical steps to improve the city’s financial position going forward.”

Marlin said she wanted to move away from using “short-term strategies” to balance the budget, such as reducing pension funding for police and firefighters, deferring payments to METCAD and taking money from the Vehicle Equipment and Replacement fund.

“We will not continue this practice because we’re digging ourselves into a hole,” she said. “We must have a balanced and fiscally sustainable budget.”
The new budget will take effect July 1. The city council will consider the budget in coming weeks, with a final vote scheduled for June 19.

Among the steps Marlin and city Finance Director Elizabeth Hannan are recommending:

- A proposed 0.5 percent increase in the city’s food & beverage tax, to a total of 1.5 percent, to generate $390,000 annually. The tax would be on prepared food and beverages.
- The city plans to offer later this summer a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program plan offering financial incentives to non-union employees willing to separate from city employment. Job eliminations or reorganizations would only be approved if they result in substantial savings. About 100 employees would be eligible to apply initially.
- No salary increase for department and division heads, and other professional managers. A very modest pay increase is suggested in the budget for union employees and some non-union employees.
- A number of other budget cuts, including dropping plans to purchase a $100,000 bucket/auger truck; saving $140,000 through a reorganization of the Community Development Services Department with the upcoming retirement of the current director; reducing outside legal services by $59,000; reducing the mayor’s travel budget by $5,000; private offices would be cleaned on a reduced schedule, saving $5,000; yard waste, leaf and Christmas tree collection programs would be reduced in frequency, saving $20,000.
- Putting into a separate general reserve fund $5.26 million in property taxes paid by Carle and Presence Covenant Medical Center that are the subject of litigation and previously had been included in the city’s general corporate fund reserves.

The budget does include several investments in Urbana’s future, including allocating $190,000 in salary and benefits to hire a new city administrator to bring professional administration to the city and bolster economic development efforts.  The new position, which Marlin noted is called for in the city code, will be financed through elimination of the $110,000 chief of staff position and through a reduction in the mayor’s line item for hiring outside legal counsel.

The budget also calls for spending $75,000 for the first phase of the city facilities plan, which will help define a long-term strategy for addressing city facility needs when funds become available.

While not addressed in the current budget, Marlin said city reductions in police and fire pension contributions in recent years have gone too far and could wind up costing the city considerably in the long run. Marlin said she and Hannan will review the issue with pension fund representatives in coming months and recommend a strategy to address the funding gap.
The budget does address some much-needed street resurfacing projects, including:

- Lincoln Avenue from Green Street to University Avenue ($1.05 million cost).
- Vine Street between Main Street and University Avenue ($400,000).
- Race Street from Washington Street to California Avenue ($560,000).
- Springfield Avenue from Gregory Street to Coler Avenue ($390,000).
- Continuing reconstruction work on the $2.9 million MCORE project on Green Street between Lincoln Avenue and Wright Street.
- Reconstruction of Airport Road from Willow Road to Cunningham Avenue ($1.8 million).
- Construction of a shared-use path on the east side of Cunningham between Kenyon Road and Napleton Way (city cost $185,000).

Overall, the budget projects $46 million in spending and $44.9 million in income, with one-time capital expenditures accounting for the imbalance. In the general corporate fund, which funds most city operations, spending is projected at $33 million and income at $33.4 million.

The city’s property tax rate would remain capped at $1.355 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Photo by Natalie Wickman, News-Gazette