Smile Politely

Even more spaces we need in C-U

A parking lot with a tent in the middle, and food trucks on the edges and people walking through the parking lot.
Jessica Hammie

A couple weeks ago, we did a poll about what cuisines we were missing in Champaign-Urbana. There was a lot of great feedback, so we decided to poll you again to ask what else C-U is missing, and you did not disappoint. 

With the news that Downtown Champaign will be staying up late this summer, we started  thinking about what exactly people are going to do downtown until 1 a.m. There are some amazing retail stores downtown—  Plant Mode, Exile on Main, Jane Addams, Jon’s Pipe Shop, Firedoll, and Golden Weather Goods — but most retail shops close before 10 p.m. There are also still a lot of empty spaces and if the goal is to revitalize downtown, wouldn’t it be great if there were more options aside from bars and retail? With that said, here are some spaces the editorial board (and you) would like to see in Champaign County. 

The Art Theater was a landmark in Downtown Champaign that closed in 2019. And even though the price has been reduced by half, it remains empty, yet full of potential. We’re hopeful that whoever does end up buying it renovates it into another independent movie theater, an entertainment space with a stage for smaller events, or even a live music venue. There are some big summer events that add more variety like Friday Night Live and Toast to Taylor Street, which has vendors in addition to musical performances. But having a permanent space that brings more art and culture to downtown would be welcome. 

One of the most popular requests we saw was for a children’s museum or indoor play space and it’s hard to believe that we don’t have one. We made a case for keeping the Orpheum Children’s Museum alive, but unfortunately it closed its doors in 2020. Since then, it has been turned into an event space. Currently, there are a few indoor play spaces that are open to the public but unfortunately they have limited hours and  are rarely open after traditional work hours. We have plenty of parks and outdoor spaces here and there is a children’s museum in Normal. But it would be great (especially in the winter) for kids in C-U to have a designated place for them to explore, play, and socialize.

Another age group that could use more spaces in town is teens, whose options are pretty limited. The Champaign Public Library recently opened The Studio, which is aimed at teens. Girls Rock! CUis moving into the space formerly occupied by The Rec Club.. But even with those venues, teens need more safe spaces to hang out. One fun idea we saw was an arcade, which would serve as a fun space for both teens and adults.

There is no question that we love food over here and we are thrilled to have an amazing selection of food trucks in C-U. We have written in the past that we want more food truck gatherings. But you know what would be even better? A food truck park. It could serve as a home base for food trucks to spend their time when they aren’t at the farmers markets or parked elsewhere. This would make it easier to find them, to try food from different trucks, and would give people a new way to interact with our community. Even having a truck park once a week at first (maybe at the Champaign Farmers Market) could make a big impact for these food truck owners. 

As the weather warms up and we spend more time outdoors, it would be great to have more spaces for sports and recreation. We’ve talked about rethinking our parks, but it would be a benefit to have more spaces for racquet sports like pickleball and tennis, and longer, meandering, beautiful bike paths similar to the one at Meadowbrook, but not at the expense of prairie restoration and natural areas, like Weaver Park. If we’re really dreaming big, creating a green path through C-U that we could walk or bike would be awesome, akin to the Constitution Trail in Bloomington-Normal. Or, what if the County Fair shopping center was filled with native plants, grasses, and a water feature? Add a walking path that winds throughout the space, set aside some space for a dog park, and a big path that can accommodate bikes and people. It would be immensely less depressing to drive by that corner and instead of seeing a sad parking lot, see it full of life and green space. 

We love our twin cities, and we hope that someone will see the potential for these spaces. A more dynamic C-U is one that offers more opportunities for everyone. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

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