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North First Street is now a state-designated cultural district

Black and white aerial image of North First Street and University Avenue in 1926.
Champaign County Historical Archives at Urbana Free Library

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity launched a new program in 2023 that “aims to uplift the unique contributions of historic cultural districts with the overarching goal of increasing economic development opportunities.” Now they’ve announced ten inaugural recipients of the cultural district designation, including North First Street in Champaign.

From the press release:

The North First Street Cultural District, which is home to sections of the African American Cultural Trail and newly redesigned Skelton Park, contains landmarks that are as old as the City of Champaign itself and play a significant role in its cultural heritage. The businesses in the area have been serving African American Residents for 170 years and for much of that time operated as “downtown” for African American residents of Champaign County, with businesses such as theatres, stores, barbershops, and restaurants.

This designation means the City of Champaign can apply for $3 million in funding to preserve the identity of the district and encourage economic development.

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