89 Illinois cities getting money to boost tourism, and Downtown Champaign renovations are coming with it

89 Illinois cities getting money to boost tourism, and Downtown Champaign renovations are coming with it

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., (WCIA) — Millions of dollars are coming to many Central Illinois towns, aiming to boost tourism and ignite economic engines.

There are dozens of open storefronts throughout Downtown Champaign, and with half a million dollars coming the city’s way from the state, one city official hopes to start filling them.

Neil Street Plaza stretches from Big Grove Tavern to the Orpheum. With the money, the city plans to update the whole space in phases.

It will soon have more greenery, swinging chairs and a stage.

“The number one goal was to make this a space that people of all different ages and lifestyles really felt welcomed into downtown,” Lacey Rains Lowe, the city’s senior planner, said.

Now, Champaign is closer to achieving that. $500,000 from a state grant are helping her vision come to life.

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“It will have that outdoor stage which will have a platform look and feel to it,” Rains Lowe said. “Where the stage will be, it’ll be two tiers of seating to get additional places for people to use the space.”

Restaurants around the plaza will have an updated curb appeal too, Rains Lowe said the plans include raised planters and trees around the edges as well.

People in the area are excited, and Kyle Graham said he gravitates toward outdoor dining when the weather is warmer. His daughter goes to the U of I and he visits the Champaign area often.

“I personally really like some green spaces and seeing the trees and just sitting outside with spring coming,” Graham said.

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Rains Lowe hopes the changes will draw in more people, but also business owners.

“If you build it they will come,” she said. “Those storefronts have that market so they don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting on their own, they can just tap into that market that’s already there.”

Eventually, the project will keep expanding north. Rains Lowe wants to see it connected to nearby spaces like Skelton Park.

“This park is going to be transformative on North First Street which has a lot of history in the African American community,” Terri Reifsteck with Visit Champaign County said.

Visit Champaign County is getting $475,000 to make that transformation happen.

“This park is going to demonstrate and be in honor of Black musicians that have graced the Champaign-Urbana area,” she added.

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That’s going to happen with artwork and interactive activities, aiming to make the space as inviting as possible.

In the end, Reifsteck and Rains Lowe agree. They both want the welcoming feeling to spread across Champaign.

“Having that visual, seeing something exciting happening hopefully will just inspire folks to come back downtown and check it out,” Rains Lowe said.

They’re not the only ones getting money from the $22.5 million dollar grant program.

The organization “Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space” is getting about $318,000 to help build a minigolf course.

Springfield is getting $499,878 for improvements to its North Mansion Block Plaza, the Decatur Park District is getting $500,000 to improve the Devon Ampitheter, and Arthur is creating a new visitor center and museum building at the Illinois Amish Heritage Center with another $500,000.

For the full list of the 89 cities across the state getting money, visit this link.