The Downtown Plan Update Survey contained three open-ended questions to which residents could write out responses. Additionally, participants could give written answers to most of the multiple choice questions. In all, we collected over 1,400 written comments. Below are summaries for the responses to these questions. Sample comments are in italics.
What do you like most about Downtown Urbana?
For the first question participants gave a wide variety of responses. The most popular results were about dining, shopping, and how easy it is to access Downtown. This chart illustrates the result for this question:
Access & Walkability
The ease of accessibility was something that was identified as a ‘like’ in downtown. Comments highlighted several attributes such as the accessibility of parking (free parking evenings and weekends) and lack of traffic for those who drove. Normally not congested, easy to drive through. For those that walked or biked, it was the proximity to where they lived, worked, or played that made it convenient. Fairly easily to access by walking from nearby neighborhoods. I like that I can meet friends and find something to do after work that is within walking distance for all of us. Small enough to be entirely walkable, great for bicycling. In particular, the ‘walkability’ of downtown was such a significant attribute that one commenter noted individuals walking in or around Lincoln Square for leisure exercise. Comments also showed a relatively even distribution between walking, driving, biking, and public transportation with no real dominant mean arising. There's plenty of parking near to my office and other destinations, for those days when I cannot bike or walk downtown. Finally, the ‘compactness’ or density was another attribute that made downtown accessible. I hate when things are spread out just enough to have to drive between spots, especially with 2 small kids involved. I like that it is compact, that even if I drive there I can walk to several different places downtown for different errands. Park once, walk many places.
Downtown dining was the highest rated ‘like’. I like that it is pleasant to walk around and I like the handful of restaurants that are there. The restaurants and bars that are already located there are great! Within the past three years or so, several new restaurants have appeared along side institutions such as The Courier Café and Crane Alley. Black Dog and V.Picasso were two of the more recent additions and the relocation of the Great Impasta in Lincoln Square from downtown Champaign was another. Comments also identified the scene in Urbana as unique and a potential burgeoning food scene with excellent restaurants. Another popular theme associated with popular dining was the availability of outdoor seating (Crane Alley). Finally, comments also included smaller scale specialty shops and eateries such as Mirabelle’s. I would love to see more of that direction.
Diversity of Uses & Market at the Square
Comments on the diversity of use in downtown were spread out between multiple categories, specifically identifying the Urbana Free Library, weekly Farmer’s Market, various festivals and events, an interesting ‘arts and culture’ scene, and nightlife. The expansion of the library and its location right in the heart of downtown made it a popular and accessible destination. I love that the library is a large part of the hub of downtown. The Farmer’s Market along with several grocers (Strawberry Fields, Common Ground, Art Mart, Schnucks) provides good healthy food options available in different places. In the summer and fall, downtown hosts several staple festivals such as BBQ & Blues, Sweet Corn, and Chili & Beer, which were noted in the comments. Arts and culture has also grown with the galleries, studio spaces, and now the Art Coop coming to Lincoln Square. Another noted community-studio space was the Independent Media Center, which was identified as a great space in Urbana that has an amazing wealth of volunteer opportunities and community events, especially for a small town in the Midwest. One commenter was delighted to see more nightlife venues open there in recent years. In general, downtown also provides a variety of basic amenities needed on a daily basis (post office, bank, dry cleaners). Several comments noted the fact that most of businesses located downtown were ‘independent’ and ‘local’, further contributing to its diverse and eclectic feel. Stores, restaurants, and pubs that are not strip mall style. Businesses are mostly not chains.
The urban form of downtown was another factor that many survey respondents identified as a ‘like’. Based on the comments, urban form was classified as anything dealing with the physical environment or makeup of downtown. Specifically, this included the strong historic aesthetic, landscaping, and streetscape maintenance. The streetscape development, the landscaping, appears to be well kept. The landscaping is always beautiful. Nice sidewalks and landscaping, cleanliness. In particular, the buildings on Main Street and courthouse were regularly referred to in the comments. The look, older facades have been kept. I like the feeling that I am somewhere that is historic and urban and where people congregate and walk around.
Along with dining, shopping was another large draw downtown. All the locally owned restaurants and shops that give it character and make it its own distinct place instead of just like everywhere else. Simply the varieties of shops along Main Street were identified as ‘family owned’, ‘independent’, and ‘local’. I've always liked Urbana's focus on small, locally-owned shops. The locally owned businesses and small-town atmosphere. In addition, many responses identified that they frequent particular shops and services on daily basis. Once again, the uniqueness of stores gives downtown an eclectic and honest feel. I appreciate the eclectic nature of some of the businesses. I like the uniqueness of the shops downtown, the small scale emphasis on local businesses (rather than chains/franchises).
The welcoming nature of downtown was another highly rated ‘like.’ Comments included descriptors of the small town vibe which included quaint, charming, intelligent, low key, and relaxing. Quiet charm people outside enjoying the space. The convenience, the friendly community feeling. Downtown is very personable, due to its scale. Friendly businesses were identified. Lack of pretense with many culturally and socially stimulating establishments, such as the Urbana Free Library, The Iron Post, Common Ground Coop, Siam Terrace, Mirabelle, and the IMC. I like the community feel that the downtown has to an extent and I think this is something that should be built on. I like the size and appearance of the downtown area - quaint and friendly.
What is Downtown Urbana lacking?
The means of transportation to downtown (drive, bike, and walk) helped identify what was lacking in regards to access. Based on the comments, downtown could be more walkable and more driver-friendly. For drivers, one major suggestion was for the city to provide free parking, while there were some suggestions for angled parking or more on-street parking. There were others that suggested removing parking altogether. Tear down the horrible parking opposite the court building. It lacks a critical number and variety of businesses to make it worthwhile to wrestle with a parking garage. Remove parking meters. Suggestions for traffic calming or control at Race and Main and Race and Vine were two intersections of concern, possibly alluding to the need for downtown to become even more pedestrian friendly. Creation of a pedestrian only zone would help. I like walking there but it's is not a walking downtown, it lacks unity, better walkways. Sidewalks were also mentioned as a means for improvement. It's not much fun to sit outside on the sidewalk with all the cars coming by. Wider sidewalks, so that sidewalk cafes don't have to take up the entire thing. Bikers also suggested more bicycle parking, especially along Main Street and to deal with the Farmer’s Market. Even drivers suggested clearer bike lanes, as sometimes it is hard to avoid coming close to bikers. One interesting aspect of the comments suggested that the accessibility of downtown may be due to its connectivity. Most of the interesting parts of downtown are off of the main path. Everything is very distributed, especially relative to downtown Champaign. There's nothing to pull, draw people in. There are often very few people out and about in Downtown Urbana and I would like to see that change. If there were more people walking around it might make them pay more attention to whether someone is trying to cross the street.
Most comments agreed that Urbana could use nicer outdoor public spaces that could serve as places to meet, play, or entertain. Having a small park with trails and benches would be great. Places for kids to play and parents to go. A place to congregate with grass (not a huge parking lot or streets where the festivals are usually held), trees, and public water fountains. I've long thought the defunct parking lot of the Jumer's of days gone by would be a perfect space to create an urban park. A large permanent outdoor entertainment location. Suggestions also mentioned the connectivity aspect of such a space that would be able to define and identify the ‘center’ of downtown. Some more green space or a central park/plaza (or even a courtyard) that's clearly the "center" of downtown might be nice. A downtown "square" or gathering place. There was also mention of restaurants and bars increasing the amount of outdoor seating. Perhaps pedestrian areas/outdoor dining or bars similar to areas in downtown Champaign. Finally, there was one comment that suggested improving the connectivity of the Farmer’s Market with the rest of downtown. The market is great on Saturday, but even that would be vastly improved if the buildings that surround it had a bit more street connection.
Despite many shops and restaurants, comments show that downtown Urbana still needs more social outlets, more diverse things to do, and a variety of places to go. The most commented idea, deserving its own category, was the need for a café. There is no great place to meet people for coffee or study. A great coffee shop would give me more convenient options for studying. A good coffee shop in downtown (as opposed to Lincoln Square) would be nice. It would be great if there could be a coffee shop that was open late. Coffee shops that are open late for students who live in Urbana. As a student, there are no places outside of bars/restaurants to study, a cafe that stays open late would be good. First and foremost, Urbana needs a good coffee shop.
Comments for dining in downtown ranged from providing more affordable options to fine dining. In terms of affordable dining, most suggestions were related to options that were available later in the evenings (diner) or quicker food options (deli, pizza). A greasy spoon so to speak. A pizza shop that sells slices. A variety of medium and high quality restaurants with fast take-out. Specialty options such as an ice-cream store or breakfast option were also suggested. A good soda shop and sandwich bar such as was once offered by the Elite Diner. A "Le Peep" type breakfast spot. Again, outdoor seating was requested. More outside dining some casual places like the Courier to just grab a meal. In terms of other dining options, there several suggestions for family oriented restaurants and at least one suggestion for a very upscale restaurant.
There were a wide range of comments in regards to what was lacking in terms of shopping. One group of comments recognized the latest additions to the area and some of the staples that they would like to see more of. It needs a few more destination shops like Wooden Hanger, Heel to Toe, Art Mart. There was also another group that wanted more options within their demographic. Shops that appeal to the general public and most college students. Shops aimed at a younger demographic (25-40). Other comments alluded to the need for some type of anchor store in downtown, such as Kinkos/FedEx, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Target, or even a department store located in Lincoln Square. I miss the Bergners store because I was able to do almost all of my shopping in Urbana with a major department store available. However, there was a group that was concerned with the effect a large, big box store would have on the area. I would like to see more stores and restaurants downtown but NOT bigger stores. A compilation of the comments suggested more diversity in the shopping as well as usefulness. There are lots of times I just need to pick up something like batteries, and I'd love to be able to pick it up while I'm downtown. More shops that sell useful things instead of obscure gift items. Some examples of requested shopping include: office and computer, hardware, clothing, bookstore, household, gardening, convenience, stationery, bike, shoe, toy, record, artisanal cheese, flower, and butcher. Locations along Main Street were identified as potential locations for some smaller shops that would be able to host some of the street level retail and eating options identified above. We could use less lawyer space and more small businesses. There are still way too many law office buildings in some of the main store fronts. I bet they could make for cute places to eat or shop! It seems like most of the storefronts are lawyers' offices that never have anyone in them, although that's probably just how they look. Comments also mentioned that the hours of operation should be extended, especially in the evening. Business open in the evening, needs more open shops so you can spend the day shopping/browsing.
Built Form & Redevelopment
Comments surrounding redevelopment in downtown focused on connectivity and urban design. As for the overall concern surrounding the area, many comments noted the lack of cohesiveness or connectivity in downtown. Main Street is separated from Lincoln Square by a parking garage. The Farmer's Market is on one end of the downtown and the businesses north of Main St. are on the other, but there is no central area to tie them together. Too many big empty parking lots, lacking a larger solid area of retail and storefronts. Too many gaps in building frontages with ugly parking lots. Something to draw everything together, so many independent actors. Suggestions were grouped into several ideas, with major ideas focusing on urban design guidelines or filling in the gaps to address connectivity. Do something with Lincoln Square as a terminus to south Broadway. A consistent level of urban design quality. Building design guidelines that dictate proportion, materials, and scale but not style. A variety of different architectural types to complement the existing stock in downtown. Many comments focused on how Lincoln Square (including hotel) has served as a downtown anchor in the past and the amount of area it occupies downtown. There's the huge parking lot for Lincoln Square right there in the middle of town, which is great for the farmers market but otherwise doesn't really feel ‘downtown’. In addition, the shopping and dining in Lincoln Square mostly serves corporate tenants and has been described as very closed off and sterile, lacks vitality/energy, or seems quiet/dead. Suggestions ranged from expanding upon the success of the Farmer’s Market, attracting an anchor store or Fortune 500 company to relocate inside the mall, reprogramming the mall, and revitalizing the hotel. Year-round market, needs an expanded farm market approach which draws in more resources of Lincoln Square. Move the outside market so it's closer to mall door, have market flow inside and out, people will get used to going inside and may continue. The mall is poorly laid out and the interior design is not the standard 'mall' feel, which discourages shoppers who go to malls looking for a specific atmosphere. An anchor store for Lincoln Square. A good hotel/residential inn that would be convenient to campus.
As for residential housing, comments focused on the lack of downtown-centric housing and the quality of housing available. More residential units in the heart of downtown (above stores, bars, etc.). Not enough apartments/condos and downtown ‘urban living’ options. The housing stock is poor - you can choose from old houses, chopped up houses, or box apartments, where is the cool urban residential (huge opportunity to make it green)? Several comments also noted the lack of people downtown or housing density, and suggested residential buildings with shops at the street level as a means of populating the area. It could also use more high density upper story residential apartments. Finally, affordability of housing was another concern with housing, as there seems to be a lack of affordable ($350-$400 per month) apartments for single graduate students or young professionals.
How would you change Downtown Urbana?
Comments for changing access downtown were grouped by traffic, parking, and pedestrian/bike accessibility. For traffic, the issues centered on the speed and amount of traffic on the major downtown streets: Main Street, Broadway Avenue, Race Street, Illinois Street, and West Green Street. Too much through traffic on Main Street. Less car traffic through downtown. I would slow down/reduce vehicle traffic through downtown. Suggestions for slowing traffic ranged from road diets, roundabouts, narrowing certain streets, or even closing off Main Street and making it pedestrian/bike only. Let the cars only go through Illinois Street and University, but not Main Street in between. Discourage cars on Main Street; encourage bikes and pedestrians. Narrow Main Street, it's an access to our downtown, not a thoroughfare. For parking, comments were both for and against parking in downtown. Again, there were requests for free parking and concerns about the amount of parking lots, especially empty lots at different times throughout the day. Needs more parking that is free to draw people there. I hate that you have to pay to park at Urbana Free Library. There is a lot of the central core dedicated to parking, some of which is private (Busey Bank, e.g.), but then that means less area for a connected cityscape. There should be solid storefronts and outdoor streetscape between all the major destinations, not empty blocks of parking lots or vacant spaces. There were also a group of comments suggesting changes to the parking deck. Label the public parking deck and get the leased spaces off the ground level so people realize its open for shopper use. I think the parking deck is important to have, but it has always felt uninviting to me. The big parking garage in the middle is unfortunate; it takes up a lot of great real estate. Other suggestions for parking included angled parking spaces or moving parking to a satellite area. Finally, for pedestrian/bike accessibility, comments mostly focused on improving the connectivity of pedestrians or bicyclists for a more coherent downtown. Improve flow of traffic and pedestrians around Lincoln Square Mall. Look at connecting campus, peripheral parking and walkable neighborhoods with downtown. Better pedestrian paths along Race & Broadway between Main & University; walking from the town center to the Station Theater or Silver Creek, for example, is not easy to do nor aesthetic pleasing. The split between Main and Springfield is particularly difficult, dangerous, and unappealing, for cars and bicycles and pedestrians. In addition, there were multiple requests for more bike lanes and bike racks, but concerns on where the lanes should be located. Too many bikes come through there to not have bike lanes. I think that putting a bike lane on Main St. is a bad idea. I'm not a fan of bike lanes but they do get more people riding and that makes all cyclists safer. Safety was the primary concern for other bicyclists and pedestrians. I bike most places, but I don't feel comfortable biking through downtown Urbana. There are no bike lanes and traffic is too fast and heavy. I wish biking around downtown was safer and more visible. It was also mentioned that providing on-street bicycle lanes would reduce the conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Comments for public space all agreed that more landscaping and greenery was needed to address the amount of concrete and asphalt downtown. Plant more trees. Add plants and landscaping. Add more landscaping on Broadway between Main and University. Specific suggestions ranged from adding simple outdoor seating areas, creating centrally located public plazas, to the transformation of the Boneyard Creek. For outdoor seating, there were several requests for restaurant outdoor seating as well as common area covered/shaded seating. More outdoor seating for restaurants and bars. The downtown sidewalks are great, I would like to see more spaces, both covered and uncovered, inside and out, that facilitate just sitting together or alone in public. Add more benches for humans who need to sit down a minute. I would like to see more public common spaces downtown for eating, meeting, talking etc. In particular, requests for public seating could be located in a public park or greenspace, which comprised another group of comments. Design some kind of a small public park for families and people who work in the area to play and eat at. I think green space would greatly enhance festivals and the farmers market. A plaza where people could gather and musicians could perform and restaurants could have sidewalk service would be nice. Several potential locations were identified for these public plazas. The parking lot west of the Lincoln Hotel (across Race Street from the Library) would be a good location. I would reorganize on the other side of the street of the "Crane Alley" bar. It goes on an area that could be easily transformed into a very nice outdoor "piazza". The parking lot of Lincoln Square or the space that the building is occupying could be a public plaza. Finally, there were a handful of suggestions to improve the Boneyard and transform it into a major asset and attraction for downtown. Open up the area around the Boneyard and turn that into an asset with walking/biking paths, sitting areas, etc. Make the area along the Boneyard a beautiful promenade with outdoor restaurant seating. Develop the creek and downtown as a unique, special place.
Lincoln Square Village, Historic Lincoln Hotel & Market at the Square
There were a significant amount of comments dedicated to the Lincoln Square and Hotel. Some called for the demolition of the Lincoln Square to provide a clean slate for new opportunities. Others called for the revitalization of Lincoln Square despite disadvantages with its current layout. Most respondants agreed that the lack of activity inside the mall and the physical area it encompasses downtown as a huge issue that needs to be addresses. It feels like a big empty space in the middle of Urbana. In addition, many recognized the potential of a functional and lively Lincoln Square, which can leverage its location near U of I for great venue to hold celebrations, conferences, etc. For those advocating the demolition of Lincoln Square, there were many specific suggestions for residential uses and/or pedestrian scale shopping. Possibly demolish the mall and the Lincoln Hotel and replace with a three-story retail/office/residential mix like they've put by Krannert. I would demolish Lincoln Square Mall, and I would construct an urban village consisting of three flat apartments with brownstone style architecture. Use the footprint of Lincoln Square mall to construct a state-of-the-art new urbanism plaza with shopping. I would recommend demolishing the mall and replacing it with an outdoor marketplace. For those advocating the redevelopment of Lincoln Square, suggestions focused on opening up the mall, making stores visible from the outside. I've always felt that Lincoln Square should be an open air shopping area with a park in the middle. Do something with the Lincoln Hotel, or I would open up at least part of Lincoln Square Mall to allow a place for people to congregate. Poking more "holes" in Lincoln Square to show off the businesses and let more light inside would be nice too. That building should be turned inside out or torn down and make way for a mixed-use development which would bring additional rental/owner occupied units to downtown and create better frontage for businesses. One group of comments focused on expanding the Market at the Square and having a more permanent version held year-round inside Lincoln Square. The farmers market and the winter market are huge draws for downtown Urbana that probably spur additional spending in the actual downtown once people are done shopping at the farmers market. Finally, there were other suggestions to use Lincoln Square as a means to connect with the rest of downtown. The entrance to the mall from the post office side needs to be landscaped so that it is welcoming and clear that it is a mall on the inside.
Built Form & Redevelopment
Ideas for redevelopment in downtown were taken from several other groups of comments that all spoke to the need for more mixed-use buildings and people living downtown, while also taking into consideration existing building and the historic nature of some. In particular, suggestions focused primarily on the infill of commercial space and parking lots. Build new infill development with parking behind shops and intimate pedestrian alleyways connecting to the street at mid-block. Try to mitigate the influence of so many monolithic buildings and parking lots by inserting smaller scale structures. Suggestions also identified several potential buildings or areas where redevelopment could occur. Replace the plaza building across from the courthouse with either greenspace or a new building that is more compatible with the rest of downtown. Look for opportunities to rebuild the property occupied by County Plaza. Improve the appearance of the triangular area where Main and Springfield diverge. Fill or tear down empty buildings (Denny', Allman's, Stevens Building). Replace the parking garage with mixed work live studios. One specific type of need was identified, which was housing. Comments indicated they did not want ‘student’ housing, but options geared more for the professor, graduate student, empty nester, or working professional. It would be great to have apartments right downtown. Add residences like mid to high level apartments. Put in a couple of high to mid-rise condominiums or apartment buildings within a short walk of downtown Urbana. Add more affordable housing, especially as part of mixed-use developments. By locating a permanent group within downtown, some predicted that this would create a reliable customer base to the many businesses. More housing, hopefully more dining and retail would follow. I would build some office buildings which would help support a high variety of restaurants and cafes.
Shopping & Dining
The overwhelming response for shopping and dining is more. Add more shops. More food is always good. More shops, more restaurants, but this is already happening and results are good! I would encourage more locally owned businesses to open. However, businesses that are local, small, and independent are still heavily favored. I'd keep up the focus on small, success-oriented businesses. Fill some of the existing storefronts with small independent businesses. It's not a place for the big box container stores like Meijer/WalMart. In addition, comments focus on attracting shops that draw people. Increase the number of shops that draw people. Recruit more businesses that will draw more people. Add some shops with mass appeal to draw in lots of people. Bring in more shops and restaurants that will create buzz. However, what exactly does this mean and what kinds of businesses draw more people? Again, two of the most demanded needs for downtown include a café and/or bookstore (both with wireless). Downtown Urbana needs a good, independent, distinctive coffeeshop to meet people at and get a light meal while studying. I'd love for there to be a coffee shop or somewhere less formal where people can meet up and chat for a while, but not a bar. Someplace that sells excellent coffee and really good sandwiches and big salads would be a HUGE draw. I would add more student focused shops and cafes that have internet. Perhaps a coffee house/local bookstore would work. Another group of suggestions focus on ways the city can encourage more businesses to open. We need more business, more Urbana residents spending tax dollars in our city. Attract businesses to enhance the city and help the tax base. One method is through incentives that would encourage more shops and restaurants to relocate to the downtown. Encourage more start-up retail that doesn't involve just galleries. The tax incentives and zoning need to be modified to encourage a broader range of commercial opportunities. Incentives to build up more interesting/appealing small businesses. Better and more incentives for existing downtown businesses to expand and to attract additional businesses. Populate empty storefronts by offering incentives to other business types (not just arts-based). Along the same lines, the city can also incentivize or possibly rezone areas to force more mixed use or ground floor retail. Require that buildings have stores at ground level, put offices on upper levels. Find the lawyers offices new class A office space and open up the store fronts. Move all the lawyer offices to the second floor of their buildings to free up valuable store-front space. Finally, as a suggestion for current or future business owners, many comments ask that business stay open later in the evenings. Extend the business hours of the shops to 6 or 7pm. There needs to be more businesses open after 5pm to create foot traffic at night. Other than Crane Alley, Main Street looks closed after 5pm.