Downtown Champaign storeowners concerned about parking lot transformation

Several downtown Champaign storeowners are concerned that their businesses may be negatively affected if the city goes through with tentative plans to transform a parking lot between Neil and Washington streets into a plaza.

Lacey Rains Lowe, planner for Champaign’s planning department, said the city might hire a firm to help generate public input as to what they would like to see in the space where the current parking lot sits.

David Meyer, owner of Meyer Drapery at 330 N. Neil St., said he is worried that the removal of the parking lot will put an end to his business.

“If they actually converted the whole thing into a park it would probably have the effect of destroying our retail business,” Meyer said, noting that his business largely serves older clientele.

Meyer said the drapery fabric his business sells is heavy and bulky – not something that a customer could easily walk to a parking deck blocks away.

Meyer is not the only one who is concerned about business. Lee Shaffer, office manager of Infant-Parent Institute at 328 N. Neil St., said she does not like the idea and that it actually made her angry.

“When I first found out, I turned red,” Shaffer said.

She said she is concerned about deliveries to her business, as the institute has office supplies delivered regularly. Without the parking lot in close proximity, she said the delivery person would need to park a block away and carry the deliveries to the institute.

Shaffer also said the parking lot is constantly being used, and removing it will make it harder for business to be conducted.

While Shaffer continues to be an advocate for her business, Terri Mason, manager of Studio Helix at 324 N. Neil St., said she doesn’t mind the idea to a certain extent.

“We are not objecting to the park in total; however, we want to make sure that we do not lose our handicap access parking and at least one row here in front of our building.”

Studio Helix is a wellness, fitness and massage therapy institution. Mason said about a third of their 130 clients are unable to walk a long distance, which means they would not be able to access the building if Studio Helix were to lose all of its parking out front.

“On any given day we have a minimum of three to five people walk in that front door either in wheel chairs or with a walker or with canes, and they can barely get over the concrete curb so there’s no way they can come up through the back where there is three steps.”

Mason says she wants to be a corporative entity with the city, but she wants to make sure that she gets what her business needs in the end.

While many are worried about their business being negatively affected, Anna Ober, general manager of Destihl at 301 N. Neil St., said she thinks it could affect business in a good way.

“It could be a positive thing if it is utilized in a way that brings more people downtown,” she said. “It would be nice to have more areas down here that will draw consistent presence, and I think it could really help the businesses down here.”

Lowe said the city of Champaign would most likely come to a final decision by spring 2014.

Nyajai can be reached at nelliso2@dailyillini.com.