That big-city feel

Homes: That big-city feel

That big-city feel

Condo residents enjoy their downtown neighborhood

Story: Jodi Heckel

Photos: Robin Scholz and John Dixon

Denis Williams is a city guy.

He’s lived in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Santa Monica, Calif. So when he moved to Champaign-Urbana a couple of years ago, he was looking for someplace to live that would still provide that big-city feel.

He bought a corner condominium on the ninth floor of the M2 building in downtown Champaign. He likes the open design of his home. He likes the convenience for getting to either Christie Clinic or Provena Covenant Medical Center, where he’s an orthopedic surgeon. He likes the proximity of so many restaurants – two of his favorites are Big Grove Tavern and Kofusion – and entertainment options.

And he really likes the view from his wall of windows. He can see downtown buildings, the high-rises on campus, even see the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium. “You get a sense of what’s going on in the downtown area by looking out the balcony. From this vantage point, you have a little bit of your finger on the vibe,” Williams said.

“The way the units are designed here has a way of making you feel you’re in a city environment,” he continued. “I think it’s the combination of the design of the units with the large windows and the strategic location, essentially the heart of downtown Champaign.”

Williams is typical of many of the residents in the M2 and One Main buildings, operated by One Main Development.

The four-story One Main building, at Main and Neil streets, was built in 2003. Nearly all the 25 loft-style condos on the fourth floor at One Main are two-story spaces, and they are full.
The nine-story M2 building, just to the west at Neil and Church streets, was completed in 2009. M2 has 51 units, on the sixth through ninth floors of the building, about half of which are sold. Some are being leased and some are still on the market.

Both buildings have commercial and office space on the lower floors.

The buildings have attracted young single professionals. Many of the residents – like Williams – have come from large cities elsewhere and wanted to live in an urban environment, said Rebecca Motley, marketing and operations director for One Main Development. A number of them work at the University of Illinois or the local hospitals.

But the buildings have also started to attract locals, particularly empty-nesters, Motley said.

Much of the attraction is the proximity of entertainment in the form of restaurants, bars and live music; and the ease of transportation, with city buses, Zipcars and the train station nearby.
“You have to want this lifestyle. There’s a fairly narrow band of people it appeals to,” Motley said. “It’s a very unique product. It’s not going to appeal to the number of people that a traditional house would.”

Chris Randles lived in a house near downtown for a decade – actually, an apartment in an old Victorian. Randles, the vice president for administrative services and chief financial officer for Parkland College, was the first person to move into a condominium at One Main. Construction wasn’t even complete on all the units.

“It seemed like a good transition,” Randles said of going from renting an apartment to buying a condominium. “While I thought owning was smart, I still didn’t want to take on the maintenance of yardwork and all that goes with owning a single-family home.”

His apartment was near the downtown area, and Randles knew he wanted to stay near downtown. But he was a little wary early on of moving to One Main.

“This was a new thing for Champaign, this mixed-use,” he said. “What happens if they can’t rent the first floors?”

It’s worked out well for Randles, who enjoys the convenience of being close to restaurants and bars.

“One thing that has been lacking is the ability to go out and get a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread,” Randles said, adding he’s excited to see a pharmacy and convenience store planned for a storefront at 14 E. Washington St. He also enjoys the Art Theater.

“That’s what you need to have the downtown be the full deal,” he said. “You can’t just have bars and restaurants. You need retail shopping, a movie theater, dry cleaners. I think we’re approaching that. We’re getting closer and closer to that, which is very, very nice.”

Brothers Sam and Harry Rosenberg moved to One Main in 2010 from an apartment in Savoy. They looked at houses but, like Randles, didn’t want to worry about the upkeep of a house and yard.
Their location is convenient for both. Sam is an attorney with Thomas, Mamer & Haughey and can walk across the street to work. Harry is a graduate student in the University of Illinois  College of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D program, and he usually takes a bus to campus.

Living downtown has a neighborhood feel to them.

“We walk in a restaurant in downtown Champaign and people know us. It’s fun,” Sam said.

He also likes being part of the downtown area’s renaissance.

“I like that this was a pillar building in the redevelopment of Champaign,” Sam said of One Main. “I like that the Sholem building – ‘Home of Good Shoes’ – is what I see when I look out my window. That’s neat.”