Urbana Loft Tour showcases progress made to aging buildings

A tour in downtown Urbana today will showcase a growing number of living spaces that have emerged in the second and third floors of historic buildings in the city.

The annual Urbana Loft Tour hosted by the Champaign County Preservation Alliance will start at 10 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. The event will start at the Gloria Theater on South Main Street. Entering its fifth year, the tour will feature eight sites in the downtown area that have been or are in the process of being renovated.

Some of those sites will be fully-furnished loft and recently occupied apartments on South Main and Scioto Streets, while others will include the Gloria Theater, currently undergoing renovations, and a section of a historic building on North Main Street that has been shuttered for more than a century.

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Tickets for the tour can be purchased at the Gloria Theatre for $15 and money from the event goes to commercial grants awarded by the county preservation alliance, said its president Rob Pollock. He said the tours have become more popular each year and they hope to have at least 250 people in attendance today.

His organization, which was formed in 1992 to highlight historic locations in the county, awarded $4,000 in commercial grants this year using money raised from last year’s loft tours.

Pollock said the loft tours are meant to showcase the activity being done in downtown Urbana as many historic buildings are being renovated and converted into retail and living spaces.

Patrick Thackery, who owns two buildings downtown, said rent for those lofts and apartments are between $400 to $1,200 depending on the unit.

Many of those buildings are more than a century old and in some cases have sat vacant for decades. Though spaces in some of those buildings have been converted into apartments in the past, that trend has grown in recent years.

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“Unless you tear down one of these buildings, there is not a lot space to build. This is were a lot of development is going to take place in the future,”Pollock said of recent initiatives to restore aging real estate in the area.

The Champaign Economic Partnership has recently commissioned a $40,000 study to examine the county’s housing situation. The study is being conducted by the Greater Ohio Policy Center and is expected to be completed in January.

It will look at common housing challenges in the city of Urbana as well as the villages of Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and St. Paris as well as what local community organizations and local governments can do to improve it.

Bill Bean, the mayor of Urbana, told the News-Sun that his city is landlocked and there is not much land available to develop new single family homes. It has prompted some property owners in downtown Urbana to convert the second and third stories of their buildings into rentable lofts and apartments.

Marcia Bailey, the economic development director for Champaign County, said she estimates 10 loft apartments and more that are being developed in the city’s Monument Square.

The county preservation alliance held its first urban loft tour in downtown Urbana in 2014. At the time there were only seven downtown apartments and lofts. Now, there are more than a dozen and a handful of developers are looking to create 14 more, Pollock said.

How to go

What: Urban Loft Tour

Where: Gloria Theatre, 216 S. Main St., Urbana

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2

Admission: $15

More info: www.urbanaonthesquare.com.

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