Local leaders, business owners discuss growth in Champaign

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CHAMPAIGN—Local leaders and business owners gathered at one of the city’s newest attractions Tuesday to discuss the growth taking place citywide in recent years.

When Tony Pomonis grew up in Champaign, he kept his distance from downtown.

“You could ride your bike anywhere but don't go downtown my dad used to say,” said Pomonis, owner of Merry Ann’s Diner. “But now it's just very, very convivial. You see people walking around all the time.”

A result of recent downtown development though projects like the new Hyatt Place hotel, which is where Mayor Don Gerard gathered with Pomonis and other local business owners Tuesday to highlight a wave of growth throughout the city.

“In three short years, through some tough political will, creating some revenue sources working with the private sector, instilling confidence, we now are looking at an unemployment rate of 5.6 [percent], which is below the national average, below the state average, and the fourth lowest in the state,” said Gerard.

According to Gerard, 8500 non-farm jobs were also created in the city during that time.

From the restaurant “Maize” on the corner of Green and First streets, Armando Sandoval says he can see the promise of the future first-hand.

“I have like four buildings that are going up around my business,” said Sandoval.

While the neighborhood around the location of Sandoval’s current business expands, Sandoval plans to expand his business to another location in another neighborhood.

“Because of the demand, especially from the local people, we decided to open a second location,” said Sandoval.

Gerard says the goal is to continue growing Champaign.

“We always have more work to do, I'll be the first one to say that,” said Gerard. “But we have come along way.”

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