CHAMPAIGN â€” A longtime Campustown bar owner is one of four investors who have purchased Kam’s, a fixture of the campus bar scene for decades.
Scott Cochrane, who owns three other Campustown bars and several others in Champaign-Urbana, is part of the group that bought out longtime Kam’s owner Eric Meyer.
Meanwhile, two of Cochrane’s other campus bars, Firehaus and The Clybourne, will close early next month to make way for a high-rise at Sixth and Green streets, although one or both could return, he said Thursday.
Cochrane said the other three Kam’s investors have been his partners on other projects, including Carmen Rossi, co-owner of several Chicago restaurants and nightclubs with Cochrane. Rossi is a UI graduate who worked for Cochrane in Champaign.
Cochrane declined to name the other two Kam’s partners, but said one is local and one is from Chicago. All of the investors attended the University of Illinois or have UI ties, he said.
Cochrane also owns the property two doors down from Kam’s, the former C.O. Daniels bar, which is vacant, and he didn’t rule out future commercial-residential redevelopment in that block.
Besides Kam’s and C.O. Daniels, it includes the Illini Union Bookstore, a Subway restaurant, Silver Mine Subs, Home of Gourmet Chinese Restaurant and Espresso Royale coffee shop.
“There’s been a plan to do that. I’ve had that vision in my head for 20 years. Whether it’s going to happen, I don’t know. For now, that’s just conjecture. We’re not there yet,” he told The News-Gazette on Thursday.
Comments posted Thursday on Twitter suggested the investment group is planning an apartment project that would include a revamped Kam’s.
“I think it’s a great place for one. I think it’d be awesome,” Cochrane said.
A 17-story commercial-residential tower is planned around the corner, on the east side of Sixth Street between Green and John streets. According to city planning documents, it would run from the southeast corner of Sixth and Green for 260 feet, affecting six businesses, including Firehaus and The Clybourne.
The Champaign City Council approved two items in April that allowed CORE, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in college-town developments, to build around and widen the alley north of The Clybourne at 706 S. Sixth St.
Cochrane said that both The Clybourne and Firehaus will be closing on Sept. 4, but he deferred other questions about the development to CORE. He informed his employees Thursday of the impending closure. He said he’s trying to find a location for one or both bars to reopen but couldn’t discuss details yet.
The Cochranes have operated Firehaus for decades under various names, including the Wigwam, Round Robin and RR Sports Grill. The Clybourne opened about 20 years ago.
Regarding the Kam’s property, university and city officials said they’ve heard talk of a private commercial-residential development in that block, but no plans have been submitted yet.
“It sounds to me like it’ll be something along the lines of what we’re seeing popping up all along campus,” said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
The university is not involved, though “we are following the conversations about this development since it is in the heart of campus,” she said. “We’d certainly support the idea of developing the space to its fullest and best potential.
“We’ve had conversations for years about ways to clean up that area. We get complaints about it fairly frequently,” Kaler said.
“The look of that whole block, from the building facades to the streetscape, does not show the campus well.”
The latest master plan for the University of Illinois shows a future “development zone” at the corner of Sixth and Daniel in that block. But Kaler said that simply means that area is “under-utilized” and the UI isn’t necessarily planning to build there.
“In the heart of Campustown, is that the best use?” she said.
Kam’s is closed now, but Cochrane hopes it can reopen in two weeks, before UI classes start Aug. 27.
“We’re going to go in and give it some TLC, then it’ll open back up in the fall,” he said.
For those worried about losing Kam’s ambiance, Cochrane promises no major remodeling, just some painting â€” and floor-cleaning. He would also like to display more photos or memorabilia from Kam’s or the campus; alumni and customers can send old photos to @firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Kam’s is a historical place. I used to work there when I was a freshman in college,” he said.
At one point, Cochrane was close to buying it from Meyer and his former partner, Leo Furla, until the deal fell through.
In a radio interview Thursday with WDWS’ Brian Barnhart, Meyer said he always tried to keep the atmosphere at the bar the same over the years, other than “subtle changes.”
“People always enjoyed coming back to something they remembered being the same, reliving some of their college memories,” Meyer said.
He has gotten calls from across the country since news of Kam’s sale became public Wednesday evening. The bar was popular with fraternity and sorority members as well as UI athletes, among them basketball star Deron Williams, who would stop by or call when he was in town, Meyer said.
Meyer said he was “a little nervous walking out of the store for the last time, realizing you’re no longer going to be the owner in about an hour. It was a wonderful run, blessed by so many great customers and alumni and the support of my family. And we always called our staff members the ‘Kamily.'”
Meyer said he has a consulting contract with the new owners to help with the transition. He also plans to continue as part owner of Pia’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1609 W. Springfield Ave., C, and Bentley’s Pub at 419 N. Neil St. in downtown Champaign.
Meyer said the new Kam’s owners include a former campus bar owner whose wife once worked for him as a bartender.
“So there’s still a little bit of tradition I think being carried forward,” said Meyer, who worked his way through college as a Kam’s bartender from 1981 through 1984.
Cochrane also owns the Red Lion, 211 E. Green St., C, as well as the Tin Roof Tavern in Urbana and the Office II in Champaign, which is being rebuilt as the Six Hound Saloon. He is planning a brewery and distillery along Chester and Water streets near downtown Champaign. And he owns three Chelsea’s video poker cafes, one that is still under construction, and various apartment buildings.
In Chicago, he has a stake in several nightclubs, including Joy District, Liqr Box and HVAC Pub in Wrigleyville.