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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
A Rantoul church plans to turn a donated downtown property into an asset for the community.
Rantoul First United Methodist Church will open Java Connection at 107 E. Sangamon Ave. later this year.
Mark Keyes, facility and operations manager for the church, who will manage the business, said it will open in late spring or early summer.
“It’s going to be a coffee shop-cafe,” Keyes said. “We’ll roast our own coffee beans for freshly roasted coffee and have soup, salads, sandwiches and some daily specials.
“It will be a very modern, fresh new environment for Rantoul.”
He said the business will also bake its own bread for sandwiches.
The process of demolition and renovating the 1,900-square-foot facility has begun. The building at one time was rented by Mediacom, which moved to Maple Grove Plaza Shopping Center.
“We’re completely gutting the whole thing and redoing everything,” Keyes said. “We’ve got a lot to do. We’ve done a lot of the demolition in there.”
As work has progressed, a hint of the past has emerged. For Workers found an old tin ceiling “that we’ll try to save as much of ... as we can,” Keyes said.
Members of the church will do as much of the work as possible, but licensed contractors will have to be hired for such areas as plumbing, electrical and stairs.
A mezzanine has been built in the front, “and we’re completely redoing the whole thing,” said Keyes. “It will be very modern. We’ll have tables with Wi-Fi in there also and comfortable seating.”
The property was donated to the church about a year and a half ago by Ann Schoff, who inherited it from her parents, D. and Myra Webb, who were members of the church.
Keyes said the new business will be open to the public and is registered as a nonprofit, “so all the profit will come back into the church for missions work.”
“We hope that it’s going to be a big boost for Rantoul” and draw other businesses to that area.
Keyes became interested in food preparation about 10 years ago when he volunteered to head the church’s Wednesday evening meals that are open to the public.
The Wednesday evening meals grew from about 20 people to about 100 people, Keyes said, but has tapered off some since then. Keyes later opened a catering business.
He said he will make the transition from being the church facility and operations manager to managing Java Connection.
He said Java Connection has its own board at the church, and he was offered the post.
According to its mission statement, the new business will “provide a relaxing, safe environment with freshly roasted coffee, specialty drinks, food and music. We are interested in building relationships in our community by reaching out to our neighbors in order to foster a family-friendly atmosphere.
“It is our mindset that in generously providing an honest and fair service to our customers and ultimately to our community, we will express the presence of the living Christ in Rantoul.”