The Pantagraph never says who writes theirs, so I’m not either! It was written by a citizen sick of seeing tax dollars wasted.
The citizens of Bloomington have heard on multiple occasions the Mayor’s proclamations, “Without a vibrant downtown, economic development will not occur.” “A vibrant downtown is the primary means to spur economic development in the 21st Century.” These statements were brought back to Bloomington from his bi-annual attendance at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. I will not argue that a clean, quaint, historic downtown is attractive to visitors and a reason for citizens to be proud but it is not a primary or sole economic driver.
The elected officials have been trying to revitalize downtown ever since the Montgomery Ward store moved to the College Hills Mall. The most recent attempt began in 2009 when the Downtown Bloomington Association (DBA) solicited the Council to hire the consulting firm, Farr and Associates, to do a market study in order to produce a strategy and action plan, now referred to as the Downtown Strategic Plan (Downtown Master Plan). Two hundred (200) people attended the first of two meetings, which were held in the downtown State Farm building. The attendees included members of the DBA, downtown “stake-holders,” downtown residents, residents from the neighborhoods to the East, government officials and City Staff. Pay particular notice of the Steering Committee on page 2.
Downtown Strategic Plan: IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES (Pages 64-68)
This plan, which is 124 pages long, was voted on and adopted by the City Council in December 2013. It has a tremendous amount of information and recommendations for revitalization of Downtown.
Downtown Bloomington is roughly bounded by Locust Street to the north, Prairie Street to the east down to Douglas Street, Gridley Street to the east from Douglas to Jackson Street, Jackson and Water Streets to the south, and Lee Street to the west. Key areas of focus within the document include retail planning, land use recommendations, parking needs and mobility concerns, among others.
Approximately 140,000 square feet of retail space!
Kroger, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Illinois Wesleyan University
Anchors: BCPA, Library, Coliseum, McLean County Museum of History
Within 2 months, on February 10, 2014, HVS Hotel Feasibility Study was presented to the Council for a vote and adopted. For the next year, there was behind the scenes discussions with “a hotel developer.” In May of 2015, the Council considered and rejected a proposal from “the hotel developer.” The third and final attempt for a public/private hotel project has just failed. We now know who that “developer” was—a Peoria real estate broker with ties to the Huff’s.
In the mean time, McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC), composed of appointed, not elected, individuals and subsidized with Bloomington tax dollars, surveyed 2,700 Bloomington residents to formulate a 239 page Comprehensive Plan known as “Bring It On Bloomington,” which is to determine Bloomington’s future over the next 20 years. The Comprehensive Plan was voted on and adopted by the Council in August 2015. The Comprehensive Plan also includes recommendations for the redevelopment of Downtown Bloomington as well as some drawbacks.
DOWNTOWN (page 100-108)
Downtown is a neighborhood as well as an economic center, and the plan guidance recognizes the interaction between these functions, and between the Downtown district and the adjacent neighborhoods. Developing and sustaining an active urban core that includes Downtown, Regeneration Area and the Preservation Area is vital to the long-term success of the community.
Reinvent the Warehouse District
D-3.1a Implement the Downtown Bloomington Strategy recommendations for a zoning overlay ensuring that future developments are compatible with Downtown’s historic character. (Page 106)
D-4.1d Address infrastructure issues
D-6.1b Condemn properties that are not maintained.
Farr & Associate’s Report of 2013—pointed out that revitalization of Downtown is threatened by failure of consensus on how to maintain, regulate, redevelop and generally manage this valuable and unique asset.
It would have been advantageous for the Council to have read the documents. So much time and money could have been saved.
Downtown Bloomington is experiencing an identity crisis as a result of external forces producing the failure of consensus. The Downtown is considered by some to be a tourist attraction, by others, a cultural center, or a business district, as well as a neighborhood.
So, here we are back to where it started in 2009 with the Mayor recommending a new Summit consisting of the Mayor, City Staff, DBA, 2 Alderman and some Downtown “stake-holders” after having spent hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of tax dollars with nothing to show for it.
If Downtown is meant to be a local and regional destination to generate sales tax revenue, perhaps those who do not live or work downtown should be asked what would entice them to visit. Perhaps the City Council can show how serious their commitment to the development of Downtown is by allocating financial resources to update the deteriorating sewer system and streets within at least a 3-mile radius of the central core of the Downtown—it needs to be done anyway. All of the money spent on consultants and Staff time during the past 7 years would have paid for that and such action would give businesses the confidence to invest their own resources.