The tale of Two Downtowns

By:  Diane Benjamin

Yesterday I took a road trip to downtown Decatur.  Since Tim Gleason was hired to make Bloomington’s downtown like Decatur’s, I wanted to see what has been done there.

Have you heard comments about matching awnings?  Below are on two sides of office space.  The windows are covered with closed blinds.


Have you heard Bloomington needs green space downtown?  Decatur’s downtown has two, the one on the right has been there for many decades:

Does this look familiar?


Bloomington is getting their own signs, that discussion started pre-Gleason.  Maybe somebody saw Decatur’s and decided Bloomington needed them too?  Note the street lights too.

During the day there are a lot of people downtown because of major employers.  ADM bought a pharmaceuticals manufacturing building after the company closed.  There are numerous large banks and WSOY radio has a huge building.  Below are samples.  Regions Bank is at the south end of the ADM building.


Retail is a small part of the downtown.  Some shops and restaurants exist on Merchant Street:

IMG_1769 A few more shops exist on E Prairie:

IMG_1766 North Main has some storefronts that add little to downtown.  It’s hard to tell if the spaces are empty or if the businesses are open.

Tim Gleason claims he wants downtown Bloomington to be a destination.  Decatur’s is not.  According to some of the residents, once work hours are over downtown is mostly deserted.  There are a few high end restaurants but not much else open.

Bloomington has two entertainment venues that don’t draw people downtown on a consistent basis.  Decatur has an ancient movie theater that may draw some people.

Unless major employers decide to build downtown, the two have little in common.   Since the City Center is now Veterans Parkway, I don’t see that happening.  Bloomington at least has the bar scene, Decatur doesn’t have the hoards of drunks.

Bloomington has the added problem of asbestos and underground infrastructure with the deserted buildings.  If Renner gets his candidates elected he will want to use eminent domain to take properties for a Connect Transit transfer station.  I bet the price paid will not take into account the cost of leveling the historic buildings and preparing the properties for the station.  That will be a “surprise” for later.



19 thoughts on “The tale of Two Downtowns

  1. Just like abNormal, ya spend a bunch of money and at the end of the day all ya got is newly painted building facias and few trees. I only saw one person in your pictures. Hey does Decatur still stink due to the ADM processing? I haven’t been to Decatur for years. No plans to go neither.

  2. An additional little talked about influence is the director of the Regional Planning Commission that was also from Decatur and claimed to be involved in much of the planning for downtown projects in Decatur while she worked there. Why you would hire people from one of the state’s most decaying city’s to transform BN is beyond reasonable thinking

    1. Agreed, MPEABODY. It’s difficult to rationalize picking the city manager of an old industrial town in decline. Apparently, there were no viable candidates from tech-focused cities or those with strong startup communities. It says a great deal about what is important to our leadership…a Hollywood set downtown facade and a members-only approach to economic development.

  3. I mean really, Downtown Bloomington wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the bar scene. The student’s are the ones that keep that area afloat.

  4. The individuals supporting the downtown revitalization live in the 1950’s dream world. Downtown moved east a long time ago and now that is disappearing due to the internet. Their best bet is to level it all and turn it into a water park or green space. More like a water park seeing how government here is into the entertainment business and not doing what government should be doing. Seeing how well they do at wasting tax revenue they shouldn’t have any problem expanding their entertainment business. Too bad Sugar Creek is in Normal otherwise they could get into the river boat casino business.

    When I think of economic growth Decatur sure doesn’t pop into my mind as being a model city. This just goes to show you how poorly the council picks managers. If I wanted to bring in a hot shot to shake up my business to move it forward I sure wouldn’t go get someone from a loser business.

  5. Decatur is a dump… secret there, this is just wasted money by putting lip stick on a pig. It too has media issues in reporting what goes on in government. Julie Moore is the mayor, her husband is the “investigative reporter” at the TV station, she also was co-anchor at one time at the TV station. The herald and Review (their morning rag) is run by the same group as the Pantagraph. So by all means bring those Decatur people to Bloomington so it can become a Decatur.

  6. When you know who the property owners are in downtown Bloomington, it’s no mystery why downtown gets the majority of political attention. Also, supporters of downtown renovation think we can become the new Seattle, Austin or Eugene because they attended some symposium somewhere where a speaker said it was possible. Also, IWU has always been interested in expanding its property holdings on downtowns’ northern boundary and near it’s campus. They have the perfect foil in office to make it happen. In Normal, Koos and ISU are both business and political partners. What’s a little eminent domain when ISU can get new student housing and a modern business district within walking distance from campus and transportation center for its students without much of an effort?

  7. Decatur bars are near milikin and scattered about town. Their downtown had similar decline to Bloomington when years ago a new mall was built in Forsyth. Their new houses and retail additions have been in suburbs, so rich kids don’t have to go to poor performing Decatur schools.

  8. Thanks for the pictures I didn’t realize how nice it was. We will be going next weekend to check it out.

    Every picture you took appears clean and every building is restored, I assume you took the worst pictures so it must be beautiful in person.

  9. Where are the people? I didn’t see a living soul. If that’s what you call a bustling downtown you are in denial.

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