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Normal mayor asks community to 'take care of the basics' of protection from COVID

Jeff Smudde
Normal Mayor Chris Koos

Normal Mayor Chris Koos, speaking Thursday on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, urged people to get vaccinated, boosted, and to “take care of the basics” of protection from the coronavirus as COVID-19 cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations set McLean County records.

“We're headed, you know, maybe early next week to peak COVID. If you can be a little more religious about wearing your masks in public, protects you and protects other people as well, and, you know, a little bit (of) isolation. People are worn out by this, and I'm the same way. But we've got to get on top of this,” said Koos.

Koos has, throughout the pandemic, consulted with a broad group of community leaders and stakeholders, adding the responses this week have been uniform.

“The hospitals are under huge pressure; people are just being super cautious. Fort Jesse Cafe announced they're closing for five days. They had somebody test positive, and they just want to be safe. And I think that's the smart thing to do. Take a little pain short term. And let's get by this,” said Koos.

Maggie Miley’s expansion

A new development in Uptown Normal will add to the several outdoor patios already there or planned. Medici has one. The Hyatt Place Hotel has an outdoor eating and drinking area. The Fiala Brothers brew pub under construction plans one. Now comes Maggie Miley's $950,000 proposed addition with a second-floor patio space.

Koos doesn't think that's too many patios.

“I think some of that came from COVID. We helped some Uptown businesses have outdoor seating and it has proven to be incredibly popular," he said. "People found that they really enjoy that. Maggie's was accommodating that with a tent in the parking lot. They had for years planned to expand their business. That's an amenity people really gravitate to, and I think we will see more of that.”

Several years ago, a consultant looking at the Uptown refresh, said the area still had not developed a restaurant district contemplated in the original Uptown vision a couple decades ago, that Uptown was several establishments away from having that synergy.

Koos said he’s not certain the Fiala Brothers brewpub and the expansion of Maggie Miley’s will finish the concept of a restaurant district to attract a critical mass of the public.

“As we start vetting the invitation for developers to come forward with ideas for Uptown Trailside East and Trailside West, I think you're going to see that as a vital part of the discussion," he said. "A couple of those developers have said, the reason that that you haven't seen more restaurants and certain types of stores and businesses is because you don't have the density of residential and office there. There are a lot of people in Uptown, but there's not enough just to make that expansion.”

The town had requested proposals from developers last October for Trail East and Trail West after the pandemic forced an earlier developer to abandon a Trail East project. Koos said they had five firms respond.

“We'll be evaluating those concepts this month and then probably go out with a formal RFP (request for proposal) process,” said Koos. “It was very encouraging. This first round was for them to say what they think works. They think there's a need for more housing, significant need for the type of housing, let's say similar to Uptown One, where the apartments are now, but at a lower price point.”

Most of Uptown has been limited to four- or five-story structures. Koos said even with higher demand for apartment and townhouse housing, he’s not sure that should be reconsidered.

“That's a very complex question, because you don't want to significantly alter the street scape of Uptown. Uptown 2.0 planning included public sessions to talk exactly that issue; how high is too high going up? A lot of people felt four to five stories was the most you could build in Uptown without ruining its character. It has to do with how it sits on the street, how it affects the street. You don't want people walking through a canyon, a mini-downtown Chicago, if you will. You got to get it right,” said Koos.

Opioid settlement

The town council has opted into the opioid settlement funding. That's close to $300,000 paid out over quite a few years; 70% of that money must be used on addiction and treatment. Koos said it’s too soon to say how he thinks the town should use the money, but there is time to be intentional about the roughly $15,000 per year that would come to the town, though the rules are not yet clearly defined.

“My sense would be to partner with a mental health group or somebody with substance abuse treatment experience like Chestnut Health Systems,” said Koos.

He was less certain whether the town should insist on a program that directly benefits the town or whether the money could be spent community wide that would have an ancillary benefit for the town.

“I think, to reinforce a program, possibly, that would have to do with opioid addictions. It's certainly something in our community,” said Koos. “It'll be up to the courts to determine how that money gets distributed.

The mayors and city managers of Bloomington and Normal join WGLT once a month on Sound Ideas.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.