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Town Council member: New Uptown plan includes 'better mix' with heavier focus on residential

Normal Town Council member Kevin McCarthy at a recent meeting.
Jeffrey Smudde
Normal Town Council member Kevin McCarthy at a meeting. He appeared Tuesday on WGLT's newsmagazine Sound Ideas.

A Normal Town Council member says the latest proposal for the Trail East and Trail West sites in Uptown Normal is a “fundamentally different project” than its scuttled predecessor and will better meet the needs of the community because it includes more apartment space.

The Town Council voted Monday night to move ahead with Iowa developer Eagle View Partners on the $50-60 million project. It would bring dual mixed-used buildings to the north side of Uptown circle.

Eagle View’s plan emerged only after an earlier proposal from Bush Construction for Trail East was abandoned last fall. Town Council member Kevin McCarthy said Eagle View’s new pitch features a primary focus on residential space – over 150 units – compared with Bush’s more commercial plan.

“It’s a better mix,” McCarthy said Tuesday on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Bloomington-Normal needs more housing, due in part to the thousands of jobs rapidly added by electric automaker Rivian. Home inventory is low, home prices are rising, and rentals are scarce. The council has recently approved growth within several traditional residential developments with new-home construction, McCarthy said, but rentals are also a need.

“This type of housing isn’t available really for that young professional in our community,” McCarthy said. “So this is a different type of housing aimed at a different market. It’s sorely needed.”

The last mixed-use building to open on the circle was 1 Uptown Circle, where the first-floor restaurant or retail space has been famously vacant since opening day.

“We’ve got one space in that building that isn’t filled. And me, and I think everybody on the council, and everybody in the community, would like to see 100% occupancy. But that isn’t a reality in today’s marketplace,” McCarthy said, noting demand for commercial property has declined during the pandemic.

Eagle View said Monday that people ages 26 to 30 and single are the target demographic for its new Uptown housing units. Baby boomers looking to downsize would be another option. A leader from Eagle View said they’d have an “income requirement” that would limit the number of college students.

McCarthy said that reality does not mean the Town of Normal is not invested in creating more affordable-housing opportunities. He noted that council members also discussed at Monday’s meeting the town’s Community Development Block Grant action plan for 2022-23, which includes the conversion of 905 N. Main Street, in part, for affordable senior housing units.

“Because we do one project, that doesn’t mean we’re doing that at the exclusion of support for other projects,” he said. “This (Trail East and Trail West) development isn’t for everybody."

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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