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Normal council approves spending for Uptown South design; OKs city manager salary bump

In this image of the area south of Uptown Normal, an 8-acre site is outlined in red. At its council meeting Monday, the Normal Town Council voted to hire architects to design how to use the area.
Town of Normal
In this aerial image of Uptown Normal, an eight-acre site south of the railroad tracks is outlined in red. The Normal Town Council voted Monday to hire a design architect team to plan for development of the area.

Architects will help Normal decide how to develop property south of the railroad tracks in Uptown Normal, with the potential to help address the community's housing shortage.

At its meeting Monday night, the Normal Town Council voted to contract with Farr Associates Architecture & Urban Design P.C. to oversee the plan. Separately, the council voted to renew the town’s participation in an insurance co-op, and to give City Manager Pam Reece a 4% pay raise.

In a 5-2 vote, the council approved the $80,000 contract with Chicago-based Farr, enlisting the firm, and its subcontractors, to design the area known as Uptown South. Council members Stan Nord and Scott Preston voted “no.”

An acre of the site already is reserved for a $23 million project to build a pedestrian underpassand a public park/outdoor amphitheater space. State and federal grants will fund more than 90% of that project.

“We’ve approved an underpass with the notion that we were going to do something on the other side, to tie the two areas together,” said Mayor Chris Koos.

Farr led both the circa 2000 master plan for what was then known as downtown Normal, and its Uptown 2.0 update in 2015.

Preston and Nord both said they didn't think a new $80,000 study was needed.

But Normal town planner Mercy Davison said that while Uptown South was only a piece of the 2015 update, here it will be the focus.

Davison pointed to an increased demand for housing, especially with electric automaker Rivian's growth. She also said the way the community shops and works has changed since the onset of the pandemic. Farr will gather public input as part of its design, she said.

Nord said he thought it premature to pay for a study about the south side of the tracks, while space remains open in the buildings north of the tracks. He also said leaders should wait to see what's happening in Uptown when the area's tax-increment financing district (TIF) status expires in two years.

“We don’t have businesses clamoring to come in here like we were promised,” said Nord.

Council OKs city manager raise

Also Monday, the council extended Reece’s contract through March 2025, and OK’d an $8,000 raise, bringing her annual salary to $209,000. As part of the contract, the town also will make a one-time $2,500 contribution to her retirement fund. This 6-1 vote also found Nord as the lone opponent.

The other five council members, and the mayor, said they supported the raise because Reece had earned it.

“We all know what’s going on in the marketplace, we’ve got a labor shortage," said council member Kevin McCarthy. "Government is no different than private industry and our ability to maintain high quality leadership is partly based on our ability to recognize accomplishments.”

Town renews insurance plan

In another 6-1 vote, the council opted to renew its participation in the Municipal Insurance Cooperative Agency (MICA), and pay 3.1% more than the previous year. Nord voted “no.”

MICA includes 22 of Illinois’ public entities, and includes insurance coverage on a partially self-funded basis, according to council materials.

The total cost for MICA’s annual program is about $16.1 million — with Normal’s portion about $1.9 million. In all, Normal will pay about $480,000 more than last year.

Normal’s been a consortium member for nearly 40 years. The group is highly selective in allowing membership to better maintain the group’s risk level, said Koos. The town actually expected higher rates, and budgeted about $2.1 million for the insurance renewal.

In other business, the council:

  • Amended the town’s liquor code to allow alcohol sales at certain one-day events, outside the regular hours the town allows such sales. 
  • Heard presentations from teens involved in the Youth on A Mission program, a club focused on learning about local government. 

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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