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Bloomington City Council approves soccer complex at Sale Barn site and splitting off arts and entertainment department

Jeremy Kelley addresses the Bloomington City Council
Michele Steinbacher
Prairie Cities Soccer League Secretary Jeremy Kelley addresses the Bloomington City Council at its meeting Monday, May 9, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.

It’s official: The community’s largest youth soccer league will create a new complex at the site of the old Sale Barn in southwest Bloomington.

On Monday, the Bloomington City Council annexed the 46-acre site — off south Main Street and Hamilton Road — and approved the plan submitted by Prairie Cities Soccer League/FC Central Illinois.

“It’s a very exciting project and it’s going to be in a prominent location,” said Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason.

A groundbreaking is expected this summer, said Jeremy Kelley, PCSL secretary. The men said besides being a community resource, the complex should spur development in the area.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council chose Grant Walch to represent Ward 1; approved a multiyear street resurfacing plan; created a city position to run the arena and other arts programs; and heard an annual report from the Bloomington Police Department.

Soccer complex groundbreaking this summer

The council unanimously approved several actions related to the new PCSL complex, including rezoning the property as B-1 commercial.

“We’re very excited to be here, finally,” said Kelley, noting the long process of finding a new home. For several years, the Central Illinois Regional Airport has told the group it needs to move off the property, which sits adjacent to the runways.

“We’re here for the long term,” he added. PCSL/FC Central Illinois, a 501C-3 corporation, provides soccer leagues to about 2,000 local youth.

The league’s lease ends in December for its longtime site, Community Fields, at Towanda-Barnes and Ireland Grove roads. That lease already has been extended. At one point, PCSL had proposed a larger complex in Normal, but fundraising fell through.

At the new south Bloomington site, previously owned by the Shirk family’s Sale Barn Properties, eight fields will serve as a replacement for the Community Fields. Kelley said it will be a comparable site, not larger, as originally proposed in Normal. While it mainly will serve PCSL/FC Central Illinois teams, Kelley hopes it also would be available to other events, such as Illinois High School Association programs.

When complete, the complex will include two turf fields, two lighted grass fields, and four training fields. Restrooms and a concession area will be added later. The league will be using the area west of the Sale Barn, said Kelley.

The complex will be connected to the city’s sanitary sewer and water mains. A stormwater retention pond also will be included.

Kelley said finding a new home for PCSL, part of the Bloomington-Normal community nearly 50 years, has been a long journey.

At the council’s last meeting, the city annexed land and adopted a plan for a new truck stop on west Market Street. At the time, Gleason said there would be more development announcements to come soon.

“This is the more,” said Gleason.

Ward 1 seat goes to Grant Walch

Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe nominated Grant Walch to the Ward 1 seat, vacated when Jamie Mathy resigned in March because of a business conflict.

Grant Walch, Bloomington City Council’s Ward 1 representative, takes his seat at the council meeting Monday, May 9, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
Grant Walch, Bloomington City Council’s Ward 1 representative, takes his seat at the council meeting Monday, May 9, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.

The mayor called Walch “an individual who is forthright,” and that during the selection process, he expressed a willingness to listen to differences of opinions.

The council voted 6-2 in favor of Walch, with Ward 4’s Julie Emig and Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill opposing the nomination. Crabill and Emig both said they didn’t think Walch was the right person to replace Mathy. They said Mathy had a moderate voting record, and because he’d been re-elected, that demonstrated voters in Ward 1 preferred such a representative.

“I believe this is a selection made intentionally to move the council in a more conservative direction,” said Crabill. Emig echoed that sentiment.

Walch, a longtime Bloomington resident, works for STL Technology Partners. Before working in the IT field, he previously served as director of a YMCA in Ohio. Ward 9’s Tom Crumpler said he believes Walch’s background as an IT professional, and as someone who’s worked in nonprofits, will benefit Bloomington residents.

Seven Ward 1 residents applied for the seat.

Nearly $9 million street resurfacing plan OK’d

The council also unanimously approved a street resurfacing plan for 2023 and 2024, taking into consideration possible additional projects for 2023 — boosted by federal COVID-relief money.

The approved plan paves the way for about $8.75 million in street resurfacing and sidewalk work in 2022-2023. The city is budgeting about $7 million for the program. Another $1.75 million in improvements comes from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

An hourlong discussion between council members and Public Works Director Kevin Kothe and city engineer Craig Shonkwiler revealed the complexity of moving forward with the street resurfacing in the current economic climate, wrought with inflation and supply-demand issues, as well as a labor shortage.

The group also discussed several state projects awaiting commencement, including work on U.S. 51, U.S. 150, and Veterans Parkway.

About 15 miles of the city’s 800 miles of streets will be covered through the plan.

The council OK’d plans for the city to waive bidding requirements, and negotiate a contract with Rowe Construction, a division of United Contractors Midwest.

Parks and Recreation splits from arts

The council voted Monday to split the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department.

The Parks and Recreation Department will return to its original name and mission. In a related vote, the council OK’d creating a new arts and entertainment department, and hiring a director for that.

That person hired will manage events at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, the Coliseum, and other downtown programs. The estimated annual salary of $110,000 allows Bloomington to avoid outsourcing such work, as it had previously with the previous management company, VenuWorks, he said.

2021 BPD report shows hike in fraud cases 

Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington presented an annual report on the department.

He said the largest increase in crime during 2021 was fraud, citing a direct correlation to the COVID pandemic. BPD fielded 116% more fraud cases than it did in 2020, he said, adding the figure was comparable at state and federal levels.

Those included cases related to fake stimulus checks circulating, as well as cases related to unemployment fraud and personal protective equipment fraud, he said.

The pandemic also is seen as the cause of 2021 seeing a 5.5% increase in domestic violence, and an increase in sexual assaults, he said.

The detailed report covers homicide, gun violence, sexual assaults, and more. The chief noted methamphetamines — increasingly laced with opioids or fentanyl — are becoming a growing problem in the city, also reflecting a national trend.

He noted Bloomington had 31 shootings in 2021, up from 27 in the previous year. In 2021, BPD increased its illegal gun seizures, with about 75% of those being stolen weapons.

CDBG annual action plan 

Nearly half of the city’s proposed U.S. Housing and Urban Development funded Capital Development Block Grant this year — about $400,000 — likely will go toward single-family home rehabilitation.

On Monday, a public hearing on the proposed $860,000 action plan, during the council meeting, drew no public comments.

Bloomington’s Community Enhancement Development Manager Michael Sinnett led a presentation about the proposed CDBG plan. This marks the 48th year Bloomington has taken part in the distribution of the CDBG funds, Sinnett said.

Public input on the plan, which can be viewed on the city’s website or at the Bloomington Public Library, will be open until June 10, he said.

The CDBG residential lead-abatement program was put on hold because of the pandemic, but is expected to restart this summer.

If approved by the city council, it then would be contingent on HUD approval.

On Monday, the council voted to accept $378,000 from HUD for single-family rehabs, and a roughly $450,000 Illinois Housing Development Authority grant for single family rehabs.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved spending just over $2 million with George Gildner Inc. for the city’s annual utility maintenance program, and about $175,000 with Gildner for the annual street, sidewalk and maintenance project.
  • Approved a nearly $148,000 contract with Bodine Electric for the annual traffic signal project.
  • Honored the Rev. Brigitte Black. The pastor of Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church, and community civil rights leader, died in April.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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