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Mayor makes the case for new Uptown development incentives

Trail East Trail West 2022 plan.jpg
Eagle View Partners / Farnsworth Group
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Town of Normal
A conceptual rendering of the proposed Trail East (right) and Trail West mixed-use buildings on the north end of Uptown Normal.

The mayor of Normal supports offering economic development incentives for the Trail East and West projects.

The town is negotiating a development agreement with Cedar Falls, Iowa-based Eagle View Partners. That would allow the $50-60 million project to go forward. Mayor Chris Koos said a critical part of those five to six-story buildings on Uptown Circle is the emphasis on housing, in particular, apartments for more affluent residents.

“It addresses a very sharp need in this community. Building on existing sites is always more expensive than building in greenfield areas. We feel we have to participate in that to some level,” said Koos.

Koos said a previous development attempt configured a proposed Trail East building as mainly office space, with a little residential. Koos noted the new proposal flips that ratio.

LeahMarlene_Bollinger07.jpg
Emily Bollinger
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WGLT
Normal Mayor Chris Koos at an event in Uptown.

“With Rivian coming in, there's a huge demand for housing that is not single-family detached,” said Koos.

The developer has said the housing will have an income test and will likely not attract college students.

Koos said a study done for the Economic Development Council shows a pronounced lack of upscale apartment units throughout the community. The study indicated a shortage of more than 4,000 units in all types of housing. Koos said municipalities do have a role in encouraging developers to address the lack.

“The study pointed out that there was a lot of single-family rental properties in this community and actually double the national average for a community our size. There's a need for accessible affordable units in the community. And that's something that we're going to be looking at, as part of the Uptown II master plan,” said Koos.

Illinois State University recently advanced plans for a new 1,200-bed residence hall. Koos said that will not change the housing mix much, other than perhaps reducing the number of students who rent houses. If it turns out to not be economically viable to rent those houses, Koos said it might encourage property companies to sell off houses and grow the number of single-family occupant-owned homes on the fringes of the ISU campus area.

Uptown South study

The mayor recently supported paying a consultant $80,000 for design and planning on eight acres of Uptown south of the railroad tracks. Koos said he thinks that is a reasonable expense, even for such a small parcel of land.

“It would assess adjoining transportation as well, the streets leading into it. If you were a private developer and you had eight acres, you'd easily spend that kind of money to plan it out,” said Koos.

Mental Health Action Plan

The McLean County Board recently adopted an updated mental health action plan. Koos said "for the most part it does address some needs in the community." He said proof that the plan is adequate will come in the implementation.

WGLT asked the mayor whether the results to date have been worth the town’s 1% sales tax investment and the overall collection of $23 million communitywide.

“A portion of that agreement from Bloomington and Normal was to support the expansion of the jail itself. Since Bloomington and Normal do not have jails, and do central booking, we felt like we had to participate in that. Just about the time things started coming together, we got hit with COVID. And that really slowed everything down in terms of implementation on this plan. We're seeing some things starting now. We're going to have to see what, from the metrics, it produces,” said Koos.

Koos said he’s willing to give the county another grace period because of the pandemic. One of the hoped-for amenities is an adolescent treatment center, which has not yet happened. He did not specify how long the grace period should run.

“The steering committee is dealing with that issue right now. I think there's going to be some decision making being done here. And pretty quickly,” said Koos.

Koos said if he had been asked six months ago whether the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council or the county has communicated well enough about progress toward delivery of services, he would have said no. He said both the town of Normal and the city of Bloomington had some concerns, but the county has "stepped up, provided a lot of information, and answered some of the questions."

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