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Bloomington council to consider incentives for game store expansion

Red Raccoon Games would expand and move if the city council approves a redevelopment agreement for a downtown building.
WGLT Staff
Red Raccoon Games would expand and move if the city council approves a redevelopment agreement for a downtown building.

The City of Bloomington will consider a development incentive package that would allow a game store to expand in downtown. Jamie Mathy resigned from the city council to avoid a conflict of interest before submitting the proposal.

Jamie and Kelly Mathy own Red Raccoon Games. They would buy the Main Plaza building at 301 North Main, at the corner of Jefferson and Main, next to the existing store.

The remodeled building will allow Red Raccoon Games to double in size and offer two new 2,500-square-foot retail spaces.

“The building has been empty for 13 years, and hasn’t had a substantial remodel in far longer than that. Our biggest challenges were a sprinkler system to meet current fire codes, and an elevator to make the 8,500-square-foot basement ADA accessible," Mathy said.

The pandemic helped Red Raccoon Games grow significantly as people turned to tabletop games during isolation.
The pandemic helped Red Raccoon Games grow significantly as people turned to tabletop games during isolation.

Mathy said estimates for the sprinkler system are more than $60,000 and the elevator could cost $175,000. Significant electric system improvements will also be needed. That level of cost discourages many potential businesses from taking on a downtown building.

Mathy said he has applied to the city for a $25,000 façade grant, sales tax rebates above the current business average, and the city portion of the property tax bill for the property. The sales tax rebates on the two subdivided spaces in the building would only apply if the businesses that move in are new and from outside the community, Mathy said. The package also includes some parking spaces in the Market Street parking deck for employees.

“Most of the risk is on us. If we don’t continue to grow Red Raccoon Games, and if we don’t bring in new retailers that generate sales taxes for the City of Bloomington, we won’t see much in the way of incentives. We’re good with that challenge because we have no intention of slowing down,” said Mathy.

The city council will consider the proposal Monday. City Manager Tim Gleason has long talked about grant programs to encourage businesses to take the sometimes-scary step of investing in significant infrastructure improvements for older downtown buildings.

“Seeing a local business like Red Raccoon expand is a great thing,” said City Manager Tim Gleason. “The added bonus is that it’s creating a true downtown destination, while bringing new life to a long vacant downtown space.”

“It's the first big investment on Main Street in a long time, and I'm hoping the city's willingness to work with us and the city's willingness to talk about elevators and codes will help get more buildings remodeled, rehabbed and moving exciting businesses into some of those empty big spaces,” said Mathy

Building history

The building has been vacant for 13 years, since the Great Recession, Mathy said. It has a provenance that demonstrates the rich variety of downtown. Its foundation dates to before 1900, though the Great Downtown Fire of 1900 destroyed that building. Mathy said he believes another fire destroyed a second structure. But the foundation once connected to the original steam tunnel network under the downtown. Businesses that have occupied it since include Smith Barney, Habitat for Humanity, a State Farm agent, and a lunch counter and variety store.

“When it was rebuilt the second time, it was the Woolworths in downtown Bloomington,” said Mathy.

Mathy said he does not have new tenants signed but believes his own business will pay for part of the expansion. He plans dedicated rental rooms for birthday parties and gaming groups that are difficult to serve in the current space.

“We're going to continue to build on the kind of the community base portion of it,” said Mathy.

Mathy said during the pandemic he started an e-commerce site, and that portion of the business has grown because his inventory is larger than many. A basement area will help the store do order fulfillment.

“Main Plaza came onto the market at the perfect time. This summer is the stores’ 15th anniversary, and we’re bursting at the seams,” said Mathy. “Our industry grew by 31% in 2021. We went into the pandemic with 6 employees, and now at full staff we have 13.”

If the council approves, Mathy estimated the project could be done by early next year. He said it will advance a strategic plan that includes a mission-vision rewrite involving staff done last year.

“It was very important to them to make sure that we added inclusivity. If that means somebody with mobility issue gets to play with everybody else, if that means that somebody identifies as LGBTQ, we want to make sure that we're a safe, reliable space for them. In the short term, it's going to be interesting. In the long term, I think it will help us meet some of the bigger goals that we set out for the company,” said Mathy.

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