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Bloomington to spend almost $225,000 to repair aging Market Street Parking Deck

Russ Waller, Bloomington facilities director, answers questions during a Bloomington City Council meeting Monday, July 11, 2022 at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
/
WGLT
Russ Waller, Bloomington facilities director, answers questions during a Bloomington City Council meeting on Monday, July 11, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.

The Bloomington City Council is split on whether to keep pouring money into the aging Market Street Parking Deck downtown.

At its meeting Monday night, the council voted 4-3 to spend about $225,000 on repairs needed to maintain the nearly 50-year-old parking garage, at the southeast corner of Market and Madison streets. But several council members said the time for band-aid approaches are over. What’s needed, they said, is action for the prime location.

“I do think, maybe, at the visioning retreat, we need to bite the bullet” and address the long-term fate of the structure, said Ward 2’s Donna Boelen, who served as mayor pro tem because Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe was absent. In that role, Boelen didn't vote.

Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill also did not attend.

Also at the meeting, a proposal to offer temporary amnesty for parking fines died for lack of a vote; and the council heard a brief presentation on proposed redistricting for its nine-ward system.

West Market Street Parking Deck

On the one hand, Bloomington leaders have a general consensus that the deck is too old for investment. On the other hand, the council hasn’t voted to demolish the structure and make way for what to do with the space.

Russ Waller, the city’s facilities director, told the council Monday that to keep the structure safe, and open, the repairs are needed. The council's 4-3 vote awards Western Specialty Contractors the $223,687 contract.

Waller said in the post-COVID landscape, only about half of the deck’s 550 spaces are regularly used. Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus said demolishing the structure would cost the city about $2 million.

Making the repairs ensures the deck can be used, said Tim Gleason, Bloomington city manager. “We’re going to blink and two or three years are going to go by,” said Gleason, so some kind of temporary fix is needed.

“It’s also buying us some time, in terms of addressing the long-term solution for the downtown," added Gleason.

Despite nearly a decade of discussions for what to put there next, Bloomington leaders haven't been decisive in how to move forward. Several conversations about potential solutions are in play, said Gleason. He called the possibility of partnering with Connect Transit to create a downtown transportation center there an interesting idea, but a premature one.

Ward 3’s Sheila Montney and Ward 5’s Nick Becker, among those supporting the contract, said given the cost to demolish the structure, it made sense to maintain the parking deck with the smaller repairs for now.

In voting “no,” Ward 6’s De Urban said she appreciated Waller's points on keeping the structure functioning, but city leaders need to stop kicking the can down the road when it comes to handling the parking deck. “The can is stopping here with me,” she said. Ward 1’s Grant Walch and Ward 7’s Mollie Ward also voted against spending any more on the garage.

Parking amnesty idea lacks support

In another matter, a proposal to offer a temporary program allowing people with accumulated parking fines to pay just half what they owe was sent back to staff, with no vote taken.

Council members held a lengthy public discussion on the matter.

As proposed, for 30 days, those fined could pay half owed, with some of that money going to support a local charity providing backpacks to public school students. This 30-day period was to precede Bloomington joining an aggressive statewide collections program. The latter still is planned, said Gleason.

But in the end, no one motioned for a vote.

Montney said of the fines in collections, about 60% has been accrued by just 53 people. That accounts for about $180,000 owed to Bloomington, she said.

City staff said they couldn’t provide demographics on the people owing fines. So, she said she was concerned these parking violations weren’t necessarily from drivers on limited incomes.

Several council members said they didn’t think cutting the fines in half sent a good message to people. A $10 fine tops out at $38, with late fees.

“We’re talking about giving them a nice little reward” for being repeat offenders, said Walch.

Waller and Gleason said logistically the city wouldn’t lose money by seeking half the fines because, so far, of the roughly 10,000 outstanding fines, only about 25% of money was recouped. Waller said the city’s current system has difficulty locating recipients of parking fines because of changing addresses and other issues.

Several council members asked why the city doesn’t put parking boots on repeat offenders. But Waller said the cost and staff safety make it impractical.

“It seems there are a lot of unanswered questions with regard to lack of enforcement,” said Montney.

Public commenters Surena Fish and Deborah Johnson spoke against the amnesty proposal with both saying taxpayers expect the city to collect the fines that are owed.

“If you choose to forgive parking tickets, what’s next?” said Johnson.

Becker, who attended the meeting virtually, said initially he supported the proposal because it would be a way for the city to get some of the money owed, while helping theBack 2 School Alliance with its charity work.

However, at the end of the meeting, he praised public commenters and fellow council members for helping persuade him the program wasn't in Bloomington's best interest.

Proposed ward maps shared

City clerk Leslie Yocum told the council the five proposed maps for Bloomington’s nine wards will be discussed in depth at the council’s July 18 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

The council is expected to vote on the final proposal not long after that committee meeting, said Tyus.

City staff designed four of the plans, while a city resident submitted the fifth.

All of the proposed remapped boundaries meet the requirement of shifting in a way to maintain compact wards, with similar populations within each. The proposed changes seek to offset population shifts reported in the 2020 U.S. Census.

Tyus told the council the goal is for each of the nine wards to be home to about 8,700 residents. But the Census showed Ward 7 is under that figure, and Ward 8 is over.

The city’s proposed redistricting plans can be seen on the Bloomington website.

In other business, the council:

  • Amended its fiscal 2022 budget by $1.1 million, authorizing PJ Hoerr to handle construction of the Miller Park Zoo’s new South American exhibit. 
  • OK’d two Local 362 collective bargaining agreements — one for city inspectors, and the other for support staff. Each group will see 3% raises for the three-year period of 2022-2024.
  • Authorized spending about $220,000 on a street sweeper, with plans to trade in a surplus unit valued at $100,000; spending about $175,000 for three professional leaf vacuums, and about $230,000 on a backhoe.
  • Voted unanimously to table a decision on proposed changes for Cadillac Jack's outdoor seating. The council returned the proposal to the Bloomington Liquor Commission for further community input. Two public commenters complained about the south Main Street business’s loud events. Ward 6’s Urban said she’s also received several emails from constituents with similar concerns.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.