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One Uptown gets its final tenant — a new restaurant on the circle

The redevelopment of Uptown Normal over the past 20 years has been largely supported by a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that began in 2003. TIF is an economic development tool that allows a town like Normal to capture and spend the new tax revenue generated in a specific area on that area – in this case Uptown.
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The rest of One Uptown, left, opened close to five years ago, and town officials had occasionally voiced frustration with a lack of a restaurant tenant.

A long dormant part of Uptown Normal finally has a tenant.

The owner of Hacienda Leon in Bloomington will open another of those restaurants in One Uptown, on the circle. That’s one of the anchor buildings for the Uptown district. The restaurant could have more than 100 seats and complement existing dining options. The development will reportedly cost more than $1 million.

“We've continued to have faith in that market. We're excited that we can finally energize the circle with the vision that we all had,” said Doug Reichl, one of the owners of One Uptown and a principal in the Chicago-based Tartan Realty Group.

Reichl said Hacienda Leon could open in late March or April of next year.

“They are anxious to get going. They've engaged an architect. The space has already been studied preliminarily. So, I think that's probably aggressive but doable,” said Reichl.

The rest of One Uptown opened close to five years ago, and town officials had occasionally voiced frustration with a lack of a restaurant tenant. Reichl acknowledged the economy, the pandemic, and other hurdles made it difficult to find an operator.

“The space is in more or less raw condition and it takes a significant amount of capital to take it from where it is to open and serving food,” said Reichl.

Reichl said Tartan also wanted to be particular because they have a bundle of money in the floors above.

“We weren't really interested in just putting in any old tenant to fill the space. It had to be, I think consistent with the quality of the property and it couldn't diminish in any way investment that we have there,” said Reichl.

Reichl said he's optimistic about the future of Uptown and Hacienda Leon, but doesn't think the district can support more restaurants because of a lack of street level parking. He said the mayor of Normal and another council member helped vet the tenant for the space in One Uptown.

The Town of Normal rents the second floor of the building, and the upper floors are apartments.

“We've been 100% leased in the apartments really since we opened. So, by all indications, it has been an overwhelming success. Except that last piece was, was the tricky part,” said Reichl.

Reichl said Tartan has a couple other projects in formation in Bloomington-Normal.

“We are purchasing the PNC Bank at Veterans Parkway and Shepard Road in Normal near the Sam’s Club. And we are we are working on a multifamily project that's preliminary at this point,” said Reichl.

A recent Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council study showed a 4,300-unit housing deficit in the Twin Cities. City and Town governments have asked developers for more upscale apartments and condominiums and said the study proves there is a market for that segment. Reichl is less enthusiastic than municipal officials as he compared it to the Chicago market.

“In general, the market down there is skewed towards buying. I think Bloomington has a much smaller demand for high-end apartments or high-end condos. The scale of your project sort of dictates what you wind up doing. I think that study shows demand for apartments. It really doesn't get into price. To me that’s the biggest trick, threading that needle in that market. There's a cost-sensitive market,” said Reichl.

He said condos are completely different product types than apartments and condos are built to a higher standard of quality. He said even with the robust hiring electric vehicle maker Rivian has had, and some of the executives and management types, he still thinks the market for condos is limited.

“In that market, you could buy a house, right? Better paid people have that option of owning a home and I think in that market that's probably preferred. You're competing against that option. And just knowing what I know about our property; we get a couple types of people. We get retired people that like the benefit of having a secure environment with someone else to take care of it. That's one class of renter and the other is the executive that moves to the market who is a little bit transient, still figuring out what they want to do. And we get them for a period of time,” said Reichl.

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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