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Residents offer feedback to create master plan for Uptown South

Chris Francis / WGLT
More than 50 people attended a planning session Tuesday night related to development of Uptown South in Normal.

Residents are taking a real interest in what happens in Uptown South in Normal.

More than 50 people attended a public feedback session Tuesday evening, led by Doug Farr, president of Farr Associates Architecture & Urban Design, the urban planning and architecture firm that designed Uptown Circle; the firm has been contracted by the city again to create a master plan for the eight-acre block of Uptown South.

“We were expecting something like 20 people, so this is great,” Normal town planner Mercy Davison said to the group of residents who packed a City Hall meeting room.

An acre of the site already is reserved for the $23 million project to build a pedestrian underpassand a public park/outdoor amphitheater space. State and federal grants will fund more than 90% of that project.

Farr came prepared to offer a realistic vision of what might meet the community’s needs, even if meant disappointing some who attended.

He highlighted community's housing challenges by reiterating that multi-family housing would be a feature of the Uptown South design, but attracting development might be difficult. He thinks developers would only find it worthwhile to construct apartment buildings if tenants in the area were willing to pay an average of at least $2 per square foot, while the average in Uptown Normal is currently $1.99.

High on the list of priorities since first receiving comments from a public survey in July has been a grocery store, a request repeated by most of at least six Illinois State University students present at the meeting. But Farr was skeptical.

“That isn’t likely,” he said, explaining his belief that the Uptown South area couldn’t sustain the kind of small, corner grocery store that would fit among the planned buildings in the new space. The students, ready to spend money at a store that could offer fresh produce within walking distance, were skeptical themselves.

Farr offered three different designs: the “cloister,” the “pinwheel,” and the “central park,” all to be connected to Uptown Circle by the underpass beneath the railroad tracks. Each option rearranges space between parks, retail buildings, multi-family housing, and a parking garage.

After his presentation, the attendees broke into discussion groups to generate more feedback.

Interest in the three designs was evenly split among the groups, but many expressed concern the proposed parking garage wasn’t big enough. Some proposed changes would overhaul Farr’s designs to have more adequate parking in Uptown.

In the end, many attendees were appreciative of the opportunity to be involved in the planning process and impressed with the interest the community has shown in what happens in Uptown South.

The design process is still in its early stages, with the Normal Planning Commission intending to complete the Uptown South master plan by early 2023.

Chris Francis is a WGLT correspondent. He joined the station in 2022.