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Movement being seen on new restaurants in Uptown Circle

Construction will begin soon on the Hacienda Leon restaurant slated for vacant first floor space in One Uptown in Normal.
Charlie Schlenker
Construction will begin soon on the Hacienda Leon restaurant slated for vacant first-floor space in One Uptown in Normal.

There's activity on two new restaurants in Uptown Normal.

City Manager Pam Reece said there is interest in the former Subway sandwich space in Uptown Station. The town issued a request for proposal a couple months ago after the business closed in October 2022.

"We are right now negotiating with that potential tenant. If all continues to go well with negotiation for use of that space, we can go to council probably in May or June with a proposed lease," said Reece.

The potential food service is not a chain, but an independent owner, Reece said on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The seating area in the former Subway restaurant shop in Uptown Station is temporarily used by children who lunch during a visit to the Children's Discovery Museu, in Normal.
Charlie Schlenker
The seating area in the former Subway restaurant shop in Uptown Station is temporarily used by children who lunch during a visit to the Children's Discovery Museu, in Normal.

The 1,600-square-foot space is currently used as an eating area for groups of children visiting the Children's Discovery Museum next door.

The town also has issued a building permit for Hacienda Leon that will go into the ground floor of Uptown One. That restaurant had originally been projected to open in August, but Reece said that timetable is no longer realistic.

New fire station

The Normal Town Council has picked a team to design and build the new $5 million east side fire station. Reece said the Farnsworth Group and CORE Construction will take quite a while and the council will have to sign off at several stages. She said a contract will likely come back to the council within the next two months; after that, the design phase will begin.

"Right now, we are looking at perhaps a spring 2024 construction schedule, nine to 12 months of construction depending on supply chain issues and perhaps by the end of 2024 we could be in the new facility," said Reece.

When finished, the fire station at Shepard and Hershey Roads will reduce response time in the town's northeast quadrant that includes Normal Community High School, Eastview Christian Church, and an Apostolic Christian Church-owned development.

"Right now, it takes approximately 9 1/2 minutes to get to that area of town, and we have been concerned about that," said Reece. "That's not within National Fire Protection Association standards. Our goal is to improve our response time to between four and six minutes 90% of the time."

Normal City Manager Pam Reece
Charlie Schlenker
Normal City Manager Pam Reece

It is the final relocation of the town’s three fire stations, a process that began more than a decade ago to adjust fire coverage for town growth.

Reece said the town has not decided what to do with the fire station on College Avenue at Blair Drive that will be decommissioned. That building was once the fire department headquarters. The town is open to several options, including re-using the building or selling the property, said Reece.

Normal Public Library

The Normal Public Library Board of Trustees is considering a recommendation to move ahead with a $300,000 asbestos removal project in the 1973 section of the building on College Avenue. Asbestos fireproofing is de-laminating and falling onto ceiling tiles, or in the case of some basement rooms without ceilings, onto the floor in rooms not frequented by the public. The project also could require new ceilings, lighting, and carpet.

A new library building potentially in Uptown South has been mentioned as part of the conversation about development of the area south of the train tracks.

Reece was asked about the town helping out on the cost of the abatement project.

"I think the Normal Public Library has quite a bit of reserves in anticipation of perhaps a new library down the road," she said. "They have been saving money for either investing in their current space, or getting ready to build in some other location."

She said abatement is worthwhile if the library board believes they will be there for an extended period of time, maybe 8-10 years.

"If the library is going to be at their current site for a while, it may make sense in a cost/benefit analysis to invest in the abatement...for what may be a medium-term duration in the space," said Reece. "The library is very popular, and all parties want to make sure it is safe."

The library board will meet with an architect and an environmental firm to talk about the proposal at its public meeting on May 17.

Often, asbestos is a complicating factor in older buildings if the asbestos-containing material becomes friable and previously encapsulated fibers become airborne. Asbestos was commonly used in insulation and fireproofing for several decades before its cancer-causing properties were widely known.

In February of 2016, Bloomington officials had to close the entire Lincoln Leisure Center while workers removed asbestos from just the boiler room. And in the spring of 2012, the Unit 5 School District was forced to close Chiddix Junior High School for part of the school year while a broader mitigation effort took place.

McLean County courts also have been a center for national lawsuits over asbestos. Chicago-based Union Asbestos & Rubber Company (UNARCO) operated an asbestos manufacturing plant on Bloomington’s west side from 1950-1982, according to the McLean County Museum of History.

UNARCO and successor corporation, Owens Corning, were targeted in product liability cases by hundreds of former plant workers and other people who were exposed to asbestos and developed cancer or a fibrous condition involving scarring of the lungs called asbestosis.

ARPA funding

The City of Bloomington recently said during a Committee of the Whole meeting that it will begin accepting applications May 1 for $3.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants for small businesses and affordable housing. Those grants will be first-come, first-served. The city already had allocated more than $9 million of its $13 million total pandemic relief money.

The Town of Normal has very little left to allocate of its $10 million in ARPA money — about $600,000 said Reece, adding she likely will recommend the money be spent on infrastructure, but has not yet put the issue before the council. The town has until December of 2024 to allocate the funds and they must be expended by December 2026.

Reece said projects for which the town already has allocated pandemic relief money include Savannah Green alleys and road improvements, work on the intersections of Fort Jesse Road and Landmark Drive, and Landmark and Greenbriar, the Maplewood neighborhood sewer flooding issue, Marcfirst's new facility and expanded behavioral health programs — the Community Healthcare Clinic, and the Carle Mobile Health Clinic.

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