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Bloomington council OKs major remodel of two Government Center floors; part of city reorganization

Government Center building
Emily Bollinger
The Government Center in downtown Bloomington.

The Bloomington City Council voted Monday to take the next step in a major reorganization of city space needs, approving a more than half-million-dollar office-space remodel.

The nearly $578,000 AFE Construction project is centered on the economic and community development department. Although not included in the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget, due to a delay in other projects in FY 2023, funds are available in the capital improvement fund, according to council materials.

The renovation is for two floors of the downtown Government Center.

The price tag isn’t nothing. But it shouldn’t be looked at in isolation, said Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason.

“We see opportunities to take what already exists for us, and that’s this building, and make further investment in it — vs. seeking to build a city hall, at several million dollars, somewhere else,” he said.

More than 20 years ago, the city and McLean County governments jointly purchased the four-story building, at 115 E. Washington Street.

The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, May 8, 2023, at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, May 8, 2023, at the downtown Government Center.

So, the city does have equity and ownership in it, said Gleason.

Also at the meeting, the council voted to approve a $1 million program for upgrading the city’s water meter system, and created a new specialized liquor license for vendors of the city’s downtown farmers market.

Ward 3's Sheila Montney was absent.

Monday marked the first meeting for the four new council members elected in April, and sworn in last week. Those are Ward 1's Jenna Kearns; Ward 4's John Danenberger; Ward 6's Cody Hendricks; and Ward 8's Kent Lee.

Economic and community development offices remodel

The economic and community development remodel is part of the city’s long-term effort to consolidate most departments into the Government Center. When complete, it will be on the second floor.

The third floor now houses part of the department. The city’s human resources office and technology department will remain on the third floor. After renovations are complete, the next phase is to move the office of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as the finance department, into that third floor space.

These are some of the final of the city’s planned 13 relocations. The first nine had a combined cost of about $565,000.

“This renovation is part of a bigger picture,” said Billy Tyus, Bloomington deputy city manager. The moves address space needs, but also improving Americans with Disability Act accessibility issues; and streamlining where residents need to go to get city business done.

City officials have done multiple space studies over the years, he said. Shortly after Gleason joined the staff, he curtailed a $2 million purchase of a building, opting to instead reevaluate city needs, added Tyus.

Another point is that building wouldn’t have met all of the city office space needs, said Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

In tandem with addressing space needs, the city has been focused on making a more efficient organization, said Tyus, pointing to the city’s creation of The Hub on the Government Center’s first floor.

Other moves that are part of the larger plan which already have occurred include moving many departments from the old city hall location into the Government Center, including the city’s administration.

The remaining moves include the economic and community development, finance and DEI office moves in the Government Center; as well as moving the rest of public works, to the old city hall, said Tyus.

Farmer’s market liquor license created

The council voted unanimously Monday to add a new “farmer’s market” class of liquor licenses, applying specifically to the Downtown Bloomington Farmers' Market.

In February, city staff asked the city clerk to look into the creation of the new license classification, and April 24, the city’s liquor commission recommended the council adopt the change.

With the vote, a potential farmer’s market vendor could also separately apply for the “FM” liquor license. If the license is granted, that vendor could sell alcohol in its original packaging for off-premises consumption. Those booths also could offer tastings of their products, after 9 a.m.

Those would be limited to a 2-ounce serving of beer; 1-ounce for wine; and ½ ounce for spirits, according to council materials.

The market’s hours are 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays, May through October, on the historic square. An indoor version meets offseason. That’s 9 a.m. to noon, November through April, in Grossinger Motors Arena.

Budget amended to finalize COVID-relief grants program

The council amended its fiscal 2024 budget, so the city can use American Rescue Plan Act money it voted to spend on a grants program.

Earlier this year, the council decided to divide $3.5 million in ARPA funds received for the locally-distributed grants.

Nearly $1.5 million will provide small business grants; and about $1 million each is being set aside for nonprofit grants, and affordable housing grants.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved spending $55,000 to buy a pair of 2023 Ford Maverick hybrid pickup trucks. The contract is with Taylorville-based Bob Ridings Fleet Sales. 
  • Advised the city to settle a $40,000 injury claim. 
  • Amended its general fund, by about $150,000, for Bloomington Police Department funding. The spending is tied to a $500,000 state-financed violence prevention grant BPD received.
  • Approved a liquor license for the new downtown Bloomington location of central Illinois’ Pour Bros., at 236 E. Front Street. It’s the fourth Pour Bros. to open in Illinois.

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