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Bloomington council approves downtown streetscape plan, annual budget

Design concepts for downtown Bloomington, unveiled this week as part of the streetscaping planning process.
City of Bloomington
Design concepts for downtown Bloomington, unveiled as part of the streetscape planning process.

Bloomington City Council members voted unanimously on Monday to approve the streetscape plan for improving downtown that has been in the works for the better part of two years.

The council also approved the $331 million budget for fiscal year 2025, representing a 14% increase over the previous year; it's the largest annual budget ever. Overall, $88.5 million is planned for capital projects.

Ward 3 council member Sheila Montney voted against the budget, citing concerns “about the little things,” such as road repairs.

Montney pointed out the budget for road repairs remains the same as the previous year, when accounting for inflation, and it should be higher. She said Bloomington roads generally have a 20-25 year life expectancy, but are only repaired every 50 years.

Ward 9 council member Tom Crumpler spoke in favor of the budget. “I think this is a moment that we have an opportunity to move Bloomington forward in ways that our residents can see, and appreciate that this council is managing and investing its tax dollars wisely,” he said.

Montney voted in favor of the streetscape plan as a whole, but against the proposal to implement the first phase, stating she didn't feel the council was given enough time to go over the materials for that portion of the proposal, and indicating she only had since midday Friday to review them.

“I would like to be clear that had there been time to get the questions answered, I would have been able to support this project,” said Montney, referring to several questions she had about the first phase’s plan to address the combined sewers issue.

The projected $59 million plan is being touted as transforming the city’s core, including improved walkability, lighting, expanded public art and significant infrastructure improvements.

The plan calls for $20 million in infrastructure upgrades the city eventually will have to plan for with or without a downtown plan, according to the project manager hired by the city. That project is detailed in six phases, and includes four additional phases in its highway program [U.S. 51 north and south] and its downtown fringe program outside the downtown corridor. Those elements are estimated to cost $18.1 million.

Infrastructure work includes replacing aging sewer and water mains, in particular combined water and sewer lines, and building underground water detention to alleviate flooding concerns.

Ward 6 council member Cody Hendricks, who represents the downtown area, spoke in favor of the streetscape plan, saying “this plan is not only a beautification plan, but more than that, it’s an infrastructure plan. And even a step further, it’s an investment plan.” Hendricks added the plan addresses many issues, including roads, sidewalks, pedestrian access, and accessibility.

Hendricks also sees “this as a major generational step. This is a decision that’s going to take a long time and it’s going to be something that will probably outlast, I would assume, a majority of us when we finally see it finished.”

Several council members pointed out that approving the entire plan opens the project up for state and federal grant funding to potentially mitigate the cost for the city. Attention also was paid to the issue surrounding combined sewers in the downtown area that Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus pointed out is a potential health concern due to potential overflows.

The council also approved its consent agenda. Ward 2 council member Donna Boelen highlighted “for the community’s sake” that “about 90% of the items” were funded by higher taxes on water. “So your water bill that’s going up in May,” said Boelen, “it’s going to support all these projects.”

In other business, the council:

  • Approved purchasing network uninterruptible power supplies to provide additional energy sources during power outages for $90,000.
  • Authorized construction of a new water main on Fort Jesse Road not to exceed $565,700, including a construction contract for the project in the amount of $454,458.
  • OK'd a construction agreement for roof replacement at Grossinger Motors Arena that includes the Bloomington Ice Center, for $6.7 million.
  • Renewed a new water line insurance program.
Adeline Schultz is a correspondent at WGLT. She joined the station in 2024.