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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

EDC Chief: Uncertainty Surrounds Economic Recovery

Patrick Hoban
WGLT file photo
Patrick Hoban is president and CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.

The head of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council thinks the full scope of a financial crisis from the COVID-19 outbreak may not be known for a few months.

Patrick Hoban, president and CEO of the EDC, told the Normal Town Council the agency’s biggest challenge is dealing with the uncertainty of when the pandemic might end.

“I’ve heard talks of ‘this is our new normal,’ and I don’t believe that,” Hoban said in his presentation during Monday night’s online meeting. “The new normal is not going to come until the summer once we start the recovery process.”

Hoban said the crisis is taking a toll on the Bloomington-Normal economy, with nearly 21,000 college students away from local campuses. With non-essential services taking a hard hit, Hoban presented an overview of several federal and state relief programs available to small businesses.

“I can’t stress this enough: All the businesses out there (should) call your banker immediately and find out what you can qualify for,” said Hoban, noting details on various programs can be found at the website BNPrepared.org.

“Shop locally like your economy depends on it, because right now it really does,” he added.

Council member Chemberly Cummings echoed that thought, saying she tries to place local food orders at least twice a week.

But she cautioned that residents need to make health and safety their top priority.

“This is a pandemic; this is a health issue,” she said. “I don’t want it to happen where it impacts your household before you get the message. So I’m pleading with the community to take this serious.

“We have to be safe and think smart about this thing – as a community, as one whole.”

Mayor Chris Koos closed Monday’s meeting by thanking citizens for their cooperation.

“There’s been a lot of great stories about how people are helping each other in the community,” he said. “People are concerned about what’s happening.”

Other Action

While Monday’s agenda did not include any new business, several capital investment projects were offered for an omnibus vote. The largest, a $943,000 contract with Rowe Construction – the lone bidder – for street resurfacing, was pulled for discussion by council member Karyn Smith.

Director of Engineering Ryan Otto told Smith that work should begin by the end of the month. While Gov. JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order has been extended through April 30, Otto noted that infrastructure construction is considered an essential business.

City Manager Pam Reece said the street resurfacing is an annual expense and that Rowe’s bid was within the budgeted expense. She said the town has “numerous years” of experience working with Rowe, a division of United Contractors Midwest.

Other projects approved through the omnibus vote were: an $865,400 contract with Stark Excavating for the Bryan-Adelaide-Wilmette water main replacement; an $873,000 contract with Stark for the Glenn Avenue bridge replacement; and a $454,500 contract with J.G. Stewart Contractors for miscellaneous sidewalk improvements, including the 50/50 sidewalk program, construction of new sidewalks, and various ADA ramp upgrades.

Museum Exhibit

The Council also voted unanimously to approve a $70,000 increase on an agreement with Luci Creative for development and construction of a new “Healthy Me” exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum. The town will be reimbursed by the Museum Foundation for the full cost of the project.

Museum Executive Director Beth Whisman told the council the funds already have been privately secured through payments and pledges.

“There’s a contingency built into that price, so we actually might not even spend that total amount when it’s all said and done,” said Whisman, who also serves as the town’s director of cultural arts.

Council member Stan Nord pulled the item for discussion, but his motion to table the vote to get more input from the Foundation Board received no additional support.

The exhibit, which will replace the 16-year-old Kids’ Medical Center, was approved initially in July at an expense of no more than $350,000. The scope of the project now will be broadened with a not-to-exceed cost of $419,500.

“We believe that price will result in a higher quality exhibit and will meet the needs of the museum for years to come,” said Reece, who noted the attraction should be in place by August if the project stays on schedule.  

“That will hopefully be a wonderful time for the community to come out and celebrate.”

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.
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