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Normal Councilman: Bloomington-Normal Needs To 'Get After' Exploring Sports Complex

State of BN
Eric Stock
From left, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joined Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason, Normal Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Fritzen and Normal City Manager Pam Reece at a State of BN event Thursday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Hansen Student Center.

Bloomington-Normal city leaders contend a proposed $43 million sports complex remains on the table, but there’s still no timeline for when such a project might happen.

The Twin City elected leaders and city managers addressed myriad business and education-related issues during a State of BN event Thursday at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Hansen Student Center. The event was sponsored by the McLean County Chamber of Commerce.   

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said the city got a case of “sticker shock” when a consultant presented its projected price tag in July.

"We can't (afford this) as a town or a city, but can we put together some kind of a coalition that can cause this to happen."

“At least those (aldermen) that I’ve spoken with were fairly unified in saying, 'This is a great idea. This would be a wonderful asset to our community. However we don’t exactly have $43 million sitting on the table,'" Renner said.

Normal councilmember Jeff Fritzen noted the consultant Sports Facilities Advisory recommended Bloomington-Normal leaders decide a course of action within 18 months.

“That may look like we are trying to push something on the community that maybe you are uncertain about. That’s not it at all,” Fritzen said. “But we do have to get after it, study it a little further.”

Fritzen added the town faces similar financial constraints as Bloomington for such a project, but recommended community leaders look to attract some type of private investment.

“We can’t (afford this) as a town or a city, but can we put together some kind of a coalition that can cause this to happen,” Fritzen said.

Renner suggested the city might have more pressing economic development concerns, but he believes such a complex can be in the city’s future.

“We can take advantage of some of our opportunities or challenges as they might be and that is find proper tenants, reinvigorate, revitalize Eastland Mall, downtown Bloomington and other areas, then at some point perhaps in the midrange we might very well have the resources to contribute something toward a broader multipurpose sports complex,” Renner said.  

The mayor added such a project might attract spillover development, such as sports medicine complexes that might look to locate nearby.

Online Sales

Bloomington and Normal leaders expressed concern about the ongoing loss of sales tax revenue as shoppers have changed their habits to spend more online.

Normal City Manager Pam Reece said “there is no easy solution” to try to recoup the loss of sales tax money, which she said makes up 37 percent of the town’s general revenue.

She said the town must continue its focus on building the workforce to keep the economy churning.

“So if we can continue to increase the workforce numbers then that will play out and support our local retailers,” Reece said. “It will also support restaurants and invite people into the community.”

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason noted the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes from Illinois retailers will help offset the lost revenue. The city projects it will receive an additional $200,000 per year on sales taxes.

“It’s not going to fill the gap on what we are seeing as a trending loss on sales tax revenue,” Gleason said.

He added the Twin Cities will have to continue its work with the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities, and Heartland Community College to help train a workforce and seize economic development opportunities.

“This is an effort that cannot be taken individually by the communities,” Gleason said.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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