Afni, ISU Startup Incubator Considered For Uptown's Trail East Project | WGLT

Afni, ISU Startup Incubator Considered For Uptown's Trail East Project

Mar 18, 2019

The developer behind the Trail East project said Monday that Afni, an Illinois State University business incubator, and a mystery “multinational technology company” could be among the tenants in the new Uptown Normal building.

Until now, the only publicly known tenants in Trail East had been Farnsworth Group, the architectural and design firm that’s consolidating its offices under one roof; and the first-floor R MarketPlace food hall. Developer Bush Construction said Monday that 85 percent of the building is now under lease or has a letter of intent.

Afni will lease 28,000 square feet on the second floor, officials said. Bush is also reserving space on the fourth floor for an ISU startup incubator, though university officials say no formal agreement has been reached. An unnamed multinational technology company is expected to lease 5,800 feet on the fourth floor. 

Around 400 people will work inside Trail East once complete. Afni’s workers will mostly be existing employees who will be relocating from another Afni site in Bloomington, said Cindy Blackburn, Afni’s vice president of human resources.

“We are proud of our rich history here and remain committed to Bloomington-Normal,” she said. “This Trail East initiative positions us to leverage a world-class facility as we strive to attract and retain top talent for our global company and the benefit of this great community.”

Farnsworth Group will consolidate its existing Bloomington office (70 employees) and Normal office (30 employees) into the single location inside Trail East, said Aaron Quick, Farnsworth vice president. There will be room for additional hires beyond those 100 employees, Quick said. Farnsworth is also optimistic that the new space will help them recruit and retain young professionals who are attracted to the Uptown urban center working environment, he said.

The “multinational technology company” plans to bring new jobs to the area, according to Bush Construction. The current breakdown of tenants includes:

  • First floor – R MarketPlace food hall
  • Second floor – Afni
  • Third floor – Farnsworth Group
  • Fourth floor – Possible ISU startup incubator space
  • Fifth floor – Apartments

Bush says Trail East will create the largest Class A office space in the market, defined as the “most prestigious” space for “premier office users with rents above average for the area,” according to the Building Owners and Managers Association International

Iowa-based Bush is in the process of setting up a local office. It’s also advancing to the “next phase of securing financing and investors,” the company said.

Bush’s Vice President of Project Development Bryce Henderson said the developer now has sufficient information on Trail East to start approaching lenders and investors, “the bulk of which have all been local.”

“Now that I feel comfortable with some of our cost numbers and the operating pro forma, we’ll share with them more about the project and begin negotiations for terms and everything else for financing,” Henderson said.

"We have access to an investor pool and other local investors in the Bloomington-Normal area that have expressed interest in the project. So we’ll be sending them similar materials and see if we can start putting together the equity required to help fund the project.”

The development is at the site of a mural, which has become the center of controversy.

Henderson said regardless of the movement or destruction of the Uptown mural, Bush intends to break ground on Trail East in May.

“I understand their concerns, but it’s something between the city and those folks that painted the mural," he said. "I’m going to leave that to the attorneys that understand the matter better than I do.”

William McGrath, an attorney representing 11 of the artists who created the mural, said Monday that they are "engaged in settlement efforts with the town" but declined further comment. He previously argued that federal law requires their permission for the mural to be demolished.

Trail East, on the northeast arc of Uptown Circle, is expected to open in 2020.

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