Bloomington Approves Connect Transit Board Choice, Looks Toward Future in Downtown | WGLT

Bloomington Approves Connect Transit Board Choice, Looks Toward Future in Downtown

Jul 14, 2020

UPDATED 11:50 a.m. | The Bloomington City Council voted Monday night to approve the reappointment of a Connect Transit board member, though not without discussion, with alderman Jeff Crabill moving to exclude the selection of Ryan Whitehouse.

“I understand that (Whitehouse) played a large role in making Connect Transit more fiscally responsible,” Crabill said during the council's virtual meeting. “The question now though is whether his appointment continues to serve the needs of the community.”

Crabill said concern around Whitehouse’s willingness to consider the needs of riders, especially those who are transit and para-transit reliant, led him to oppose the reappointment.  

“What we know is that these riders were not represented last year when the board decided to cut routes and increase fares,” said Crabill. “I spoke with Ryan last Friday and while I appreciate the conversation we had, it did not fully assuage my concerns.”

His motion was seconded by Jenn Carrillo, who said she would like to see the needs of disabled riders better represented.

“I think it's important that we listen and center the voices of the people that are most directly and significantly affected,” said Carrillo. “And members of the disability community have expressed serious reservations about this appointment."

Crabill’s motion was voted down, 7-2, and the ensuing motion by Kim Bray to approve the Connect Transit board choice as presented was passed.

The council also approved the appointment of Deborah Presley to the Connect Transit board. She will complete the term (ending 2022) of Monica Bullington, who will resign from the board effective July 31. In her resignation letter, Bullington cited the "increasingly high demands" of her career for stepping down—and also the criticism aimed at Whitehouse.

Bullington said Whitehouse was a "dedicated, thoughtful, and valuable public servant."

"The relationships (Whitehouse) has built on behalf of Connect and Bloomington-Normal are invaluable," Bullington wrote in her resignation letter, dated July 6. "I cannot stand by and allow him to be pushed aside from a position he’s more than capable of carrying out."

Editor's note: WGLT program director Mike McCurdy is a member of the Connect Transit board.

Downtown Task Force

City Manager Tim Gleason presented a three-year-old plan in an effort to get council feedback on downtown revitalization efforts.

Some council members have expressed a desire to revive the plan created in 2017. One part of the plan was a so-called catalyst project, including a proposed joint library-Connect Transit transfer center. That concept never got traction, and Bloomington Public Library officials say they'd rather expand in place. Connect Transit has revised its plans to construct a transfer center in downtown and will reveal its proposed locations in August, said Gleason.

In the meantime, city staff is looking for direction from the council regarding other parts of the 2017 report. Mayor Tari Renner said the council should decide whether it wants to see an entirely new plan, or work with a modified version of the existing report. That vote will be held at a later date.

In Monday’s presentation, Gleason called the 2017 plan a “great template” that has guided many recent improvements to downtown.

Economic Development Director Melissa Hon detailed aspects of the project that already have been implemented, including ADA and sidewalk improvements, expanded landscaping at the Law and Justice Center, and installation of electrical conduits along Front Street.

Hon said that in response to COVID-19 concerns, the city has been able to facilitate curbside pickup for both downtown businesses and the Bloomington Farmer’s Market. Using designated parking spaces, curbside delivery is something she said businesses would like to see continue post-pandemic.

“I think COVID-19 has offered us some unique perspectives,” added council member Jamie Mathy, who hopes other modifications also might stay in place. Shutting down lanes of traffic to create room for outdoor dining isn’t the “doom and gloom” that people feared, he said. Instead, the increased space is “working great” and helps to create more of a sense of community, which is something that any successful revitalization plan should foster.   

And though Mathy, a downtown business owner, was part of the task force that authored the 2017 report, he said he fully supports the idea of a revised 2020 plan – provided that he doesn’t have to write it.

Most council members were in favor of adopting portions of the 2017 plan to create a new, updated version.

“I’m ready, as several have said, to move forward,” said Kim Bray. “I don’t think hamstringing ourselves with ideas from three years ago is the best way to go. I’m supportive of pulling out pieces of the report.”

Council member Mboka Mwilambwe agreed. “I think we pull out those elements we can work on right away and try to make progress,” he said. “A lot of plans sometimes are daunting, and that’s why they sit on the shelves. Let’s figure out what we can handle in small, manageable pieces, and then before you know it, we’ll have something much bigger to celebrate.”

“This plan is in the rearview,” said Julie Emig of the 2017 version. “We’ve passed it.”

The lone voice in support of adopting the existing plan was council member Joni Painter.

“Thriving downtowns are an economic driver and crumbling downtowns are a tax dollar money pit,” she said. “And with the mall closing down, I think it behooves us to pay attention to downtown. I am very much in favor of this plan. I think we can adopt it.”

Summing up remarks, Renner said, “The direction that we have – because we’re not doing a vote – seems to be approval. But maybe, as this is brought back to us, if there are some obvious things that are no longer relevant, those could be somewhat surgically removed.”

ADA and outdoor dining

As many Bloomington restaurants have expanded outdoor dining in accordance with Phase 4 guidelines on reopening the state, there has been some concern that ADA requirements are not being met.

“Residents with mobility issues who hear about the outdoor dining and are very excited to try it, then find it wasn’t built for them,” said Crabill, adding ADA compliance shouldn’t be seen as a nuisance by businesses.

Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus said the city is working with businesses to help them become compliant when there are accessibility issues.

Public indecency ordinace

Crabill updated the council as to a change in a city ordinance stating that dressing in a manner different than one’s sex was a misdemeanor. “This was brought up to me in the community, that this still existed,” said Crabill. “I asked Tim (Gleason) if we needed an aldermanic initiative (to remove it), and he said no, this is something we can do now.”

“Even though I don’t know if it’s ever been enforced,” said Crabill, “it’s important for the community to know that it’s no longer in existence.”