Bloomington City Council members expressed a desire Monday to revive a three-year-old downtown revitalization plan now that a major component is off the table.
The council previously shelved the 2017 report after Bloomington Public Library officials stated their intentions to expand at the library’s current location rather than take part in a so-called catalyst project that would have included a downtown Connect Transit bus transfer center.
Nearly half of the council has been replaced since that time.
“The baby was thrown out with the bath water when some portions of the downtown task force report were bogged down in controversy,” city council member Jamie Mathy said at a virtual city council Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday night. “There’s still a lot of really good ideas in there.”
Mathy and fellow council member Kim Bray served on the task force that crafted the plan along with local government officials and downtown representatives.
Council members Donna Boelen and Jeff Crabill both said the city still has to define what it wants downtown to be.
“A lot of people compare us to Normal and the vision they had 20 years ago,” Crabill said. “Not everyone agrees with that vision, then or now, but it’s a vision they put forward and they pretty much lived up to that vision.”
Alderman Scott Black said he is ready to put a downtown plan in place and suggested city staff put together some recommendations for the council to consider. He quipped the city has done 2,000 reports on downtown in the last 10 years.
“The problem with downtown really isn’t financial, it’s political,” said Black. “At some point in time, we just have to take a vote. Not all of us are going to be on board, but we are going to do out best because there are so many divergent views and opinions.”
City Manager Tim Gleason said city staff has been implementing some of the “low-hanging fruit” portions of the task force plan since he joined the city in 2018, but added he has lacked council direction on how much to implement.
“I was told it was extremely controversial, so walking through this and getting some clarity is very much appreciated,” Gleason said.
Mathy acknowledged some of the work already has been done, including the reconfiguration of Front Street to become more pedestrian friendly. But he said the city missed other opportunities such as failing to run electric conduit for decorative lighting along Main Street when the city repaved the street last year.
Gleason said the city will present a report detailing already-completed elements of the task force report at the June 22 council meeting.
The council also expressed interest in waiving late fees on food and beverage taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic beyond what the city’s emergency ordinance currently stipulates. The plan approved in March allows a 30-day grace period after the conclusion of Gov. JB Pritzker’s disaster proclamation.
“I think there are restaurants and hotels that are going to need longer than 30 days to get caught up and be current,” Mathy said.
City staff plans to have several recommendations for the council to consider at its regular meeting next week.
Gleason told council members that city staff is looking to further expand outdoor dining options during the pandemic by closing some lanes of traffic near downtown ahead of Father’s Day weekend.
He said the city’s administrative court, which has been on hiatus during the pandemic, is set to resume this week at city hall, adding the city plans to resume bulk waste pickup on July 6.
Nearly half of the city’s approximately 250 employees who had been working from home since mid-March returned to their offices on June 1, Gleason said; city facilities are open by appointment.
He also said the financial hit to the city’s budget from the pandemic probably won’t be as bad as first thought, noting a combination of spending cuts, delaying seasonal hires and delaying some projects will reduce COVID 19’s impact by about $1 million.
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