The City of Bloomington plans to move more city offices and its city council meetings to the McLean County Government Center by the end of the year.
City Manager Tim Gleason said the city plans to move the city clerk's office and water billing to the lower level of the downtown Bloomington building that the city shares with McLean County.
“It’s just a more efficient use of space and it’s a convenience for the residents of Bloomington and the county,” Gleason said.
The city and county pay rent for the building to the county’s Public Building Commission.
Gleason said the city had planned to buy the McBarnes Building prior to his arrival in 2018 to use for city offices. The building houses the United Way of McLean County and the PATH Crisis Center. Gleason said he saw plenty of space at the nearby Government Center not being used.
“I feel that we’ve been able to save a couple million dollars from a couple years ago and we are finally seeing the end result of this move,” said Gleason, adding he has been in talks with McLean County Administrator Camille Rodriguez for several months to plan the move, but the pandemic set back the effort.
Rodriguez was not available for comment on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gleason said city staff is preparing the Government Center for the move. He said city administration will be housed on the fourth floor, where most county government offices are located. Gleason said the city council will meet in the same chambers where the County Board and its committees meet.
He said the fate of the current city hall building is unclear. It's one of several locations Connect Transit is considering for a downtown transfer center.
Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne said the transit agency has eight sites under consideration, including city hall, the Market Street parking garage and the parking lot at Madison and Front streets. Thorne said Connect Transit plans to schedule several public engagement sessions over the next month to guide the selection process.
Connect Transit is still trying to secure more funding for the site. Thorne said the agency will find out in August if it has received any additional state or federal grants.
Gleason said the pandemic hasn’t hurt city finances as much as first feared. He said it was hard to know at first how the pandemic would change consumer habits.
“We didn’t know if grocery stores would have more restrictions than what they had,” Gleason said. “What we are finding in our sales tax revenue and some of the other revenues is that the consumers still did spend.”
Gleason said home improvement and hardware stores also seemed to do well as people had more time for projects while they sheltered at home.
“While this has still been a negative financial impact to the city, what we are seeing is that it’s not at that 50% reduction mark on the projected revenue losses. We are doing better than that,” Gleason said.
He said curbside services helped many businesses and expanded outdoor dining that enables bars and restaurants to take in more customers during the shutdown will last beyond the pandemic.
“That totally has been done by design where we did this, but we also figured there was going to be such an outpouring of support that this could be a long-term, permanent change for the downtown and I think you are going to see that.”
The city's emergency ordinance calls for expanded outdoor dining to expire Aug. 30, but Gleason said the city plans to extend that.
Still, Gleason said the city's COVID-19 losses are in the $2 million to $2.5 million range, so far. The city had projected a shortfall of up to $10 million this budget year. Gleason added the city ended the last budget year in April better than expected, providing greater cushion if there’s a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
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