Grocery chain Kroger has another year to complete infrastructure improvements at the Bloomington site where it had previously planned to build a $25.4 million store.
The Bloomington City Council unanimously approved the extension Monday night, more than a year after Kroger put the project at Hershey Road and College Avenue on hold.
The city had offered Kroger $2.5 million in tax abatements to build the store back in 2016.
City Manager Tim Gleason said that incentive lapsed last year with the lack of development at the site.
“What remains is the performance bond that requires that certain infrastructure improvements be made to the property, regardless of development,” he explained.
Estimated at about $1 million, those improvements include adding public storm sewers, a turn lane on College Avenue, public sidewalks and ADA accessible ramps on on Hershey Road and bus shelter improvements on both roads.
According to a city staff report, “Installing the public improvements will decrease barriers for development of the property and encourage economic development on a vacant piece of land,” resulting in additional sales and property tax revenue for the city.
Kroger cited reduced construction nationwide amid changing economic trends for putting the project on hold.
“When you’re looking at food retailers, you see a lot of shopping trends that are going to online shopping, even in the grocery industry,” Gleason said. “So we were told that corporate was considering some changes and it was not the right time to pursue building not only here but in other locations.”
So while the original development agreement no longer stands, Gleason said “it would also be accurate to say we are still in discussion with Kroger, and would love for their national model to change and for them to reconsider developing in our community.”
If that did happen, the city would need to renegotiate any project incentives, he said.
“Even though it’s gone for now, I’ve got to believe that if Kroger knocked on our door and said ‘We’re interested,’ very similar if not identical incentives would be approved by the council,” Gleason said. “While that’s not necessarily likely, it’s not completely off the table.”
A new commission will help the city answer the question: “What’s next?”
Late last year Alderman Jamie Mathy proposed the idea of a technology commission to advise staff and council members on innovations coming down the pike. He and the rest of the council approved the commission’s creation Monday night.
Mathy said the commission’s creation marks a shift in thinking for Bloomington.
“The city has historically had city managers who saw technology as an overhead to be minimized at all costs, instead of looking at technology as a business tool that can help drive things forward,” he said.
Mathy said with as quickly as technology is changing, the city needs to be forward-thinking to stay ahead of the game.
“Even in as little as the two years since I initially ran for office, things like autonomous vehicle technology has advanced incredibly quickly,” Mathy said. “We have Rivian opening here in town; they weren’t even around at the time.”
He envisions the seven-member commission covering a wide range of tech topics, from the Internet of Things to citizen privacy and open data policies.
He said he’d also like to see the commission review the city’s online transparency and documents portals. Finding a way to allow users to search for the right document by content is also on his wishlist.
Those interested in serving on the commission will need to submit an application to the city clerk.
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