Alderman Diana Hauman says in her time on the Bloomington City Council, she hasn’t been satisfied with the progress the city or its partners have made on economic development.
“That’s not a knock on our city, it’s just I haven’t seen it as a priority,” she said. With the creation of a new economic development department following the council’s unanimous vote Monday night, “I see it becoming a priority for us,” she said.
City Manager Tim Gleason said that’s why he proposed the city create the department.
“When I started the summer of last year, this council was very clear and very united in some top priorities,” including improving relationships with regional partners, and putting a greater emphasis on economic development, especially downtown, he said.
“This is going to make us better partners with all entities, whether we’re talking about the Town of Normal, the Economic Development Council or the Downtown Bloomington Association,” he said. “There is low-hanging fruit out there that is low- or no-cost, and I think that we’re missing some opportunities.”
Gleason said the move won’t incur any additional costs; the city reorganized existing staff and cut $200,000 of funding to the Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau and BN Advantage to create the department.
De Urban owns Alley Katz arts and antiques shop at 401 S. Center St. She said she was excited to see the item on the council’s agenda.
“Economic development is so important to our city—we can’t stress that enough.”
Urban urged members of the new department: Get out and talk to the city’s business owners, and ask, “What do we need, what do we see, what do we want to see developed?”
“I think it’s important to hear the voices of those of us that are in small business, to be able to have a place to go and communicate that with the powers that be,” she said.
Gleason said while he believes staff already seek out input from local business owners, he agrees the city can do a better job—and with renewed focus through the new department on economic development, “will do a better job.”
He said the new department will be physically located right next to the community development department, creating a “one-stop shop” of services for developers and business owners.
“When we have somebody that is even considering investing dollars in this community, we need to roll out the red carpet,” he said. “We need to make it as easy for them to either expand their business if they’re a current business owner, or to spend money on new development in this community.”
He said the department’s staff will also have expanded duties and increased expectations.
The city selected Assistant to the City Manager Melissa Hon to head the new department; her old position won’t be filled. Current Economic Development Coordinator Austin Grammer and the downtown development division’s two staff will also fold into the new department.
Council members also approved the building and zoning code overhaul three years in the making.
City Planner Katie Simpson said the main purpose of the update is to better align the code with the city’s comprehensive plan. The updated code is also more user-friendly, Simpson said; the document is now organized by district, and includes updated definitions, with added graphics and charts.
The city’s zoning districts have also been restructured, eliminating the outdated warehouse classification, consolidating similar commercial designations and creating new downtown districts.
Another priority for the city was to reduce minimum lot sizes in its residential districts, bringing some 3,000 nonconforming lots into compliance with the code.
The code also reforms parking standards, with reduced requirements for the size and number of parking spaces to help developers save money and encourage alternative modes of transportation. New rules on beekeeping, chicken raising, wind and solar power and other special uses are also included.
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