Final Downtown Report Backs Joint Library-Transit Project | WGLT

Final Downtown Report Backs Joint Library-Transit Project

Oct 25, 2017

The Downtown Bloomington Task Force’s final report includes a recommendation to knock down an aging parking structure and build a new library-transit center-garage in its place.

The report, approved Tuesday months ahead of schedule, focuses on simpler beautification and parking changes. But its big plan for attracting new visitors downtown is the Market Street library-transit project. The report now goes to the Bloomington City Council for consideration.

“A successful project at the Market Street block could transform an underperforming quadrant of the downtown core into a vibrant area that brings new visitors downtown,” the task force wrote.

It would provide a larger Bloomington Public Library and a new transfer center for Connect Transit—two longstanding items on the community’s to-do list. The project does align with the city’s 2013 Downtown Bloomington Strategy and its 2015 comprehensive plan, both approved by previous councils.

But the current council appears split on the idea. Aldermen told the library’s board of trustees in June to focus on expanding at its current Olive Street location, and some aldermen voiced similar opinions after the Market Street idea went public. Mayor Tari Renner said he’s open to exploring the new idea.

Alderman Amelia Buragas, who chaired the task force, said she feels the most exciting part of the economic development and improvement blueprint is the low-hanging fruit that will have a meaningful impact.

“Some of those are consistent with what we’ve already done in the downtown area. It’s beautification and public art, looking at ways we can expand that. We’re also talking about walkability. How do we make it more pleasant who currently visit downtown to expand from going to a single business to walking around the area?” Buragas said.

The final report recommends:

  • Removing one lane of traffic on both Main and Center streets within downtown’s core. Changing parallel parking spots along Main and Center to diagonal spots, to increase on-street parking.
  • Move all city and county-owned vehicles into garages to free up surface lot spaces for visitors.
  • Install brick or stamped concrete crosswalks.
  • Install additional decorative lighting, public art projects, and self-watering planters.

The task force’s final report also includes an Oct. 18 memo from city planner Katie Simpson analyzing the final recommendations. The city’s Planning Division “never reviewed the proposal for expanding the library in its existing location,” which went to the council earlier this year, Simpson wrote.

There are potential concerns with the library’s existing proposals to expand at its current site, she wrote. The massive surface parking lot that would be needed could raise public safety concerns, Simpson wrote, because it’s a lot of space with a low level of activity, landlocked by a railroad track and Constitution Trail. More parking “would most likely increase the need for parking lot lighting and could negatively affect the surrounding property owners,” Simpson wrote.

The possibility of adding retail as part of library expansion on Olive Street could also cause issues with neighbors and would require zoning changes, Simpson added.

The Planning Division never fully reviewed the library’s expansion proposals because they were so preliminary, city officials said. Library officials were already aware of some of the issues raised in Simpson’s memo, and all are worth considering, said Library Director Jeanne Hamilton.

The library’s board is “excited to be included” in discussions about the future but needs more information—particularly about the Market Street site—before weighing in, Hamilton said. Does it have enough room for what’s planned? Is it the right fit for the library? Would any of the issues raised in the city planner’s memo pop up with the Market Street proposal?

“It’s a hard thing, because we can’t give a definite answer as to whether we’d support one location over another because we just don’t have enough information right now,” Hamilton said.

It’s unclear if the issues raised in Simpson's memo will make the Market Street catalyst project more attractive to aldermen or Bloomington library trustees. Buragas said the city's existing comprehensive plan is a guide in how to place projects to benefit the entire community.

“If you look through the language of those documents, it makes a strong case for a fully productive, functional central library. We as a council do need to have continuing conversations. Is that sufficient in our community? Are we best serving all of our residents that way?” Buragas said.

The task force approved its final report by a 5-1 vote Tuesday. Task force member Kim Bray, also Ward 9 alderman, voted against the report. She previously said she doesn’t think the panel should recommend the Market Street project in its final report.

Editor’s note: As a matter of disclosure, GLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is the chair of the Connect Transit Board.

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