The Normal Town Council on Monday approved spending nearly $250,000 to move more Uptown utilities underground, keeping on track a new brewpub and restaurant that will help offset about half the cost of that work.
The town will hire Anderson Electric for the electric work required to “underground” the utilities in the alley behind the buildings along Beaufort Street, just east of the Children’s Discovery Museum. Passers-by will see the utility poles vanish as a result.
“I’m not sure if you’ve ever been back there when a storm’s brewing, but those wires can really be flopping around quite a bit,” said Normal Town Council member Kevin McCarthy. “All the financial stuff aside, I want to lend my support for public safety, especially because that’s a major access point for Uptown for kids and families.”
The undergrounding was prompted by the Fiala Brothers Brewhouse, a $1.6 million project planned for 127 E. Beaufort St. Its owners contacted the town in February after “learning the costs associated with the electric power service were much more than anticipated,” according to a town staff memo prepared for the council.
Utilities already have moved underground elsewhere in Uptown, and town staff recommended financial support for this effort. The Town Council agreed Monday night, in a 6-1 vote.
Of the $249,300 project cost, the Fialas will cover the cost of Ameren-related charges of $26,509 at the start. Those upfront fees, combined with the increase in property value that the new Fiala building will spark, will cover about 50% of the overall cost of the project for the block, town staff said in the memo to council.
Council member Stan Nord was the lone vote against the plan. He said he supports the concept of undergrounding utilities, just not in this way.
“What we’ve done is we’ve set a precedent for developers,” Nord said. “We’ve rung the dinner bell, and said if your costs go over what you expected, Normal will step up and cover that. That, I think, is unfortunate,” Nord said.
McCarthy said the town has set a different precedent: that it’s willing to invest in Uptown infrastructure so that businesses choose to move in.
“Really, the success of Uptown has been about a bunch of infrastructure investment, frankly,” he said.
Council member Kathleen Lorenz said she was considering this vote a separate matter from the up to $150,000 in sales tax rebates — spread out over a decade — that the council approved for the two-story Fiala project last year.
“This is an investment in the quality of the infrastructure in our Uptown. It’s not an incentive to a developer. It’s not additional dollars or a check being written,” Lorenz said.
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