Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday he’ll do “everything I can” to find a solution that avoids the demolition of State Farm’s historic building in Downtown Bloomington.
“I will do everything I can, and I think the (city) council is united, in trying to do everything we can to prevent demolition of the State Farm building downtown,” Renner said. “And there are many things we’re working on right now over the next couple weeks, and we’ll see whether they bear fruit.”
Renner’s comments on WGLT’s Sound Ideas come just days after State Farm announced its planned sale of the building fell through and it was going to demolish it instead. Soon after the July 18 announcement, Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason said it was “a reality that must be accepted.”
“Their decision is a reality. But I don’t know that it’s a reality that is to be accepted that we can’t do anything about, that we might not have some informal conversations about,” Renner said Tuesday. “There are certainly still some options we can pursue in working with State Farm over the next few weeks.”
Bloomington City Council member Jenn Carrillo, whose Ward 6 includes parts of downtown, will host a listening and strategy session about the State Farm building's future from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at City Hall.
It’s unclear what type of conversations are underway about the building—or just the vacant property—or what viable options exist, if any. Connect Transit is looking for a downtown home for a new transfer center. The Bloomington Public Library is trying to expand. Bloomington’s current City Hall is aging and, as Renner puts it, “was built in the era of ‘Mad Men.’”
But any discussions between the city and State Farm would be taking place after demolition plans have already been made public—a surprising emotional blow given the building’s important place in Bloomington-Normal history. Renner said the city was only told about the demolition plans about 90 minutes before WGLT first reported the news.
Was the limited amount of notice provided to the city unusual?
“It’s up to the business. Private businesses can do what they’d like to do,” Renner said. “I don’t know what the timetable was at their end, or what other things they were facing. That’s hard to say. I’m not in their shoes, so I can’t really comment on that.”
A recent addition to the city’s zoning code does it give it the opportunity to review any attempt to demolish an older building and possibly delay it to suggest alternatives.
“That’s not necessarily something I would advocate,” Renner said. “At this point, we’re having informal conversations.”
It’s unclear what exactly derailed the sale, which was announced in March. The buyer was never publicly identified. The building was on the market for more than a year.
State Farm spokesperson Gina Morss-Fischer said the company conducted “an exhaustive and thorough search for a buyer” and “gave much thought and consideration to next steps” after the sale fell through. Given the costs of maintaining such a large building, and the prospect of another vacant eyesore downtown, State Farm said demolition was the best option.
Why not just donate the building to the city?
“We considered many options,” Morss-Fischer said. “A lot of things must come together to make donation a feasible option. For example, the building will still carry significant costs to the recipient, including ongoing maintenance.”
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