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Bloomington Mayoral Candidates Offer Different Downtown And Street Visions

Charlie Schlenker

Downtown revitalization figured strongly in answers during the GLT Bloomington Mayoral candidates forum.

Alderman Kevin Lower said during the event at Illinois State University's University Galleries, the city is not paying enough attention to the periphery of the community."Bloomington has spent much too much time concentrating on our old downtown and at the same time ignoring many of the facets and assets that we have in this community," said Lower.

Lower said he sees no demand for New Urbanism.

Incumbent Mayor Tari Renner disagreed saying the nation is going through what is called a great inversion of what happened during the post World War II flight to  the suburbs.

"People in the 21st century throughout the United States, in some cases throughout the world want to move back into downtowns and historic neighborhoods that are walkable, that are viable, that are sustainable. And so I think that is the main means by which we achieve our growth for the 21st century," said Renner.

Renner also said the city has done a lot outside the downtown including working with Hyvee grocery, Ovation cinemas, Greentop Grocery, and the Empire Crossing retail redevelopment.
Alderman Diana Hauman said there are more opportunities for downtown redevelopment including the old High School, the Pantagraph Building, and the Front and Center Building. Hauman called for prioritizing several independent plans the city has developed to create a road map for the future.

Mayor Renner said planning is not checking a set of boxes. He contended that the documents Hauman referenced include priorities the city is working toward. He also said city development is unlike business in the time it takes. He pointed to a successful urban development road map in Chicago that has taken more than a century to finish less than half of suggested elements.

Candidate Robert Fike proposed imposing a 51% food revenue requirement for downtown bars. Fike said cleaning up the downtown and finding a place for the homeless to go would help greatly.

The Bloomington Mayoral candidates also split in their opinion of the Complete Streets program designed to redevelop the transportation network to encourage multi-modal uses. Fike said the standards ought to come second to cost savings in road construction.

"If we can get it within the street without the cost being there, then I'm all for it. But, on Washington Street you can't just paint bicycle lanes on the pavement without widening it," said Fike.

Diana Hauman said Complete Streets will happen over time, not right away. She said the city needs to think of more than cars.

"Turn of the 1900's people walked seven miles a day. People today we're probably lucky if they walk 700 feet a day. But, people are getting back to walking. They are biking more. And so we need to make sure everyone is safe," said Hauman.

Alderman Kevin Lower rejected complete streets saying there is no demand for it.

Lower also questioned Connect Transit's bus service saying the route redesign limited access for some.

Mayor Renner said Connect Transit is being hailed nationwide for its improvements and operation.

Renner also called multi modal transportation networks the wave of the future unanimously approved by members of the U.S. Mayor's Association.

The fifth candidate, Ian Bayne pulled out of the forum a few minutes before the event, which was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters.

The Mayoral primary in Bloomington is February 28th. The top two Mayoral candidates advance to the general non partisan municipal contest in April.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.