Normal Council Approves Trail East Developer
As Bloomington and Normal residents told Normal Town Council members Tuesday, they’re not against the proposed Trail East project, but their support would come with some specific terms.
Council members unanimously authorized the Town to begin negotiations for a development agreement with Iowa-based builder Bush Construction for the proposed building at Uptown Circle.
During public comment, speakers urged the Council to protect three historic Uptown buildings and a popular mural that could be demolished as part of the project.
“We’re not necessarily in opposition to this development or the developer,” said Andy Streenz, Bloomington resident and co-owner of Bill’s Key and Lock Shop in Uptown Normal. “What we are in opposition to is the purposeful destruction of these useful buildings, with each having its own history and architectural details which lend Uptown its character.”
Dawn Peters of Bloomington said demolishing the buildings would be both “financially irresponsible and unsustainable,” and would take away “the connection to those who came before us.” Christopher Meyers of Bloomington agreed historical buildings “are what keeps Downtown’s heart and soul alive in Uptown. They add character and beauty to the community we live in.”
Mark Tiritilli of Normal raised concerns over Bush’s proposed methods to finance the estimated $29.2M project, including a mix of debt, owner equity and New Market Tax Credits. Bush also anticipates seeking Tax Increment District (TIF) funds generated from the project.
Tiritilli, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Normal Mayor Chris Koos last year, opposed incurring more debt for the Town and cautioned against selling the project site for less than fair market value.
Bush Construction representative Bryce Henderson said the project meets U.S. Department of the Treasury criteria to qualify for the New Market Tax Credits program, which uses federal tax credits to attract private investment in “distressed communities.”
Council members reminded citizens that the project is still in the early stages of development.
“I appreciate the passion of those who’ve contacted us for historic preservation, but we’re not even there yet,” said council member R.C. McBride. “Architects can do some amazing things. Perhaps they can incorporate or work around the buildings.”
Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said it will take “substantial work” between Town staff and the developer before any plans are ready for the Council’s approval in late spring or early fall, when there will be more opportunities for the public to weigh in.
The Council will also have the chance to review and either approve, amend or deny any presented plans, including financing. Council member Chemberly Cummings assured residents the Council would act in the community’s best interests.
“Be encouraged and understand that it is a process. We won’t do anything that damages our community.”
Former Normal Mayor Paul Harmon said the project “has everything Uptown needs to continue to flourish.”
Bush’s proposed five-story, 115,000 square foot building includes covered parking and 8,500 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The second floor includes 23,000 square feet of offices for Farnsworth Group, Inc. and an unnamed tech company, as well as a covered courtyard area. The third, fourth and fifth floors are designed for 1-3 bedroom apartments.
The project will create an estimated 200 jobs during construction, which Bush anticipates will begin in the fall, with completion in October 2019.