Looking for a big “catalyst” project to lure more people to downtown Bloomington, members of a city task force expressed support Tuesday for a plan to knock down an old parking garage and build a new library and public transit transfer center in its place.
The plan, while preliminary, aims to address many perceived needs in one fell swoop by demolishing the Market Street parking garage and redeveloping the land. Bloomington Public Library’s leaders have been trying to get traction for years on a new or remodeled building. Connect Transit’s leaders say their existing transfer station on Front Street is insufficient. And the Downtown Bloomington Task Force is looking for a significant project that will increase daily foot traffic in the central business district.
“For the city to invest in something that they have a lot of control over is a good idea,” task force member Bobby Vericella from RJV Properties said. “I think it’s a great thing and it would have a huge impact.”
The library sees around 1,000 visitors daily. Library Board of Trustees President Alex Cardona said he’s open to discussing the project, though he cautioned that the library’s leadership is looking to move more quickly on a new space than the catalyst project may come to life. They’ve already spent money on studies and planning an expansion at their current location, he said.
“We’d like to see more data, more information, get timelines looked at,” Cardona said. “We’d be interested in learning more and discussing it more with our partners.”
Connect Transit leadership embraced the idea Tuesday. The public transit system’s current transfer station on Front Street outside the McLean County Law and Justice Center serves up to 1,500 riders daily, but it can’t accommodate enough buses and lacks other infrastructure. It’s the second-most used transfer center in Bloomington-Normal, said interim Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne (Editor’s note: Connect Transit board chairman Mike McCurdy is GLT’s program director.)
Several other task force members expressed support for the Market Street catalyst project.
Alderman Amelia Buragas, whose Ward 4 includes parts of downtown, is chair of the task force. She weighed in as discussion turned to whether there would be support on the Bloomington City Council for bundling together the library project with efforts to revitalize downtown.
“We have to be realistic that at some point, we will be forced to make a choice,” Buragas said. “I don’t see how we as a city have sufficient funds or capacity to do both a catalytic project in downtown and build a new library. And that’s not a choice I want to make because both are incredibly important to me as parts of this community.”
The Market Street parking garage, which is nearing the end of its useful life, is an attractive location because the city already owns it. That’s in contrast to, say, the Front and Center building, which is privately owned and may cost the city a significant amount of money to acquire.
Once the Market Street parking garage is demolished, “that location is a really good property, right next to the core,” said Bloomington Director of Community Development Tim Dabareiner.
Task force member Justin Boyd said a catalyst project like this may be more palatable to Bloomington aldermen because it rolls together many different expensive projects.
“This option would kill two birds with one stone,” said Boyd. “It might even kill three if we can help with the Connect Transit transfer station.”
(Editor's note: As a matter of disclosure, Boyd is a major supporter of GLT's Sound Ideas.)
The Downtown Bloomington Task Force has already issued an initial report documenting smaller ideas that would be easier to execute. Its expected to issue a final report to the Bloomington City Council within the next three months.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.