The Normal Town Council at its next meeting may review a proposal for what's being called a "major economic development initiative" in Uptown Normal.
The town issued a request for proposals (RFP) in December for a multi-use building that would be located on mostly town-owned land east of Constitution Boulevard, south of College Avenue. Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said staff is currently reviewing three proposals that range from $21 million to $30 million in value.
Peterson said the concept began with a request from architectural and engineering firm Farnsworth Group, based in Normal.
"They came to the town and said we'd like to consolidate our offices and we'd like to do it in Uptown," said Peterson. "But (they said) we're not a developer and we don't want to be an owner, we want to lease space. And we talked with them and said let's put a package together to see if we can attract some developers."
Farnsworth Group has committed to lease 18,000 square feet, but only if the company can provide architectural and engineering services for the "core and the shell" of the proposed development. An unnamed technology firm has committed to lease 5,000 to 6,000 square feet. All three proposals received accommodate Farnsworth and the tech firm, but Peterson said all three are otherwise "very different."
"One of the proposals has all office and has divided the site up and has two standalone buildings. Another proposal has one monolithic building but has a pretty significant residential component. The third proposal is a different building configuration and also has a residential component, but a little smaller residential component," said Peterson.
The RFP states residential development is "not a preferred use." However, Peterson said the town recognizes housing may be necessary to make the development financially feasible and will rely on what financial investors think will work to make the project viable. The RFP also states preferential treatment would be given to proposals emphasizing retail on the ground floor. Peterson said while retail across the community is feeling pressure from fewer consumers in the marketplace and internet sales, Uptown seems immune, calling it a destination.
"We can not only sustain it (more retail space), it's in demand," said Peterson. "We have inquiries every day from retailers looking for space in Uptown Normal. There just isn't any available right now. I don't think there's any question that retail space will get consumed quickly."
If the council approves the development Jan. 16, negotiation with the developer would start. The area is in tax increment financing (TIF) district and an enterprise zone. Under the TIF, any increased tax revenues collected as a result of an increase in property values could be used as incentive dollars for the developer. The enterprise zone can provide a sales tax exemption on building materials, among other benefits. The town-owned land could also be part of the negotiation and conveyed to the developer for a nominal cost. While Normal is facing some financial issues, and may trim as much as $2 million from next year's budget, Peterson said there's no better time for such a development.
"When revenues are stagnant and the economy is slower than you'd like it to be, you want to do all you can to promote economic development and that's what this is, an economic development initiative," said Peterson. "You create a lot of construction jobs. This is exactly the answer for a slow economy."
The development could include land currently occupied by buildings located at 104, 106, and 108 E. Beaufort. Peterson said if all goes as planned construction could be complete as early as late 2019 and would leave only one major parcel for redevelopment, west of Constitution Boulevard, as outlined by the original Uptown Normal Master Plan.
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