Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday he’s put a controversial joint meeting back on the calendar for next week, rejecting a push by some aldermen to forgo a deeper discussion on a proposed downtown library-transit project.
Renner said he scheduled the special Bloomington City Council meeting for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 16 in the Osborn Room at the police station. Aldermen will meet jointly with the Connect Transit and Bloomington Public Library boards to discuss the proposed catalyst project for downtown Bloomington. The project would tear down the Market Street parking garage and build a new library and transit hub in its place.
The idea ran into opposition again at Monday’s city council meeting. Alderman Kim Bray and four other aldermen successfully pushed to remove a Jan. 16 Committee of the Whole meeting from the council’s official calendar. That was the meeting Renner was planning to use for the library-transit discussion.
It was largely a symbolic move because Renner can call for special meetings himself. That’s what he did Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the vote.
Renner has said he’s open to the library-transit project, despite the cool reception it’s received from most aldermen. The project was one of several potential catalyst projects included in the Downtown Task Force’s final report.
Renner said on GLT’s Sound Ideas he was disappointed in Monday’s vote. He said he only found out about Bray’s plan a few minutes before the meeting began.
“That’s not good communication. We should talk to each other. If we disagree, we disagree. If people don’t agree with the catalyst project—and I think probably the majority of the council doesn’t—that’s fine, but at least let’s hear what the needs are and why the task force … came up with these particular recommendations,” Renner said.
The catalyst project is billed as a way to drive more daily foot traffic to downtown’s core. The idea does align with the city’s 2013 Downtown Bloomington Strategy and its 2015 comprehensive plan, both approved by previous councils and the basis for the task force’s work. The comprehensive plan, for example, calls for communitywide services like the library to be in the city’s core, preferably downtown.
But more recently, aldermen have signaled a preference for keeping the library where it is—and possibly expanding—on Olive Street. Library leaders have been planning for an expansion there for years.
Despite the 5-to-4 vote Monday, Renner said he doesn’t think the council should just move on to other matters.
“It sets a very, very bad precedent,” he said. “If you ask people (on the Downtown Task Force) to commit their time and energy, you at least need to listen to what their conclusions are and what that evidence is. And we should never set a precedent where getting more information and figuring out what our intergovernmental partners need is something we shut down. We should never shut down conversations of new ideas and new information.”
Mike McCurdy, the chair of Connect Transit's board and supporter of the library-catalyst project, issued a statement Tuesday thanking Renner for scheduling the meeting. (McCurdy also serves as GLT's program director.)
"I believe in idea meritocracy and community partnerships. I also believe the purpose of this meeting is about exchanging ideas and differing viewpoints, expressing our interests, and exploring possibilities for collaboration and ideation," McCurdy said. "I am heartened the mayor sees little harm in calling a special meeting so that we can have these important conversations together.
"Personally, I welcome the opportunity to learn more about the details, pitfalls, benefits, and opportunities presented with expanding the library in place or partnering with Connect Transit at the Market Street parking garage," he added.
Renner said the Jan. 16 meeting will also give the public a better opportunity to hear about the project and get their questions answered.
“Maybe the aldermen have made up their minds, but the public hasn’t made up its mind,” Renner said.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Renner:
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