More than a decade in the making, the town of Normal has officially opened Uptown Station, the multimodal transportation center that was the centerpiece of the community's downtown revitalization plan hatched at the dawn of the millenium. During an outdoor cerermony at the heart of Normal's new urbanism effort--Uptown Circle--Mayor Chris Koos listed the dozens of federal, state and local officials responsible for helping create the $46 million dollar four-story center. He outlined the history of planning, and efforts to secure funds for the building. After initial federal funding jumpstarted the process, things stalled until $22 million in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) funding was granted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Koos proudly points out Normal has led the country in putting TIGER funds to work.
"Over the 50 selected TIGER projects, ours was the very first to commence construction. And I'm even more proud to announce to you today that Normal's Uptown Station is the second of those 50 projects to be completed."
A total of 1,500 TIGER grant applications were submitted with a total of $65 billion requested for various projects in the United States. Of the final 50 chosen, $1.5 billion would be available for the grants. $13 million in state and local funding was added to the $10.6 million of federal dollars already committed to the project. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who signed on early backing the project, noted the Governors of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin rejected the federal funds that were earmarked for rail projects in their states, opening the door for Illinois and Normal to sieze the moment.
"Some governors stepped back, folder their arms and said, 'not in our state.' Governor of Wisconsin said, 'we don't want it." Well, governor you can come and take a look and wave at our trains as they go by."
The Republican governors in those three states rejected the funding on philosophical differences surrounding stimulus funding. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, who served 14 years as a congressman from Peoria prior to joining the Obama Administration, says Uptown Station stands as a stunning reality check concerning the stimulus.
"For those of you that don't think the stimulus worked, here's an example. The stimulus worked thanks to President Obama's vision to try and get the country moving again. The stimulus worked right here in Normal, Illinois! Don't let anybody tell ya it didn't work, that is baloney. This is it!"
ECONONIC ENGINE OF THE FUTURE
One of the major reasons Normal qualified for TIGER funding was the "Transit Oriented Development" concept town officials had pushed. Koos had said from the beginning the multimodal station would transform not only Normal's central business district but the central Illinois regional economy.says it will do just that. Durbin says that's what will hapen.
"Investing in America's infrastructure not only creates today's jobs it creates tomorrow's jobs and this investment...take a look at downtown Normal. This is like the anchor for a rebirth of this community. Every town downstate, every town across Amercia can learn a lesson from downtown Normal."
Lahood agrees, saying the concept of 110 mile per hour high speed rail will transform retail commerce in America much as the interstate highway system did in the 1960s and 70s.
"When you look at our rail plan and the corridors, for example the corridor in Illinois, you're gonna see as a result of this station being built, a lot of small businesses are gonna begin, because they know there are gonna be people gathered here. There are gonna be restaurants. There are gonna be other small businesses."
Tom Carper, the former Mayor of Macomb and currently Chairman of the Board for Amtrak, called Uptown Station a significant driver for continued redevelopment in the central business district as well as having a positive impact on regional economic activity.
"This is a new Normal. But it is also a national example of what a community can do with vision and a true assessment of their core assets. You pair that with reliable, frequent and fast train service, and you have a winning formula."
Carper notes Amtrak ridership along the Chicago to St. Louis corridor through Bloomington-Normal is up 16% over the past year. He says the station helps usher in the high speed rail era in Illinois with 110 mph service beginning on a stretch from Pontiac to Dwight in September. He says high speed rail will not only enable trips to Chicago within 2 hours and to St. Louis within 2 1/2 hours, it will allow families to enjoy longer trips such as to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
The 68,000 square-foot Uptown Station includes a 380-space parking garage as well as a Subway Restaurant opening soon, and other retail offerings. It also serves as Normal's new City Hall as of last month. Town officials anticipate the building will achieve a Silver or Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
See photos from the Uptown Station dedication.
Support Your Public Radio Station