Bloomington’s City Council hopes to spice up the atmosphere downtown by continuing improvements to streetscapes that were originally started in 1986.
“Years ago, we used to have a very vibrant downtown with a lot of expensive department stores,” Barb Adkins, deputy city manager, said.
“In the late 70s, early 80s, with the invention of the malls, our big stores started moving away. Our downtown is sort of becoming a ghost town.”
The perimeters of the city’s project span from East Street to Madison Street and from Locust Street to Front Street.
In the last year, the city started work in the 600 block of N. Main St. by adding street lights and benches.
Adkins said rather than continuing to work from south to north, city officials will likely go west on Mulberry Street then north on Center Street to Monroe Street.
She said updates will include a block by block rehabilitation that will breathe new life into downtown.
Items that will be added to streetscapes include decorations, benches, bike racks, updated garbage receptacles and more police cameras.
So far the city has added 91 decorative lights and anticipates adding another 321 by the end of the project.
“It’s just the overall look of the downtown that would hopefully increase tourism and increase interest in businesses that want to be in the downtown,” Adkins said.
Gary Pagano, owner of Reality Bites, a popular restaurant downtown, said he is excited about the upcoming changes.
“Obviously anything they do to try to improve downtown is always going to affect us. What they did in Normal was a really nice update, and it’s attracted a lot of people, and more people downtown is obviously better for us, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
When the project began in 1986, funding was not an issue thanks to a citywide Tax Increment Financing agreement that allocated revenues from property taxes to be spent on the improvements.
That TIF expired in 2009.
Adkins said without the regular tax revenue to invest in downtown, the council has to get creative when budgeting dollars.
City Manager David Hales said most revenue will come from the general fund unless another source unexpectedly appears.
In the fiscal year 2014 budget, the city council approved $75,000 for a design study that calls for professional proposals of streetscape designs.
Adkins said she hopes to interview each of the four final companies and take the final proposal to be approved by city council at the Oct. 28 meeting.
From there, the design process will begin, pending completion around the end of the year.
“We always have to look for ways to make our community stand out the best that it can,” Adkins said, stressing the importance of maintaining downtown as the main hub of Bloomington.
“We always want to have the inviting feel when people come through the main corners of our community.