BLOOMINGTON — Officials remain optimistic about the future of downtown Bloomington despite State Farm's decision to pull employees out of its historic 112 E. Washington St. building.
“We’ve seen downtown reinvent itself many times," said Alderman Karen Schmidt, whose Ward 6 includes the building, "and what I appreciate about downtown, and the people who have a vision and have invested here, is their appreciation for its history and their willingness to bring that history into a future mode.
"It’s another challenge, obviously: We’re losing a lot of downtown workers and an important part of our community. But I do think this is another challenge that we’ll be able to make it into an asset," she continued. "I don’t know what that looks like right now, but I have a lot of confidence in that.”
State Farm officials said Thursday the company has not decided what to do with the building other than pull out the current 150 employees at the end of January and finish maintenance work expected to take another few months.
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said that while he was disappointed to hear State Farm will not have an employee presence at its downtown building after Jan. 31, he is heartened to know the city will remain the insurance giant's headquarters
“While this is disappointing, we know Bloomington is still the headquarters of State Farm, and we’re very thankful to have them," said Renner. "We want to see what they’re thinking about doing with the building; with change comes new challenges and new opportunities.”
Since 2015, the company has spent $1.6 million on improvements to the company's original corporate headquarters, including asbestos abatement and new fire sprinklers and alarms.
Schmidt said she's not familiar with the interior of the building other than the ground floor and penthouse, but she looks forward to learning more soon.
"We can count on them to be good neighbors when they decide,” said Schmidt of State Farm. “Maybe that's the downtown hotel. I’ve heard people suggest it be a vertical mall. With some creativity, anything's possible."
Kyle Ham, CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said it's too early to tell what the building could become, but he's in contact with State Farm about it.
"We’ll work closely with State Farm to make sure we can use that property in the most efficient way for the community, and we look forward to doing that,” he said. “We’re at the very infancy stages of what it means, but it’s right there in downtown and is historic. It’s a valuable piece of property, so we look forward to working with State Farm to see what that might mean.”
Ham said he also looks forward to speaking with the city about the site.
“The city of Bloomington and their council have been very focused on downtown development, and they're very attuned to seeing progress and growing that part of the community," said Ham. "I see any opportunity for space to be used as an opportunity. I don’t see that as a challenge.”
Other downtown buildings that are vacant or will be vacated soon include the Commerce Bank building at 120 N. Center St., the Front ‘N' Center building at 102 N. Center St. and The Pantagraph building at 301 W. Washington St.