BLOOMINGTON — The Downtown Task Force's initial report identifies potential recommendations related to parking and smaller, inexpensive ways to increase downtown's appeal as an artistic and community center.

But one of the panel's most challenging tasks still lies ahead — identifying a larger development project that could act as a catalyst in the city's revitalization effort.

In May, the City Council unanimously approved Mayor Tari Renner's proposal to create the nine-member panel and asked for an initial report by Thursday and a final report by Dec. 31 to the City Council.

Potential recommendations are suggestions that will be finalized based on the council's feedback. 

"We want to move up, if at all possible, the final recommendations to the council so if there is anything that needs to be taken into account during the budgeting process, we will have given everyone plenty of notice," said task force chairman Amelia Buragas, a Bloomington alderman who represents Ward 4.

The panel affirmed there is strong support throughout the community for continued revitalization of the downtown area.

"However, there is a strong belief that downtown remains underutilized and that there exist a number of smaller, easy-to-achieve projects that can have a positive impact in the short-term," the report states.

"There also remains a desire to discuss the feasibility of a larger development project and its potential to act as a catalyst for further development and investment." 

Bloomington Community Development Director Tom Dabareiner will present potential catalyst projects when the task force meets at noon Tuesday at City Hall.

"Obviously, a catalyst project is not an easy discussion," said Buragas. "It's going to need to meet certain criteria."

Buragas said the panel will try to identify such a project that is the right fit for the community, where to locate it downtown, the public/private partnership balance and level of risk to develop it.

For the past two years, Renner has promoted development of a hotel downtown through a public/private partnership as perhaps a way to reinvigorate the city's core.

But the City Council has rejected two plans to privately develop a downtown hotel with the assistance of financial incentives from the city, including tax abatements or tax increment financing. 

There has been little public discussion in recent months about a new hotel plan, though East Peoria commercial real estate broker Jeff Giebelhausen, who has been at the center of the proposals, is reportedly interested in developing the long-vacant Front 'N' Center building into a limited-service hotel without city money, or a boutique-style hotel with financial assistance from the city. 

The Downtown Bloomington Strategy Plan, developed by Farr Associates and adopted by the council in 2014, recommended the city place a high priority on development of a hotel downtown.

The consultant preferred an independent, smaller boutique-type hotel because it would provide greater design flexibility and would fit the historic nature of downtown.

But that plan, as well as the city's 2015 comprehensive plan, also encourage other community anchors, such as the YMCA or public library, to expand in downtown. 

Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle



Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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