BLOOMINGTON — By 8:30 Wednesday morning, Tari Renner had kicked off his efforts to attract a hotel to downtown Bloomington by calling the local tourism office.
The incoming mayor, elected Tuesday with about 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race, will take office May 1, but during his campaign he promised to start hotel discussions the day after the election.
“If we have a hotel across from the (U.S. Cellular) Coliseum, we’ll get more events, more conferences, more revenue, and we’ll have more money to divert from that to fix up our streets,” Renner said, calling the idea “a critical piece as an anchor in helping to revitalize our downtown.”
Renner on Wednesday also met with City Manager David Hales to have the conversation he believes any incoming mayor should have with the top administrator: “This is where I want to go. Do you want to continue to be part of this team? And, if so, let’s work together.”
Crystal Howard, director of the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her talk with Renner about a downtown hotel was “preliminary” and “fact finding” for the mayor-elect.
She confirmed numbers cited throughout Renner’s campaign as evidence a downtown hotel is needed and could help buoy the finances of the city-owned Coliseum.
Howard said 14 of the groups her office pursued in 2012 for the arena wouldn’t consider it because it lacked a nearby hotel, adequate meeting space or adequate parking. She said seven of those cited only the hotel deficiency and would have resulted in 7,425 room rentals. She said the direct economic impact of all 14 would have been nearly $2 million.
“Having a hotel near the Coliseum will get the Coliseum used a lot more,” Howard said.
“We know we’ve got a need. We want to gauge interest and then we’ll work with a private company once we know,” Renner said. He said he’s “absolutely” open to economic incentives but “we’re not going to give away the store.”
During the campaign, Renner’s opponents John Hanson and Lex Green said they’d be cautious or against offering economic incentives for such a development. Hanson emphasized a desire instead to focus on parking.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos said adding the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center to the uptown redevelopment mix was “absolutely positive for Normal. It brings about 80,000 visitors a year, eating at our restaurants, shopping at our stores and experiencing our town.”
Koos said a downtown Bloomington hotel would enhance the Coliseum and the conferences it might want to hold. He commended Renner for “doing due diligence” by talking to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is funded in part by the city and the town.
Mary Ann Ford contributed to this report.