NORMAL — Standing on the top of uptown's newest building, it's easy to forget how long the site spent as a hole in the ground.
"Quite the view here," said Chris George, development coordinator for developer Tartan Realty Group, looking northwest from the heart of uptown, over the Normal Theater to Manchester Hall. "This is something where, when you get people up here, there's a wow factor. You can't see this on a plan. You have to see it firsthand."
A decade after construction stopped abruptly across the street from what's now Uptown Station, leaving an infamous chasm on the cherished Uptown Circle, it's almost finished again — this time resulting in One Uptown on the Circle, a building with three stories of luxury apartments atop second-floor town offices, a future first-floor restaurant and underground parking.
The town plans to move in starting next week, and residents will follow shortly. George still is promoting the building's 21 rental units to potential residents, with about half currently set to be occupied.
Rents range from $1,650 per month for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit to $4,200 for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom penthouse with a terrace, though both of those are taken. More details are at liveonthecircle.com.
The restaurant, and even a timeline for a reveal, remains unannounced. Promotional materials refer to the eatery as an "American-themed bistro."
The town plans to move engineering, facilities, inspections and planning employees into its space. The offices will open to the public Dec. 4.
That will free up parts of Uptown Station, which will be used for communications offices; the City Hall annex, which will be used for parks and recreation storage; and the "dentist's office" space at 305 Linden St., which will be unoccupied. The town hopes to demolish the annex to clear space for a new Normal Public Library as part of a future "uptown south" district.
The same night The Pantagraph saw the building, town officials toured as well, looking over not only their newest offices and the apartments above but also a substantial investment of public resources.
The town lent Tartan, the Chicago developer behind Portillo's, The Flats and other local projects, $2.5 million to build the structure; sold the land it sits on for $1; and will pay top-of-the-market rent for office space there for 15 years.
One Uptown on the Circle is phase two of Tartan's plans in uptown, following the Hyatt Place hotel next door, for which the town lent Tartan $5.1 million. The hotel's owners requested a $264,000 tax rebate this summer to make up for poor business that was later withdrawn.
"The (units) up top are just unbelievable, spectacular. They're so cool," said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson.
"As my father used to say, they oughta be (for what) they cost," added Communications Director Dan Irvin with a laugh.
With the hole filled, the town continues to work on uptown projects, including a possible underpass at Uptown Station to not only move Amtrak passengers from the south platform to the station but to bring pedestrians, cyclists and others from Uptown Circle to "uptown south."
The town has paid three different consultants to study the underpass, the library and uptown south to pave the way for future development, including possible federal funding. Officials envision public, private and residential development, including townhouses, grocery store and pharmacy.
When he voted to approve One Uptown on the Circle last year, council member R.C. McBride said the town should consider the project as a pilot for office and residential space in uptown — including "uptown south."
"It eliminates maybe the only sore point that we've had throughout the uptown development to this point, and it's the first domino ... for Uptown 2.0, so I'm pretty excited," he said.