The only announcement about downtown Bloomington last week that didn't happen was a new train station.

What did happen: A local architect pitched a wide-ranging plan, including a hotel; aldermen said no to a meeting about the downtown 'catalyst' project, so the mayor scheduled a meeting about the 'catalyst' project; State Farm finally acknowledged it was vacating its downtown building; Commerce Bank marked its last day, leaving that building empty; and the mayor said the State Farm building might make a nice city hall.

Sort of makes you wonder whether anyone is talking to anyone else on the same subject.

The architect, Jim Pearson of The Vantage Group Ltd., sits on the Bloomington Planning Commission. He told the City Council he envisions a hotel on city-owned land near Grossinger Motors Arena; shops and apartments on the east side of downtown; an aviary/arboretum square in a downtown park; a new Connect Transit transfer station; and a Center for Social Agencies atrium near the McLean County Law and Justice Center.

The 'catalyst' project pushed by the downtown task force involves replacing the Market Street parking deck with the library, parking and Connect Transit transfer site.

A majority of aldermen didn't want a meeting about the library project supported by Alderman Amelia Buragas, who is task force chairman. Library board members already have spent a lot of money on plans to expand the library at its current site, and most aldermen support that idea. So after watching aldermen vote down the meeting set up by Buragas, Mayor Tari Renner simply scheduled another on the same topic.

State Farm said its downtown building, its original headquarters, will be empty by the end of the month after the last 150 employees are moved to other sites. State Farm is evaluating where, or if, the building fits in future plans since its physical design does not work with the company's modernization plans.

And the city hall idea? Renner floated that gem during an interview on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The State Farm announcement, expected but still stunning, will leave yet another large empty building in a downtown that city leaders are trying hard to reinvent. Worse than that are the State Farm and Commerce jobs that are moving across town, meaning the customer base is shrinking — again — for downtown businesses that depend on lunch hour and happy hour crowds.

The CII East building remains largely empty. Front 'n Center, on the same square block as Commerce, is empty and dilapidated. Across the street, the old Elks Lodge, and soon, The Pantagraph building, once the newspaper offices move to the courthouse square, also will be empty. Other storefronts, here and there, remain vacant.

City leaders and economic experts might want to revisit the task force work in light of the newest pitches and changes. 


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