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BLOOMINGTON — City officials see the announced closure of Commerce Bank's downtown Bloomington branch as a good thing in terms of renovating the 106-year-old historic building.

Commerce Bank's downtown Bloomington branch, a key part of the ongoing discussion over the future of the block bounded by Washington, Center, Front and Madison streets, will close on Jan. 12.

In the mid-1990s, Missouri-based Commerce Bank acquired Peoples Bank, located downtown at 120 N. Center St. After Commerce moved its local headquarters into a former Busey Bank building near Eastland Mall it opened a branch bank downtown.

"Once the existing Commerce Bank branch is closed and the space is vacated, a developer will have an easier time carrying out a renovation project in the building as all of the mechanical systems can be turned off and construction contractors can work in and around the building without the restriction of having to work around an operating bank," said Bloomington Economic Development Coordinator Austin Grammer.

"I would agree with Austin. This creates opportunity," said Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas, who leads a task force that is brainstorming ways to revitalize the downtown. "When one business chooses to relocate or change in some way it creates the opportunity for a new business to come in.

"I think the important thing is to focus on the substantial opportunity this creates for that block," she added.

The building is owned by the Merle Huff family of Peoria, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The city stands ready to assist a developer with the renovation of the Peoples Bank building, said Grammer. The property falls within the Downtown-Southwest Tax Increment Financing District and the Bloomington/Normal/McLean County Enterprise Zone, which can be used to help with any extraordinary costs related to the building's renovation, he said. 

In May, the downtown task force was formed to develop new ideas for the city's core; its final report is due on Thursday.

"In terms of the task force's work, this particular instance highlights the need for these types of very intentional and targeted projects in the downtown area to help new businesses come in, to kind of make sure people are aware of the advantages of coming to the downtown area and to help them overcome some of the barriers to development in that area," said Buragas.

Commerce Bank explained in a letter to bank customers that it has decided not to renew its lease for the building.

The letter states the decision was made "after careful consideration of customer usage trends and our Bloomington branch coverage as well as the proximity to the downtown redevelopment area."

The block has been at the center of ongoing discussion over downtown redevelopment with the most recent plan including a hotel as an anchor of the block.

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 was 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. 

"Commerce Bank has expressed a desire to remain in Bloomington's downtown, but finding a suitable location that meets the bank's needs has been a challenge," said Grammer.

“The city looks forward to continuing to partner with Commerce Bank to assist in its plans to provide in-person banking services in downtown Bloomington," he added.

The Commerce letter informs customers that the branch closing "will not affect your Commerce Bank accounts in any way."

Commerce has three other locations in the Twin Cities: 1339 E. Empire St., Bloomington; and 104 Broadway and 1500 E. College Ave., both in Normal.


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