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NORMAL — R MarketPlace, part small-business incubator and part upscale food court, was born five years ago across the country.

"My husband and I were visiting Orange County and went to a food hall in the packing district (Anaheim Packing House), and we fell in love with the variety of food and the atmosphere," said Vivian Doctora of Bloomington. "We thought, 'This would be a great thing for Bloomington-Normal one day.'"

That day is almost here as Doctora wraps up recruiting for R MarketPlace, the Twin Cities' first food hall — as the Chicago Tribune described them, "the modern, upscale, urban reincarnation of the humble mall food court" — and a first-floor tenant at uptown Normal's future Trail East building.

Doctora, who will own and manage the hall with her husband, Redney, hopes it will be 80 percent full when the building opens in 2020. The 13,000-square-foot space will house 10 to 15 businesses.

"We want to bring unique food offerings that we don't have in Bloomington-Normal and let people test a concept before opening their own shop," she said, with French, Filipino, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine among those lined up so far. "All the independent merchants will be locally owned. ... So far we have seven letters of intent from locally owned businesses."

Doctora encouraged those interested in being part of R MarketPlace to contact her at rmktplace.com.

"We also want to have a bar owned and operated by us, and we'll have a farm stand that will offer people who live nearby basic grocery items within walking distance," she said. "We'll also have a kitchen in the food hall where people can do cooking demonstrations."

Doctora, who has worked for State Farm for 19 years including in marketing, got serious about the concept in 2017 and reached out to the town for help. 

After the first floor of the College Avenue Parking Deck proved unsuitable — the town is now soliciting possible users for the space — officials turned to Trail East, said Normal Economic Development Director Sally Heffernan.

"It was originally planned to just be parking, and I thought that wasn't impactful enough," said Bryce Henderson, Bush's vice president of project development, of the ground floor. "We talked to Vivian ... and we said that sounds like a great opportunity to have a local impact, not only for our project but also for the local businesses they're trying to incubate."

R MarketPlace is expected to use the northwest portion of the first floor, though the layout has not been finalized yet.

Doctora said the project wouldn't be possible without another business incubator — the Small Business Development Center at Illinois Wesleyan University, which helped her learn business principles and connect to banks.

"We're extremely excited about the project. I think it's going to bring a lot of excitement to the community," she said. "We really want to drive more economic development in town."


Bloomington-Normal business openings and closings

Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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