Interest grows in Ensenberger condos
BLOOMINGTON — Ed Wollenschlager and his family have the seven-story Ensenberger Building in downtown Bloomington virtually all to themselves.
About six years ago, Wollenschlager purchased one of the 29 upscale condominiums in the renovated former furniture store at 212 N. Center St.
His condo is one of only eight that have been purchased and owner-occupied. Another unit is rented on a long-term lease basis, leaving 20 units for sale.
Now, lower prices, along with other changes and additional advertising are sparking renewed interest in the condos, real estate agent Char Huff said.
The $9 million project to convert the building constructed in 1906, with a 1926 addition, into luxury condominiums was started in 2005.
Downtown may see sidewalk cafes
BLOOMINGTON — More outdoor sidewalk cafe space could come to downtown Bloomington if Mayor Tari Renner and the City Council pursue changing city ordinances.
Renner raised the possibility during a meeting Jan. 13 of the city's liquor commission, which he heads.
"Several of the restaurant and bar owners downtown are wanting the opportunity to put a couple of tables out in front of their businesses," said longtime downtown restaurant and bar owner Jan Lancaster, owner of The Bistro, 316 N. Main St.
"It's not as if we want people to go clogging up our downtown sidewalks, but just try to create a more lively atmosphere and have a walkable, thriving and vibrant downtown," added Renner.
Enbridge pipeline work expected this spring
BLOOMINGTON — Enbridge hopes to start construction on a planned 165-mile oil pipeline this spring, but some landowners still are attempting to derail the project.
The Calgary, Alberta, Canada, company currently is building a pump station at its Flanagan Terminal in rural Pontiac and also one outside Decatur, said Jennifer Smith, the company's communication manager.
"About 90 percent of the land (needed for the pipeline) has been acquired along the route," she said.
The pipeline will start at the Flanagan Terminal and travel south through several counties, including McLean, DeWitt and Macon, ending at a major refinery hub in Patoka in southern Marion County.
Firm hopes to revive Normal hotel
NORMAL — Swift Hospitality still hopes to turn the former Holiday Inn in north Normal into a 160-room Radisson Hotel, but time is running out.
Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said that according to state statute, the tax increment financing district that covers the property at 8 Traders Circle will end in August unless the town has a redevelopment agreement for the property and work has started.
Swift Hospitality bought the foreclosed property in 2010 and had a redevelopment pact with the town that would have allowed the company to recover about $3.9 million in TIF money and about $1.7 million from the hotel/motel tax for seven years.
But the project did not get off the ground because of financing, and the redevelopment deal with the town has since expired.
Sheriff: Jail add-on best option
BLOOMINGTON — A facility connected to the existing detention center is the best option for a McLean County jail expansion that would improve conditions for mentally ill and female inmates, according to Sheriff Jon Sandage.
The county is working with consultants Dewberry Architects and Mark Goldman on a proposal to address several deficiencies at the jail. County Administrator Bill Wasson told the county board in January that consultants are researching the staffing and operational needs for each of four building options.
The county board said decisions on funding will wait until a building design is finalized. Wasson discussed the project briefly with the Public Building Commission last summer.
City hires consultant for water, sewer study
BLOOMINGTON — Despite a consultant's previous miscalculations over revenue from new garbage cart fees, the City Council hired the same firm to study city water and sewer rates and whether they should be raised.
By a 6-1 vote, the council approved the city procurement team's selection of Raftelis Financial Consultants to conduct the study at a fee of $76,970.
Prior to the vote, aldermen Jim Fruin, Mboka Mwilambe and Kevin Lower raised concerns about the need to have an outside consultant conduct a study rather than city staff and whether Raftelis was the best choice.
City accepts land for park, nature tail
BLOOMINGTON — The city has accepted ownership of land for a proposed park, trail and nature preserve that may be developed on Bloomington's southeast side.
The Bloomington City Council approved accepting a deed giving the city ownership, at no cost, of several parcels north of Ireland Grove Road as part of a 2005 annexation agreement with Eastlake LLC, the owner of the Kickapoo Creek subdivision along Ireland Grove Road and east of Towanda Barnes Road.
The land is being set aside for development of the proposed 23-acre Grove Park, a paved pedestrian path and 88 acres of passive parkland along both sides of Kickapoo Creek. "Passive" means the city will do nothing to landscape or maintain the land, which will be part of a stream restoration project.
Mohr named fire chief
BLOOMINGTON — Brian Mohr had two reasons to celebrate on Jan. 14.
First, he marked his 24th anniversary with the Bloomington Fire Department and, to top that, he was named the city's new chief Wednesday.
“It's ironic that it all came together this way,” said Mohr, 45, of rural Carlock.
Mohr, an assistant chief and training officer, succeeded Mike Kimmerling, who retired in November.
City may revise garbage carts, fees
BLOOMINGTON — The City Council has some new recommendations to consider when it addresses an anticipated a shortfall of more than $2 million in Bloomington's $8 million solid waste program.
As a possible remedy, Assistant City Manager Steve Rasmussen suggested the council no longer allow residents to select their cart sizes.
Currently residents can choose from three cart sizes, which cost from $16 to $20 per month.
Instead, Rasmussen suggested determining cart sizes based on household sizes: a 35-gallon cart at $16 per month for a one-person household; a 65-gallon cart at $20 per month for a two-person household; and a 95-gallon cart at $23 per month for households with three or more people.
If approved by the council, proposed rates would be effective May 1.
Brady unveils uses for $750K grant
BLOOMINGTON — The city of Bloomington will receive $325,000 of a controversial $750,000 grant sponsored by state Sen. Bill Brady.
The Bloomington Republican last month formed a committee to evaluate proposals after the City Council last fall rejected using the grant to expand McGraw Park for a Central Catholic football practice field.
The recommendations include $200,000 for Bloomington's Sunnyside Park and $125,000 for the Miller Park Pavilion. The committee also recommended $100,000 to build a seawall at Easter Seals' Timber Pointe Outdoor Center at Lake Bloomington; $75,000 for the the city of Delavan to demolish a dilapidated downtown building; and $250,000 for the village of McLean to construct a water tower.
Connect Transit plans fixed bus stops
BLOOMINGTON — Connect Transit riders can hail a bus on just about any street corner along a bus route — but that's about to change.
The Twin City bus service is planning to convert to fixed bus stops only; buses will pick up passengers only at designated locations.
"It helps improve the system's performance ... it's safer to access the buses," said Kyle Boehm, a planner for Connect Transit.
Fixed stops also will allow Connect Transit to add amenities at the stops such as shelters, route information and codes to download the buses' real time application.
County names nursing home chief
NORMAL — A 21-year veteran of long-term care in Bloomington-Normal is the new administrator of the McLean County Nursing Home.
Cindy Wegner, replaced interim Administrator Linda Cox. Administrator Matt Riehle resigned in 2013.
County Administrator Bill Wasson said Wegner was selected "because of her experience in the nursing home industry, her experience as a nursing home administrator and her knowledge of the local market."
Wegner, 44, of Normal had been with Heritage Enterprises since 1993 and was Heritage Health-Normal administrator since 2002.
Heartland sees budget 'wild cards'
NORMAL — Spring enrollment looks like it will be level or even a bit up from a year ago at Heartland Community College, but that good news was tempered by “wild cards” in a recent report to the board.
Doug Minter, vice president of business services, told the board it looks like an anticipated drop in enrollment will not occur this spring, but “we're not out of the woods by any means.”
Among the variables facing Heartland as it finishes this fiscal year and prepares its budget for the next are possible cuts in state support, potential increases in personnel costs and uncertain property tax revenue, Minter said.
Holy Trinity school changing name
BLOOMINGTON — Holy Trinity Catholic sixth-grader Meredith Torres wasn't 100 percent behind the name change of her elementary school, but she still found some positives.
"Well, at least I can get a whole new wardrobe now," she said during the formal announcement that, starting with the 2015-16 school year, it will be known as Corpus Christi Catholic School.
"I really liked the Holy Trinity name," she said, "but I will get used to it."
In June 2014, two Bloomington parishes, Holy Trinity Catholic Church and Saint Patrick Catholic Church of Merna, signed a formal agreement to share responsibility and governance for the school previously associated only with Holy Trinity. The new name was adopted to reflect the shared responsibility, said Holy Trinity's Monsignor Greg Ketchum.
Unit 5 faces deficit by 2019
NORMAL — McLean County Unit 5 is expected to dip below zero in its year-end fund balance by 2019, a consultant told the board.
An anticipated $10 million balance at the end of this fiscal year in June will dwindle to an $11.6 million deficit by 2020 for the Normal-based district, according to a presentation by government funding firm PMA Financial Network of Naperville.
The forecast includes no change in staff levels, which could be reduced to cut costs but need to increase if Unit 5 hopes to improve its class sizes. Last fall, 20 percent of Unit 5 classrooms were over their recommended capacity.
The district has maxed out its local tax levies and forecasts slow increases to its property tax base.
New head names for Agency on Aging
BLOOMINGTON — The new executive director of the Bloomington-based East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging wants to make it easier for older adults, people with disabilities, their caregivers and grandparents raising grandchildren to access available services.
Susan Real was announced as the next executive director for the agency, which helps Central Illinois older adults and people with disabilities to lead healthy, independent lives.
Real, 57, of Henry, was named to the position, effective April 1, by the agency's board. She succeeds Mike O'Donnell, 66, of Bloomington, who will retire March 31.