BLOOMINGTON — A majority of the City Council voiced support Monday to spend $35,000 to resurface the 100 block of East Jefferson Street in downtown Bloomington with asphalt rather than redo it as a brick street at a projected cost of $900,000.
But several aldermen said they still want the city staff to explore ways to transform that 200-foot stretch of Jefferson between Main and Center streets in some way so motorists and pedestrians can share it.
The shared-street vision was suggested as part of "placemaking" projects recommended by the Downtown Task Force last fall and brought to the council's non-voting work session by Community Development Director Bob Mahrt. He presented a draft plan and timeline so the aldermen could give the city staff guidance in developing proposals for council action.
The proposed projects, intended to make downtown a more inviting and pedestrian-friendly place, also included designating downtown as a "public park," installing additional decorative lighting, public restrooms and recycling bins downtown, and possibly temporarily closing that section of Jefferson for use for events such as concerts and festivals.
"I think that what staff heard tonight is that council is ready to try new things, the status quo is unacceptable and we're going to making downtown a destination," said Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black.
The suggestion for Jefferson Street included exploring whether the original brick street under the pavement could be restored, but Public Works Director Jim Karch said tests showed too few bricks remain and they are too deep for restoration to be feasible.
But he included the brick street and other options, including concrete pavers at a cost of $750,000 and textured pavement at $600,000, for the council to consider.
"I really think we should go ahead and pave it and get the work done in the most efficient way possible. Coming out of our budget discussion ... I think we have to lower our ambitions ... in terms of cost," said Ward 3 Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe, referencing the nearly $3 million deficit in next year's budget that was addressed with cuts and fee increases.
Resurfacing the street with asphalt is a "pragmatic approach and it's a street that needs to be fixed ... so I am supportive from that angle," said Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas, who chaired the task force. "But once you sink money into that resurfacing my concern is that it will reduce enthusiasm for any other possibilities."
Black and Mayor Tari Renner suggested testing out the shared-street vision on a trial basis by blocking off the street with sawhorses at night and at other times to create a temporary pedestrian plaza.
"In my vision Jefferson Street would be resurfaced and we would close down the 100 block for a period of time to pilot (a project) to make it a public plaza where we could hold concerts, hold gatherings, hold festivals to bring people downtown and make it our economic engine for our community and a big destination," said Black.