BLOOMINGTON — Normal Mayor Chris Koos and his opponent, Marc Tiritilli, agree uptown is a great asset.
But they disagree on how the town got it.
"We could have gone about (this) in a smarter way. We're going to pay $53 million more for uptown than we needed to," said Tiritilli, a 51-year-old Bloomington High School science teacher aiming to unseat Koos on April 4. "I don't think the way we've been doing some of these things is sustainable."
"The money we've taken in bonded debt is an investment (that) leveraged over $200 million in private investment in the community. That's about a 285 percent return," responded Koos, the 68-year-old Vitesse Cycle Shop owner and three-term mayor. "That's smart business, to do that. You've got to invest to grow your community."
With a week left until the election, Koos and Tiritilli addressed that issue and others in front of The Pantagraph's editorial board on Tuesday.
Koos said the town will continue to pursue negotiations to end the Metro Zone agreement, a tax-sharing arrangement with Bloomington that the city has terminated without Normal's consent, as part of a regional approach to growth.
"The Metro Zone should just be let go. Bloomington has made it very clear that they're done with this, and I don't think it's in our best interest to pursue the kind of scolding (the town has)," Tiritilli said. "In general I don't like the idea of revenue-sharing because it leads to these kinds of conflicts."
Tiritilli said he disagreed with the deal bringing Portillo's to town, in which Normal will pay a developer $1.875 million in future sales tax, because the business will take sales from other restaurants that pay all of their sales tax to the town. He prefers to offer incentives, such as the town's uptown facade grant program, that any business can pursue.
"Those are issues that have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, whether to (incentivize)," said Koos, who has said Portillo's would not be coming to Normal without the sales tax incentive given to the developer. "That is trying to (spur development in) an area that, I think, is under-performing on what I would call triple-A real estate."
Both candidates said they hope to invest in street repairs, though they disagreed about how much the town is currently spending, and to encourage current Normal businesses like Rivian Automotive to stay and expand.
"Normal already has tremendous assets. We sit on three interstates. We've got rail lines that are connected to a lot of the businesses here. We've got a talented workforce. We've got two universities in town. We are far and away the destination in terms of infrastructure in Central Illinois," Tiritilli said.
"I believe that you don't live in great communities. You help to make great communities. There are people that are doing the heavy lifting that make communities stand out and unique, and I feel like you've got to be part of that," said Koos.