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NORMAL — Twenty-five years ago, then-Normal Mayor Paul Harmon challenged a group of citizens to envision where the town should be in the year 2015.

"The town's 125th anniversary was coming up and I thought, wouldn't it be good to take a look into the future," Harmon said recently. "The charge was a broad-based look at where they would like the community to be in 25 years."

Former mayor (now the late) Carol Reitan was named chairman of a six-member executive committee. Four subcommittees also were created for a total of more than 50 citizens participating in the year-long process.

"One thing that was so important is it included so many people from a variety of walks of life," said Richard Dammers, now a retired Illinois State University English professor who was editor of the 2015 Report. "We all focused on quality of life; what would make an even better town. It was so good because so many people brought ideas."

Dammers said Reitan set expectations and the tone for the discussions, urging committee members to "constantly look at what was good for the citizens. Her influence lasted."

Sonja Reece, then a member of the Normal Planning Commission and now a City Council member, served on the economy subcommittee. She also credits Reitan for her leadership in the process.

"She had an amazing insight into what would be needed far into the future," said Reece. "Over and over, the plan mentioned that technology would be important." (The discussions took place from May 1989 through April 1990; the Internet only became widely used in the mid-1990s.)

The recommendations were varied and many are in place today.

One was was to broadcast City Council meetings on the local cable television system.

After Reece was elected to the City Council in 1991, she urged then-City Manager Dave Anderson to "give it a try." The town contracted to have the council meetings taped and broadcast later. Recently, the town started live streaming council meetings.

The 2015 Report also suggested using "an electronic interactive communication system" to link citizens to town functions. 

"That is now achieved via the Internet and the town's website," Reece noted.

City Manager Mark Peterson said for the first five years after the plan, "there was a concerted effort to look at the plan every year; develop strategies and budget documents to accomplish specific goals."

Peterson said many of the plan's suggestions were widely embraced by the council; others were not.

The report encouraged expanding the then fledgling 4½-mile Constitution Trail. It now spans about 37 miles throughout Normal and Bloomington.

Town leaders also were encouraged to make Normal a walkable/bicycable community. A few years ago, the town adopted a bike/pedestrian plan and already has implemented many of the ideas, including shared bike/car lanes, bike repair stations and numerous bike racks. The town also sponsors an annual bike rodeo and a "Light the Night" event focusing on bicycles. 

In November, the town received a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists. 

Another idea embraced and implemented by town leaders was a recommendation to invest in town beautification projects and to adopt a comprehensive historic preservation program.

Entryways into town were landscaped a few years ago and the town has completed much of the massive uptown redevelopment project. 

There also are three historic districts: Cedar Crest (designated in 1993); Highland (2002); and Old North Normal (2003) and two sites — the Normal Theater and the Camelback Bridge — that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town purchased the theater in 1992 and restored it to its original appearance before reopening it in 1994.

Harmon said the report also prompted the council to commission a historic architectural survey of the town's homes and buildings. The result was publication of the book "The Legacy: A Survey of the Historical Architecture of the Town of Normal." 

Other ideas suggested by the report and implemented in one way or another include: working with Bloomington to standardize building and land-use codes; broadening the scope of the town's relationship with ISU; hiring a town horticulturalist; burying utility lines (has been done uptown); and encouraging formation of neighborhood councils. 

"I'm more impressed with it (the 2015 Report) now than in 1990," said Harmon. "They were amazingly on top of what was going to transpire in the next 25 years."

The town continues to gather a group of citizens every five years and challenges them to look beyond the present.

"The first was the most challenging," said Peterson. "It was an important document to get the conversation going."


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