BLOOMINGTON — The fate of 4.1 acres of land owned by the city of Bloomington and Illinois Wesleyan University was up for discussion Thursday night when residents were invited to give their input at an open house.

Several community members who live or work near the site of the former Mennonite Hospital/Electrolux in the 800 block of North Main Street and two adjacent parcels owned by IWU came to the Hansen Student Center to give their input.

However, Diana Hauman doesn’t live nearby but spoke as a former Bloomington city councilor who has seen this site as “a thorn in my side for a long time because it’s been empty.”

She suggested building a joint Bloomington-Normal library on the lot.

“It’s on Main Street so it’s on a bus line; it’s as close to Division Street as you’re going to get and then Bloomington and Normal can keep their libraries as branches,” she said, adding there would be logistical issues to overcome as well.

Kelby Cumpston, who lives within two blocks of the site, said he doesn't want the development to bring in chain restaurants.

“I’m worried it’s going to create a barrier to downtown Bloomington for all the Wesleyan students … that the students will go there instead of going to downtown Bloomington,” he said.

Angelique Racki agreed the site should not become home to chain restaurants, adding she doesn’t want to see ground-floor retail stores topped by apartments either.

“I just want to see a space where the opportunities are there, the opportunities to collaborate, the opportunities are there for inventors, for artists, for scientists, for medical, for everything,” said Racki, who lives and works nearby.

Racki suggested achieving this with multiple buildings. However, Sara Almaraz said it could be one large structure that ties together modern and historic influences, inviting the same kind of collaboration Racki spoke of.

“A multi-use collaboration from all of the smaller entities in town that do amazing things all kind of spread out and create kind of a central base of opportunities for the community,” Almaraz said. “I think it’s a really good way to build community because if we just bring in new businesses ... money is everywhere, but we can’t really create community everywhere and this could be a really good place to start.”

Given the site’s proximity to Franklin Park and its historical district, members of the historical district association proposed the area from East Street and the alley between East and Prairie streets be rededicated to the district and zoned as residential.

The main parcel of land between East and Main streets would then be used for commercial or mixed-use purposes.

As a 25-year resident of the area, Andy Birkley said his main concern is the future developer’s sensitivity to the historic district.

“We realize that it’s a valuable commercial property on the corridor, but both in its proximity to historic homes and just the general nature of that neighborhood, for me I fear it being looked on as a profit center solely,” he said. “I would like to be convinced that the neighborhood will be taken into consideration.”

Additional comments can be submitted by emailing to econdev@cityblm.org or calling 309-434-2295.

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Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.


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