NORMAL — Even as town officials approved knocking down three historic buildings Monday, they recognized the moment may be historic all on its own.
"Historic preservation, historic value, those things get tossed around a lot," said Normal City Council member Jeff Fritzen. "I think what's happened in uptown Normal in the past couple decades has been historic. I probably won't be around to know if people look back on it in that manner, (but) it sure has that feel. ... For this (the uptown revitalization) project to still be moving forward says a lot."
The next step in that history is Trail East, a five-story, mixed-use building on the northeast side of Uptown Circle that could be completed as soon as Aug. 1, 2020. The council signed off on more incentives and saw early plans from Iowa developer Bush Construction on Monday.
Since the town approved a deal for the building in October, it's grown with the addition of 106 E. Beaufort — 104 and 108 were previously scheduled to be razed for the building site — and from $29.2 million to $30 million in cost. Grown too has the town's contribution, from $8 million in future property taxes to $8.65 million in property and sales taxes.
"You have to take a long-term approach on projects you do in the community. ... We're looking at a benefit that arrives somewhere in the future but has a lasting benefit," said Mayor Chris Koos of economic benefits despite those subsidies, which are projected to last until 2039 and 2025, respectively.
Most of that, $8.4 million, is property tax revenue through the uptown tax increment financing district (TIF) — which redirects property tax revenue generated by improvements from taxing bodies to fund economic development — with another $250,000 in future sales tax from the building's food hall, which is similar to a food court. The town also is giving the developer the land at 104 and 108.
A few members of the public questioned that investment in the project, asking whether the development is worth losing future tax money, historic buildings and a beloved mural on the west side of 104 E. Beaufort.
"This isn't just about development, not about art and not about incentives. ... "This is really about the soul of this community," said Marc Tiritilli, a one-time mayoral candidate. "I'm saying let's change the plans (and build behind what exists on Beaufort). ... There are ways to do this that can preserve the character of this town."
Karyn Smith, a council candidate in April's election, said she'd prefer the project not advance until One Uptown on the Circle, a similar building, is full. Koos noted developer Tartan Realty Group is likely to bring a new plan for that building's vacant first floor to the town in the next few months.
Officials from Bush and Farnsworth Group, the Bloomington-based engineering firm that also will be a tenant in Trail East, noted the 120,000-square-foot building also will bring improvements to the area behind the remaining buildings on Beaufort, including more space for vehicle traffic.
The next step for the project is Normal's Historic Presentation Commission, which will consider Tuesday whether to ask the council to seek landmark status for the buildings. Even if it does, the council needs to act on the recommendation.
The project also will come up for approvals before Normal's Uptown Design Review Commission on Feb. 11, when detailed plans will be discussed, and the Normal Planning Commission on March 7, when separate plats at the site may be combined. That action will require council approval, probably March 18.