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Downtown is in the news a lot lately, and it should be. As a result of company reorganization and the need for more collaborative work spaces, the iconic State Farm Downtown Building is now vacant. Commerce Bank has decided to vacate the Arthur Pillsbury-designed Peoples Bank Building. The once bustling Front ‘N Center Building has been vacant for many years. The CII East Building transformation is apparently at a standstill. The Market Street Garage will need over $1 million in repairs and is an inadequate parking facility anyway. We need a catalyst, and we need it now.

Here’s the good news: much of the preliminary work for making a catalyst project as well as many other positive changes happen has already been done. All we need now is some vision and commitment from our elected officials, some dynamic public-private or public-public partnerships, and some confidence that we can be a vibrant community with a thriving economy.

The Downtown Task Force released its final report with many short-term ideas that would enhance place making, improve infrastructure, and provide ideas for catalyzing new development. It focused on the very question of what kinds of developments would bring more people downtown every day and improve our economy. The plan could not have come sooner! I served on this task force. I’m proud of our work and, more importantly, I’m confident in it.

A strong community values an idea-meritocracy and takes a regional approach to solving difficult community challenges. The City Council can’t “go it alone” and we who love this community can’t sit back and wait for a knight in shining armor to ride up and fight for our economic future. We have to plan and we have to work together with other units of government, businesses, service providers, and community members. We have to decide and we have to act.

It’s an exciting proposition when you think about it. While we face tremendous challenges that are outside of our control, we are not helpless and there are things we can do to shape our future.

State Farm is a good neighbor (excellent, in fact), but like any neighborhood, it takes many people making investments of time, talent, and treasure to make it a place worth living. We all have to do our part, and we need to do it sooner rather than later. We need to debate, converse, experiment, deliberate, and ultimately get to a point where we take some action to preserve and enhance the vitality of our downtown.

So why has this effort been met with so much negativity? Why haven’t all of our leaders leapt at the opportunity to discuss our future? The task force doesn’t have the authority to make policy. All we are asking for is thoughtful deliberation about our future at this point, and some on the council refuse to participate even in conversation.

Of course, I think we need to do more than talk, but it’s very discouraging when we can’t get even that much. I expect more, and so should you. The business owners, property owners, volunteers, and patrons supporting downtown are incredible, but they need a willing partner in the City Council.

Carlo Robustelli is a member of the Downtown Task Force and a McLean County Board member from District 9.


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