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Let's talk.

That is the message the Bloomington Downtown Task Force has for the City Council.

The task force has a lot of ideas on how to make downtown a more inviting place. Some, like various beautification steps, shouldn't prove controversial and wouldn't cost a lot of money.

Others — the biggest being the dismantling of the soon-to-be obsolete Market Street Garage — are not so easy.

In a meeting with The Pantagraph Editorial Board, Task Force Chairman Amelia Buragas, Planning Commission Chairman Justin Boyd and Connect Transit Board Chairman Mike McCurdy made it clear that the recommendations are just that: suggestions, and a baseline for serious talks with the council and Mayor Tari Renner.

As Buragas, also Ward 4 alderman, put it, "Right now, we're talking about ideas. All need more input, more analysis."

McCurdy put it more simply: "Please have a conversation."

We agree.

How to make downtown Bloomington more like uptown Normal — that is,  a destination for visitors — has been discussed and debated for years.

Plans have come and gone and, to its credit, the task force is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It has taken pieces from various sources to reach  conclusions about the city's core — what it calls "the buckle" — in a nod to the area bounded by Madison, East, Market and Front streets.

"Fix the core and then move outward"  is how Buragas puts it, noting the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts and Grossinger Motors Arena both are outside the task force's geographical area.

We won't summarize the entire report, but it is available at

However, a couple things struck us as being practical steps in what is an evolution leading to results.

One of the suggestions is finding a gathering place for concerts and other public events, a way to increase "walkability." The idea is to work with McLean County government to improve and enhance the plaza in front of the Law and Justice Center. 

We also like the suggestion that the city parks department take a more active role in beautifying and maintaining downtown streets.

These are relatively minor improvements when compared to the task force's biggest initiative, or "catalyst" idea: razing the Market Street Garage and making it the future home of the Bloomington Public Library, a Connect Transit transfer station, and yes, parking.

Until now, most of the discussion related to the BPL is that it would stay where it is, and expand at that site.

But the Market Street idea has real merit. The library serves, on average, 1,000 people a day. Transit serves 1,300 to 1,500 riders each day at what McCurdy calls an inadequate transfer station in front of the L&J. Having so many people "in the buckle" could give downtown a real shot in the arm.

Plus, something has to be done with the garage. It's useful life is ebbing away and, if estimates are correct, it will take $1 million to extend that life another five to 10 years. It's just not worth it.

The options would be to let it stand and rot some more, or tear it down (the task force doesn't know how much that would cost) and use that space to truly make a splash. We also don't know what would happen to the post office that is located there.

The advantage is that the city owns the property — unlike the largely vacant Front 'N Center block that is privately owned and for which the city never has been able to figure out a plan.

We think the Downtown Task Force has done its homework. Now, it's time for city leaders to take the test if downtown is to see any kind of true resurgence.


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