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NORMAL — Joe Tulley knows what critics think of uptown Normal.

"I've heard the word 'Uppity Town' more than once," he said. "People look at uptown, and it's all new and shiny, and we've had all this public investment... but this is the center of town for everybody, and everybody belongs here."

That perspective shapes everything Tulley, the town's uptown manager, does, from planning large-scale events to coordinating business deals to promoting the area as a destination.

He's proud to talk about the shops and services of uptown, but he gushes about the events that invite everyone in Bloomington-Normal to visit the area.

That focus comes not from Tulley's childhood in Bradford but from his time immediately after college, when he turned his Illinois State University business degree into a warehouse job in Momence, a poor town near Kankakee.

"I spent some time as an adult having nothing, and being around people that have nothing, that were working-class. And I don't mean blue-collar as in, 'I have a union job and I'm able to make $22 an hour.' I mean people that are raising families (and work) all night because (they) need $12 an hour and it's literally the difference between your kids having clothes or not," he said.

After returning to Bloomington-Normal, where he lived as a teenager, Tulley got a master's in business administration degree from ISU and worked in marketing. As a student, he interned for then-Uptown Manager Nora Dukowitz and discovered uptown was a good fit.

He spends most of his time at work planning events including the Sweet Corn Blues Festival in August, “Sharin' of the Green” St. Patrick's Day Parade and Santa's Station — which he's worked to keep accessible to all residents.

"It's sort of beautiful when you look at the line at Santa's Station, because it's exceptionally diverse," he said. "Not everybody in our community has a household income of $100-grand or more. There are plenty of people living on $36,000 a year."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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