Monthly Archives: July 2009

Normal’s sign code changes stand up pretty well compared to “invisible sign” communities

It’s a good thing our family recently purchased a Garmin GPS device.   

I’ll credit my wife Dayna for the purchase.   GPS has eliminated most of the stress that comes with driving in unfamilar territory.

They help when you need to find a gas station or when you’re hungry for a donut and a cup of coffee.

In fact, if we didn’t have the device Wednesday afternoon there would be no way we would have found Tim Horton’s donut shop in New Albany, Ohio.

“Turn left and drive two-tenths of a mile, Tim Horton’s is on left,” the global positioning system device said.   Having been down the street a day earlier, Dayna defied me to find the donut shop without the assistance of GPS.

And I’ll tell you, it was pretty difficult.

GPS needed: If you blink, you'd miss it going down the road in New Albany, Ohio at 30 m.p.h.

GPS needed: If you blink, you'd miss it going down the road in New Albany, Ohio at 30 m.p.h.

 It was truly the commericial corridor with invisible signs.  There were fast food restaurants, offices, and a grocery story, but not a single sign over about four or five feet.

It’s no contest.  New Albany, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, wins the national championship for least visible signs.   If not, they’re right up there with Scottsdale and Highland Park.

About eight years ago, the Normal Town Council revisited the community’s sign ordinance.  We were looking to balance a motorist’s need to find businesses and a businesses’ need to be found with a strong desire to improve the community aesthetic.    Staff discovered the International Sign Code, and we adapted and adopted major portions of it for Normal. 

Essentially, the International code trades sign height for more square footage of sign frontage for a business and created an incentive for more sign square footage for using monument style signs.

My recollection was that it was a 5-2 vote.  

 At the time, I thought we needed different rules for Veteran’s Parkway, but that idea was voted down 4-3.  

We agreed on a “carve out” for taller signs the area along a portion of Main Street near I-55/74/39.   Non-conforming signs would be amortized.   Purple gorillas and other temporary signs are restricted to 84 days per year.

I think by and large the council got it right.  

We applied common sense and resisted the tempation to create a community with invisible signs.  As electronic signs have improved, we have not stood in the way.   Businesses have been able to live with the changes.   And I think the new rules have improved the look of the community.

Next time someone suggests that because we have navigation devices we ought to do away with signs, I’ll suggest they visit a certain Ohio community and see if they can find a blueberry donut without GPS.

Neat, orderly, and invisible:  Is that a Kroger back there?   Get out the binoculars and see what other stores are across the street in that shopping center.

Neat, orderly, and invisible: Is that a Kroger back there? Get out the binoculars and see what other stores are across the street in that shopping center.

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Filed under Town Council, Uncategorized

Welcome ASA softball to Normal

Every other year, the Town of Normal throws out the welcome mat to about 100 of the best ASA girls softball teams in the country. 

This year the Under 12 year-old girls teams are competing at one of the nation’s best softball tournament venues — Champion Fields at Maxwell Park in Normal — for the national fastpitch softball championship.

Eighty-eight teams from New Jersey to California and from Oregon to Texas are staying in the area, spending money in hotels, restaurants, and retailers and enjoying our pleasant July weather.   softball

The Town’s Parks and Recreation Department and dozens of other Town employees and community volunteers work for weeks to prepare the fields, make hotel assignments, and create the best possible experiences for the hundreds of players, coaches, and family members.

The Bloomington and Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau also plays a very important role in hosting the event. 

Tonight’s opening ceremonies at ISU’s Hancock Stadium highlighted each of the teams and featured a performance by Quick Change, the couple with one of the biggest functioning wardrobes.

Pool play starts bright and early Monday morning and the tournament continues through Aug. 2.

Good luck to our local teams, the BNGSA Angels U11 and BNGSA Angels U12.

These tournaments demonstrate the value of youth amateur sports in economic development in our community and how important outstanding sports venues like Champion Fields are to our local tourism infrastructure.

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Filed under Tourism, Uncategorized

Driving Uptown this evening and North Street has reopened . . .

How about that?   What a pleasant surprise. White Sox July 2009 051

I noted that the new parallel parking was mostly full on both sides of the street in front of the Normal Theater and that motorists seemed to have figured out what to do.  Hopefully, that puts to rest one of the big concerns that arose when the streetscape was planned several years ago. 

Walking down the block, I could hear laughter coming from the outdoor garden on the second level at Medici’s and all seemed very well.

The Pantagraph has posted a story with an update on the road construction and reaction from business and Town officials.

Well done, Stark.  

And a big thank you to the Uptown businesses and their patrons for their extraordinary patience during the infrastructure improvements.  We’re making progress!

It appears there’s still a way to go to complete East Beaufort Street.   But there’s still plenty of days left in road construction season.

Once that segment is finished and Beaufort is reopened, motorists will no longer be able to make a left turn from East Beaufort on to Linden.   Nor will northbound Linden Street traffic be able to turn left on to East Beaufort.  

Constitution Blvd. and the circle will provide another option and improve traffic flow and accessibility in the Uptown area.

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Filed under Uptown Normal

Normal Marriott now shooting to open Sept. 25

If all goes according to plan, the Uptown Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center will open Sept. 25.Schock, White Sox, and Marriott July 2009 143

In the meantime, more than 100 construction workers are in the 229-room, nine-story tower each day working to finish the lobby, guestrooms, restaurant and bar and the conference center.

CORE Construction and Marriott managers led the Normal Town Council on our first hard hat tour of the hotel conference center since last fall.   So much has been completed.    Yet there seems to be so much to do.

Marriott is now designing hotels to have active lobbies.   Hotel guests and the public will be welcomed into the open lobby that exposes portions of the second, third, and fourth floors.   The lobby’s seating will divided into active and passive areas.  At the rear of the lobby is the hotel restaurant and bar which has been named Jesse’s Grill, in honor of Jesse Fell.

 The hotel registration desk will be on the right when you walk into the hotel’s Broadway Street entrance.

A view of the lobby:  The limestone trimmed columns rise four stories.  The spiral staircase winds up to the second floor on the Beaufort Street side of the hotel.  The gold color on the ceiling will be one of the dominant colors in the hotel.

A view of the lobby: The limestone trimmed columns rise four stories. The spiral staircase winds up to the second floor on the Beaufort Street side of the hotel. The gold color on the ceiling will be one of the dominant colors in the hotel.

A ramp leads back to the conference center and its very large pre-function area.

The Marriott has 23,000 total square feet of flexible conference space.  Remove the walls and the Ballroom opens to 100' x 200' seating nearly 1,200 people for a banquet and more than 2,200 for a reception.

The Marriott has 23,000 total square feet of flexible conference space. Remove the walls and the Ballroom opens to 100' x 200' seating nearly 1,200 people for a banquet and more than 2,200 for a reception.

Guest rooms are very nice, with rich colors and high quality fixtures.  For example, there is more than 80 tons of granite in the hotel.  

Schock, White Sox, and Marriott July 2009 172Schock, White Sox, and Marriott July 2009 173

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Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Town Council, Uncategorized, Uptown Normal

Rating agencies keep Normal’s creditworthiness in top 3 percent nationally

The Town of Normal sold two fixed-rate bond issues this week at 3.9 percent, lower even than the projected 4.1 to 4.3 percent range our financial gurus thought we might see.

The Town's putstanding bond rating means local government can borrow money at lower rates.  The Town's bond payments are covered by a combination of a quarter cent sales tax (enacted in 2000 for the purpose of repaying redevelopment bonds), a large portion of the hotel-motel tax, and some food and beverage tax revenue.  Uptown TIF revenue also covers a portion of the bond payments.

The Town's outstanding bond rating means local government can borrow money less expensively. The Town's bond payments are covered by a combination of a quarter cent sales tax (enacted in 2000 for the purpose of repaying redevelopment bonds), a large portion of the hotel-motel tax, and some food and beverage tax revenue. Uptown TIF revenue also covers a portion of annual interest payments.

The lower rates will result in significant savings over the course of the issue which will help fund public portions of Uptown redevelopment . 

The Council voted two weeks ago to turn an older variable rate bond issue into a fixed rate, locking in more than $1 million in accumulated interest savings as a result of rates which were below 1 percent for a time.

A new 2009 issue takes the Town’s general obligation debt to about $80 million for Uptown redevelopment.

The best news was that despite the national economic slowdown, despite lower than anticipated sales and income tax receipts, and despite the less than stellar financial performance of our next door neighbor, all three major bond rating agencies (Standard and Poors, Moody’s and Fitch) left the Town of Normal’s bond rating unchanged.

At AA1, the Town’s bond rating is nearly unmatched among local governments in the United States, ranking in the top three percent of all U.S. municipalities, a testament to local economic conditions and long held conservative financial management philosophy of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses.

The State of Illinois is borrowing billions to balance its fiscal 2010 budget.  Rating agencies are deciding whether to downgrade the state’s bond ratings, which could have a negative ripple effect throughout the state.

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Filed under Budget, City of Bloomington, Sales tax collections, TIF, Town Council, Uptown Normal

Normal Town Council to consider management recommendations for Beaufort Street Parking Deck

The 500-space parking deck that will serve the Uptown Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and other nearby businesses will have a different set of rules and rates than its larger counterpart to the north.

Uptown Parking Management Committee members, including myself and fellow councilmember Chuck Scott, will present a proposed management plan for the deck that was constructed principally to accommodate hotel guests and conference center attendees.   March 2009 Just About Normal 080

Because of its excellent location near Watterson Towers and off campus housing, we also anticipate a number of others who’ll be interested in parking there.

The committee is recommending rates be set at $1 per hour, with no free first hour or free evening or Sunday hours like the Town offers at the 685-space College Avenue Deck.   

It will cost  $6 for seven to 12 hours of continuous parking and $8 to park for 12 to 24 hours on Beaufort Street.  

Heartland Parking will manage the Beaufort Street Parking Deck in close cooperation with the hotel management and Town of Normal to make sure that the hotel’s daily parking needs are met, including spots for valet parking and special events.   The goal is to permit more daily parking in the deck on days when hotel-conference center use is light. 

Like the College deck, businesses may offer parking validation for customers in the Beaufort deck.

A limited number of monthly parking permits will be offered at $80 per month.   Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s a little low for what I suspect will be the likely demand.  We’ll see.

I will move to amend the recommendation to maintain $20 per month parking rates indefinitely in the College Avenue Deck for Uptown businesses that continue to weather street construction.   In the absence of any action, those businesses would soon see their monthly rates double to $40.    

They have made a tremendous investment in Uptown and have demonstrated extraordinary patience during redevelopment.

Thanks to committee members Liz Barnhart, Shari Buckellew, Dottie Bushnell, Stephanie McClellan, Paul Morsbach, Scott Preston, Mike Royce, Dick Runner, Jim Schliefling, Brian Simpson, Joan Steinburg, Mary Strack, Gerry Taylor, and Heather Vanvoorhis for volunteering their time to the cause.  

Thanks to Julie Hile and her staff for their work in keeping us on task and moderating the discussion.

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Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Parking, Town Council, Uptown Normal

Discussions on future of Normal Public Library underway

A group of two Normal Public Library trustees, two staff members, and two councilmembers have begun meeting on the future facility needs of the library.

Our first meeting was a week ago in the basement of the library at 206 West College Avenue.

The goal is to come up with an action plan for the Normal Library Board and Town Council to consider.2008 Disney and other 593

We discussed the kinds of information and reports we need to review, including the recently completed space and program needs studies as well as community surveys.

I’m excited about working with Joan Steinburg, Jess Ray, Jason Chambers, Brian Chase, and Mark Peterson to map out a recommended plan of action.

In addition to reviewing the recent studies, we also discussed taking field trips to visit and experience a number of new and relatively new libraries in the state, as well as talk to community officials.

I think I can go out on a limb and say there is general agreement that maintaining the library in the Uptown area — somewhere — is preferable.

There’s no question, that the library is a popular and important Uptown anchor.

Beyond that, all options are on the table, including expansion on the current site, relocation to another Uptown site, and consideration of  a branch or other remote facilities.  

Clearly, we owe it to current and future library patrons to develop a strategy for meeting the future needs of this much beloved institution.  

We’re going to take our time and hopefully get it right.  I welcome your suggestions and will try my best to keep you informed about our progress.

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Filed under Normal Public Library, Uptown Normal