Category Archives: Marriott Hotel and Conference Center

Jesse’s Grille is music to my appetite

You know, I wish that I had Jessie’s girl,
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
Where can I find a woman like that

Jessie’s Girl — Music and Lyrics by Rick Springfield

Remember that one?

I don’t know if  the name of Uptown’s new restaurant is a play on words, but every time I see the sign for Jesse’s Grille in the lobby of the Uptown Normal Marriott, the song Jessie’s Girl, that 1981 staple of early MTV starts running through my head.   So if it isn’t a play on that popular song, it should be.

Despite the 80’s musical flashback, I’ve been to Jesse’s Grille twice in the past three days.   And I was  impressed on each occasion.IMG_3194

Dayna and I met there for an impromptu lunch Friday and were seated in a booth.  I was able to lean up against a pillow.    You can’t do that everywhere.

I ordered a bowl of the chicken gumbo and the skirt steak dip.  The soup was hot and had a flavorful kick.     The skirt steak was very tender and was piled high on a fresh, soft bun.   The au jus was actually a very small bowl of french onion soup.   My fries were hot and crisp.    Good lunch.  

I know it’s shocking, but we knew several people who were dining there.   When of one of them joked to us that “this place is like Mayberry and there’s a new restaurant to try in Mayberry.”  I had to laugh. 

Guilty as charged.

(Note to those following the Town’s budget discussions:  Our state income tax receipts are down, but the economy hasn’t slowed local food and beverage tax receipts too much.   I’m not a big fan of the property tax, but I really draw the line when it comes to raising taxes on one of our community’s most beloved activities — eating out.) 

After lunch, we walked through the Normal Conference Center to see who was holding meetings.   It looked to be a conference of the Association of Illinois Architects.   They had a small trade show in the pre-function area of the center.   The day before,  Growmark, Inc. was holding a meeting next door to the local Economic Development Council’s annual meeting.

Anyway, we took my mother-in-law to the hotel Sunday morning to show her around and try the Jesse’s Grille breakfast buffet.   The buffet features the chef making three egg omelets to order.  There’s also a selection of breakfast meats, hash brown potatoes,  blueberry pancakes, bagels, cereal, and pastries.    Juice and coffee are included in the price of the buffet.


My Denver omelette was excellent, and Dayna offered me some of her outstanding wild mushroom and cheese omelette, which I will probably order the next time.    The pancakes are rolled up, filled with blueberries and dusted with powered sugar.

I was so full I shouldn’t have had to eat the rest of the day.  

No question, I got my $13 worth, and we will be working Jesse’s Grille into our Sunday morning breakfast rotation.

Other than the familiar faces of a few restaurant employees, this time we didn’t recognize a single soul in the restaurant.  By the time we left, there was a line of folks waiting to be seated.     Evidently, it was a busy night at the hotel.

It was gratifying to see a number of families of ISU students spending the weekend in Uptown Normal within walking distance from campus.

These hotel guests probably didn’t know it, but they were staying in a property rated four diamond by AAA, the only hotel between Chicago and St. Louis with the four diamond rating.

  Four Diamond
These establishments are upscale in all areas. Accommodations are progressively more refined and stylish. The physical attributes reflect an obvious enhanced level of quality throughout. The fundamental hallmarks at this level include an extensive array of amenities combined with a high degree of hospitality, service, and attention to detail.


Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Uptown Normal

The unwanted water feature tells me it’s time to redefine a major Uptown project

Unplanned water feature -- The Town of Normal is exploring renewed development interest in the stalled One Main building.   I believe the Normal Town Council owes it to the citizens of the community to the business owners who have invested in Uptown Normal to begin a public dialogue about what we expect this foundation to become.

Unplanned water feature -- The Town of Normal is exploring renewed development interest in the stalled One Main building. I believe the Normal Town Council owes it to the citizens of the community and to the business owners who are invested in Uptown Normal to begin a public dialogue about what we expect this foundation to become.


My immediate concern is that pumps be installed to rid this nearly two-year old foundation of water from the recent heavy rains.

Then,  real soon, we’ve got to sit down and discuss what we want to see here and what we want to see develop along Constitution Blvd.

Because two years of inactivity can’t be allowed to turn into a third or a fourth year.    

There is so much positive happening in Normal.   And I’m proud of the tremendous progress we’re making.   With every passing week, we are seeing more and more life in Uptown.   The trees that were planted this past week beautify the street scape.   People attending the Sweet Corn Festival could tell the plan is coming together.

But we can’t stand still.   This flooded foundation can not be allowed to be a millstone around the neck of Uptown.

We got to figure out what we want here.  Because the economy has changed commercial real estate lending, not just for the near term, but arguably for the foreseeable future.   The project the council and community envisioned here —  a six-story, LEEDs certified,  mixed use building with restaurants, retailers, offices, and owner-occupied condos is questionable.  

Fortunately, there is some genuine interest in a scaled down project that keeps Commerce Bank as a major tenant.   It’ is a very exciting possibility and one that the majority of the residents of this community would support.   Instead of six stories, it might be four.   

I believe we need to address the future of this project sometime this year.   The clock on the TIF district is ticking, and if we are going to continue to pay back the Uptown bonds in a comfortable fashion, we do not have the luxury of waiting indefinitely.

We need development that generates economic activity, not an empty foundation on taxpayer-owned property collecting water.

In the days following the 2003 election, the Normal Town Council demonstrated leadership to sit down and redefine the most significant project in the redevelopment of our community’s central business district.   The privately-owned Marriott Hotel and Conference center will be an economic engine for decades to come.   

No question, Uptown Normal is changing the definition.

To me, two years of inactivity with the potential for a third or fourth year of inactivity on an important and visible location represents another urgent situation that requires leadership and immediate attention.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on the council to help redefine a major project.


Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, One Main, TIF, Town Council, 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

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

Groups line up to book Marriott Hotel and Conference Center

An impressive array of groups are lined up to meet at the Uptown Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in the coming years.

Nine assocations have committed to hold meetings in at the hotel between this fall and 2012.

They include:

  • Illinois Associations of Museums;
  • Illinois Council of American Institutes of Architects;
  • Illinois Association of Groundwater Professsionals;
  • Illinois City/County Management Association;
  • Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists;
  • Illinois/Eastern Iowa District Kiwanis;
  • Midwest Chapter of the Music Library Association;
  • Illinois Speech and Theater Association;
  • Illinois Council Knights of Columbus;

Knights of Columbus are booked for three-day meetings in both 2011 and 2012, representing more than 500 room nights.  The five-day Kiwanis meeting in 2010 will generate 387 room nights.


These groups will generate 1925 room nights, enough business to fill up the hotel for more than eight consecutive days.  The meetings will attract more than 2,000 visitors who will spend time and money in Uptown.

Those are just the groups nailed down.  The hotel and the Bloomington and Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are working closely with five other groups who are planning to host meetings generating an additional 2,500 room nights.

So you can see already the hotel-conference center is an attractive venue for statewide associations and other groups.  That does not count all of the weddings, parties, and other functions to be held in a facility that will surely be a major economic engine in Uptown Normal.

Many thanks to the town employees and others who worked to get their professional associations to meet in Normal.

This is just the beginning.


Filed under Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Uptown Normal

Uptown Parking Committee turns attention to parking regs for Beaufort Street Deck

The Uptown Normal Parking Committee reconvened this week. 

I serve on the committee along with councilmember Chuck Scott, several Uptown business and property owners, the Town’s Uptown-based staff, Normal Police, and ISU representatives.   It’s an excellent group appointed by the Mayor  that worked very well together and came to consensus on some difficult questions. 

We met several times from 2007-08 discussing the current and future needs of Uptown patrons and businesses and developed a series of recommendations adopted by the Town Council about a year ago for managing the 685-space College Avenue Parking Deck, surface lots, and on-street parking.


  1. The Uptown patron’s parking needs must always come first.   Employees of Uptown businesses should park in the deck.
  2. As long as Uptown is in transition, all surface parking and on-street parking will be free.
  3. Normal Public Library patrons will always park for free in the College Ave. Deck.
  4. The College Ave. Deck should be free for the first hour, free after 6 p.m. (Mon.-Sat.), and free on Sundays.
  5. After the first hour, the parking rate should be $1 per hour.
  6. Monthly parking permits will cost $40 and permit holders should park on the upper levels.
  7. Parking enforcement was added on Saturdays.

Now our committee’s attention has turned to the management of the Beaufort Street Parking Deck which will open late this summer when the Marriott Hotel and Uptown Conference Center opens.

Already there is considerable interest in the deck’s 500 parking spots.  Because of its location, close to Watterson Towers and to apartment complexes, many Illinois State University students have contacted the Town asking about parking permit availability in the Beaufort St. Deck.  

The Beaufort deck was built primarily to serve the hotel and conference center.  

In fact, on some days the hotel will control 300 of the deck’s 500 spaces.   The spaces won’t be reserved, but 150 spaces will be classified as free parking and will be available at all times for the Marriott’s employees, guests, and invitees. 

As part of the Town’s agreement with the Marriott, another 150 spaces will be classified as “additional parking” and are available at the written request of the hotel. 

If a Town event occurs on the same day as a Marriott request for additional parking, then the Town may limit the additional parking to 45 spaces.  

Got that?

Now on top of that, up to 60 of the Marriott’s free spaces will be on the first floor for valet parking.   It is believed that because of the sky bridge connecting the parking deck and hotel, most hotel patrons who drive into the garage will park on the second floor and above.  

A pay station will be located in the skybridge for non-hotel customers.   

Instead of Illinois authors, the Beaufort St. Deck will have a movie genre theme, because of its proximity to the Normal Theater.

College Avenue parking permits will not work  in the Beaufort Street Deck. 

By the time the deck opens, look for the parking committee to recommend a rate structure, which may or may not be the same as the structure in the College Ave. Deck.

We will have to decide whether there’s enough room to allow for permit parkers.   We will also consider whether to allow library patrons to park for free in the deck.   And what about folks attending the Normal Theater?   Afterall, the theater is almost connected to the conference center. 

Clearly, this is a deck with different supply and demand dynamics than the College Ave. Deck.

Lots of questions to consider.

What do you think?

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Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Normal Public Library, Parking, Uptown Normal

Uptown Crossing mixed use development lands CVS Pharmacy

Monday’s Normal Town Council agenda contains several major items, including a redevelopment agreement for a large mixed-use development on the block bounded North Street, Fell Avenue, College Avenue, and Broadway.   

Champaign-based JSM Development plans a five-story building that will contain 137 one- and two-bedroom apartments on floors three through five, second-floor office and retail space, and ground-level retail.  

Underground and surface parking will provide spaces for 117 residents.  

At a news conference Friday at the Normal Theater, JSM’s Jill Guth announced that CVS Pharmacy will anchor the $31 million development.  

CVS will be located roughly where the former University Christian Church is being torn down, immediately across North St. from the entrance to the Uptown Normal Conference Center.

Workers salvage a stained glass window last weekend from the east side of the former University Christian Church at the corner of North and Fell in Uptown.  Building owner JSM Development of Champaign is demolishing the old church to make way for a $31 million residential, office, and retail development to be anchored by a CVS Pharmacy.

Workers salvage a stained glass window last weekend from the east side of the former University Christian Church at the corner of North and Fell in Uptown. Building owner JSM Development of Champaign is demolishing the old church to make way for a $31 million residential, office, and retail development to be anchored by a CVS Pharmacy.

In addition to CVS, Guth said JSM is looking at a number of fast-casual restaurants.   You know, like Panera Bread, Chipotle, etc.

I will likely support the redevelopment agreement Monday night.  I admit I was very slow to come around to a development that will feature a number of student apartments.   Based on their experience managing residential property in Champaign-Urbana,  JSM believes the development will also appeal to graduate students and young professionals.   That would be great.

In fact, without any marketing, JSM said about ten young professionals have already expressed interest in leases that will run between $500 and $700 per bedroom.   23 one-bedroom units will be marketed as “luxury units.” 

As part of the redevelopment agreement the upper floors (3-to-5) will feature brick veneer.  I will be carefully examining sample materials Monday night to make sure they are consistent with higher quality buildings in Normal.  

The Uptown Design Review Commission requested that JSM diversify the materials, colors, and architectural elements of the storefront portion of the building along North and Fell to avoid monotony and “create the appearance that the storefronts were developed over time.” 

That makes sense.

I am pleased that CVS will be located in Uptown and believe it will do very well with a growing Uptown employee, resident, and customer base.   When it opens in August or September (yeah, that’s a new estimate), the Marriott hotel and conference center will provide a captive customer base for the pharmacy as well as other Uptown restaurants and businesses.

In the end, Uptown Crossing represents another huge private investment in the future of Uptown Normal.   Uptown Crossing will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in property and sales taxes each year.  It will be finished by the summer of 2010. 

Tearing down a few of the older nearby  buildings on the block will also allow the Town to create at grade sidewalk access on North St., eliminating the need for that inconvenient stairs/ramp thing.

One of the long time Uptown businesses, The Movie Fan, will relocate to the 500 block of South Main St.

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