Category Archives: Uptown Normal

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

Celebrate ISU Homecoming by running Oct. 17 in the Town & Gown 5K Race

Registration is humming along at a record pace for the 2009 Town & Gown 5K run on the Saturday morning of ISU Homecoming.Town Gown 5K Logo

This will be the ninth year for the race that attracted more than 350 runners last year and is growing by leaps and bounds.   About that many runners (at all levels of fitness) are already pre-registered for the race which will start at  7 a.m. sharp on Oct. 17.

I’ll be back out on the course again this year with a stopwatch yelling out one-mile split times (somewhere on Mulberry around Manchester Hall) and to present awards at the conclusion of the race.

After I was first elected, I was determined to find a way to work cooperatively with the university, to find a fun activity that would mark the beginning of the downtown redevelopment ,and to celebrate our community’s strong connection with Illinois State University.    A race through campus and what is now Uptown seemed like a good fit.   

Jay Groves, my friend and co-founder of the race, came up with the idea to hold the event on the morning of ISU Homecoming and it turned out that two laps around the parade route was exactly five kilometers!   The first Town & Gown 5K Run/Walk was born. 

Over the years, hundreds of runners have participated — through rain and shine — hot and cold.

This race would not happen each without the enthusiasm and organizational skills of race director Juliana Duncan and her staff at Illinois State University or without the dedication of Sandy Fedden in the City Manager’s office who wakes up early on a Saturday to deliver the food and drink that she procures.   

We appreciate the involvement of the Normal Police who keep the runners safe and of Mitch Hobbs and his crew at Often Running, who  lend their expertise at the finish line.    These folks make it a well run event which has grown to be one of the bigger races on the local Lake Run Club circuit.

We are fortunate to have so many people pulling together to create an exciting event that has accomplished its original purpose and then some.

Thanks to all of the runners who have pre-registered for this year’s race.  

And for those of you interested in participating, there’s still time to enter.

I’ll see you out there on the course.

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Filed under Illinois State University, NPD, Uncategorized, 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

Sweet Corn Sweet Blues fill the streets on Day One

It was great to see so many people yesterday on the new streets of Uptown, chomping on sweet corn and listening to the blues.

That’s what happens when you get perfect weather.  We couldn’t have ordered it up any better. 

A perfect day for Sweet Corn and Sweet Blues drew a sweet crowd to Uptown Normal.

A perfect day for Sweet Corn and Sweet Blues drew a sweet crowd to Uptown Normal.

The College Avenue parking deck was full, the streets were full, and they could barely husk the sweet corn fast enough for long lines of attendees paying a mere $1 for three lip smackin’ fantastic ears.

We took advantage of the opportunity to stop by the Normal CornBelters’ booth and to buy baseball caps to support our new team.  Other purchases were made as well.  It’s amazing how a buck’s worth of sweet corn can end up emptying your wallet.

I recognize that construction crews need to work every available day, but I was surprised to see end loaders and semis working so close to the throng of people atttending the festival.   Hopefully, they’ll take a well deserved day off today.

The festival lasts until the corn runs out.   See you out there.

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Filed under Just About Normal Polls, Uptown Normal

Bike ped plan gives Normal Town Council room to manuver

Despite our  best intentions, some planning documents seem destined to be filed away or placed on a shelf to collect dust from the moment they are published and publicly presented.

Others seem to beg to be implemented in some way, almost immediately after the ink is dry.  IMG_1661

Two weeks ago, the Normal Town Council received the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan from Portland, Oregon-based Alta Planning and Design.   It checks in at more than 200 pages and is filled with excellent information and maps.   It is chocked full of recommendations.  

But most importantly, Alta clearly spent the time here needed to get a great feel for the community.  They make some intuitive recommendations about how we can make Normal more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. 

After spending time here walking, riding, and talking to people who do it every day, they recognized it’s next to impossible to walk or bike ride across Veteran’s Parkway. 

They discovered the  places where the trail crosses busy streets leaving walkers, runners, and cyclists waiting for breaks in traffic.

The consutlants detected there are intersections that ought to be much more pedestrian friendly than they are. 

In his presentation, Rory Renfro said repeatedly that “Constitution Trail is the backbone of a great system”  in Normal.  Who would disagree with that?  

While he seemed to be stating the obvious, what he was really saying is that we tend to focus completely on Constitution Trail and there are so many more places cyclists want to ride and lots of point A’s and B’s that aren’t necessarily along the trail.  

Renfro explained to us why Normal needs on-street connections to get to the trail.  In fact,  he pointed out that Normal has the potential of developing a network of more than 70 miles of on-street bike trails.  He also said that in Normal there is tremendous opportunity to work with the existing pavement to make our streets more friendly for cyclists.

There are plenty of diagrams showing what could be done.  What really made sense to me was that so much could be done to improve the present conditions that don’t seem to be terribly costly. 

 A lot of it simply involves designating bike routes with signs and pavement markings.   Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to add new segments to Constitution Trail, in areas that are inaccessible to most of the community, we could spend considerably less to turn existing streets into bike routes.

Past citizen surveys reveal that Constitution Trail is the community’s most used and beloved public park.   But there are challenges.


Some of the questions I have:

  • Should the Normal Police Department conduct  “stings” to ticket motorists who ignore people in crosswalks, particularly children?  
  •  Is it time to focus resources on making streets –arterials and side streets — more amenable to bicycle traffic by posting signs to designate routes and creating bike lanes with pavement markings?
  • What’s a bigger priority:  more miles of Constitution Trail or making connections to the trail?
  • What more can be done to make Uptown Normal more hospitable for pedestrians?   Should the council ban bikes on sidewalks?
  • What kind of public education is required to make Normal safer for pedestrians and cyclists?

As someone who was not expecting to be overwhelmed, I admit I was both surprised by the depth of the study and impressed with the recomendations.    In the weeks following the report’s release, I have been contacted by a number of people who have expressed their expectation to see some action. 

Pedestrian and Bicycle Focus Group chair Doug Oehler told the council on July 20 that the plan provides an “opportunity to change the transportation culture of the Town forever.”   

No question.  But before any action is taken, the council must consider the path forward in the context of available resources and against a myriad of competiing priorities.


Filed under Constitution Trail, NPD, Town Council, Transportation, Uptown Normal, Veteran's Parkway

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.


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