Tag Archives: Marriott Hotel and Normal 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.

Sold.  

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.
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Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Uptown Normal

The future of Uptown One: Can One Main deliver? Or is is time to look for a new developer?

When the Normal Town Council voted last month to move Commerce Bank into another temporary facility, I noted there was an “elephant in the room” — the status of the bank’s permanent home.

At the end of the discussion, I asked whether anyone could say anything to make me feel confident that we will see steel coming out of the ground on the dormant Uptown One construction site any time soon.

After a moment or two of awkward silence, City Manager Mark Peterson gave it a good shot.   I applaud him for answering my question, but I have to admit that it did not make me feel a whole lot better about One Main’s financing prospects.

Listen to my question and Mr. Peterson’s answer at the 34- to the-37 minute mark in the May 4, 2009 meeting.

We will reach a point where, when they’ve exhausted all options and then we’ll have to take a step back and see what options we have.   But I do want to jsut say on their behalf that I know they’re  working very, very  hard to get the project moving again.  They have a tremendous investment already, and, not only with what they’ve already done in terms of construction., but their own time involved in the project.  So, there’s no group that wants to see it move forward more than they do.  I’m still confident they’ll deliver. But If not, at some point, probably in the fairly near future, we’ll have to sit down and find out exactly where they are, maybe in a public meeting such as this…..We’re still excited about it, confident, and hopeful they’ll deliver.” 

Can One Main deliver?  It's time to ask whether this project is going to come out of the ground.

Can One Main deliver? It's time to ask whether this project is going to come out of the ground.

I hope so, too.   But I have to admit my patience is beginning to wear thin regarding the lack of progress on Uptown One .  In fact, I question whether the developers have the ability to pull it off.    They are visionary, well intentioned, and likable.    They have a track record of quality mixed use development in Champaign.  

There’s a reason we have stuck with them and rooted for them to pull themselves out of a situation they did not create.  

Still, I can not let my personal feelings for them or their project get in the way of reality and what’s best for Uptown.

In recent weeks, the Town sent One Main a letter informing the developers that they are in default of the redevelopment agreement which required the building to be nearly finished by now.

A May 5 Pantagraph story about Illinois State University leasing office space in the new JSM building at North and Fell provided some hints about where One Main is in their quest: 

Meanwhile, developers of uptown’s other major project, Uptown One, still are trying to find financing.

One Main Development of Champaign started work in 2007 on the six-story building that would include retail, office and condominium space, but financing for the $34 million project broke down in September 2008 amid the financial turmoil. Work now is stalled.

Company President Mike Royse said the company now is hoping to take advantage of a new private bonding option offered through the federal stimulus package for the building on land stretching from the roundabout to Broadway.

Because it is a new idea, Royse said it’s taking some time to pull the process together. He hopes bonds could be issued in 60 days.

When I read that story, I wondered whether the 31,000 square feet of space being leased by the university in the JSM building at $500,000 per year would have been leased in Uptown One.   In fact, several months after One Main broke ground in Sept of 2007, ISU signed a letter of intent to lease 20,000 square feet of office space in Uptown One, Two and Three.

While I remain hopeful that something can be put together, I now have to ask the question:   How much longer do we wait?   

As my level of skeptism rises, I also feel obligated to ask how much longer can we afford to wait?   Can we afford to miss another entire construction season?   Is this project worth waiting for indefintely?    Is this year already lost, regardless? 

Am I being unrealistic?   Am I too impatient?   Am I missing something?

I don’t think we can afford to slow the momentum Uptown, especially when we are on the verge of seeing the Marriott Hotel and Normal Conference Center opening.  The  685-space College Avenue Parking Deck was constructed with the idea that we would have  lots of new retail and office space around the circle and along Constitution Boulevard.

As I look at all of the space between the deck and the circle.   It is all prime redevelopment area.  

Sometime in the next few months, the council needs to sit down and review where we’ve been Uptown over the past 10 years and look ahead to where we’re going.    

A major part of the plan is in jeopardy.   

I’m motivated only in my desire to see Uptown development succeed.   It must succeed. 

I’m ready to sit down and look at our options.

Maybe we can begin by inviting  One Main to sit down with the council and respectfully ask them to explain to us why the council, the Uptown community, and the citizens and taxpayers of Normal should  keep waiting.

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Filed under Development, Illinois State University, One Main, Town Council, Uptown Normal

Normal’s green approach to Uptown makes the paper in Portland

One of the names synonymous with Uptown Normal planning and redevelopment was an opening session speaker of the recent National League of Cities’ Green Cities Conference and Expo in Portland, Oregon.

Doug Farr’s comments at the conference about our work in Normal prompted the Portland Oregonian newspaper to editorialize on our efforts.

It’s nice to know the project continues to receive national attention.  It’s also interesting that some critics will go to any length to be heard.

Here’s a question, especially for any ISU student living in Watterson Towers with a car:

How much would you pay to park monthly in the Beaufort Street Parking Deck which will open this summer.   The current monthly rate at the College Avenue parking deck is $40 per month.

Watterson residents:  How much would you pay to park here?

Watterson residents: How much would you pay to park here?

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Filed under Green, Uptown Normal

When 90 seconds just isn’t enough time to make an opening statement

God bless the League of Women Voters of McLean County, but I needed a little more than 90 seconds to make an opening statement at Thursday night’s candidate forum.

Being incoherent and under the weather didn’t help my cause either.

That’s why I’ve got this blog.

I’ll spare you the personal introduction and the obligatory thank yous.

The economy and Town financial management

We are faced with the worst economic conditions in my lifetime.   Compared to other places, we are fortunate to live in a university town.  The Wall Street Journal reported last week that college towns are doing quite well compared to the rest of the economy.  With our diverse employment base,  Normal clearly fits into the that catagory. 

Still, citizens of this community have lost a lot of money in their 401k’s.   I know our retirement accounts took a huge hit, as have our kids’ college funds.   I’m not alone wondering how much longer I’m going to have to work to make up for the collapse of the stock market.

At the same time, I wonder whether my kids’ college decisions will be impacted by this recession.

I hope I’m wrong, but I sense the economy recovery won’t be quick or particularly dramatic.    

That’s why I think those of us in Town government have to remain extremely sensitive when it comes to asking the citizens and property owners of this community for more.

Recognizing the economic conditions will influence sales and income tax revenue, we must continue our policy of fiscal responsibility.   I will be satisfied if we are able to continue funding our core services and programs at a sustainable level while mixing in a reduced program of prioritized capital improvements.

While I remain very optimistic about the future, my near term decision making will be greatly influenced by current economic conditions. 

I am confident that our administration will continue to watch the budget situation carefully, continuing Normal’s conservative philosophy of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses.

I recognize that the purchase of a home or business represents a major investment in our community.   My decisions will continue to be influenced by my desire to protect and enhance your investment.

Uptown

It’s exciting to think that in a few short months the Marriott Hotel and Normal Conference Center will be open for business, generating economic activity and adding a new dimension to Uptown.   This year will see the beginning of a brand new, attractive streetscape and hopefully the overdue burying of utility lines.   The JSM development will rise out of the rubble of the former University Christian Church.

The Marriott and Normal Conference Center will open this summer marking a major milestone for the Uptown plan.   In 2009, the Town Council should begin to review where we've been for the past ten years and refine where we're going in Uptown.

The Marriott and Normal Conference Center will open this summer marking a major milestone for the Uptown plan. In 2009, the Town Council should begin to review where we've been for the past ten years and refine where we're going in Uptown.

At the same time, there are many important decisions facing the council.   The developers of Uptown One insist they are getting closer to nailing down financing to get their long awaited mixed use project out of the ground.

We have been patient as they have tried to adjust to a very chilly lending climate.   Uptown One remains a very worthy project.   The residential component is very difficult because it is tough to make sales when prospective home buyers don’t know when the project will start.  

That said, it’s difficult for me to even contemplate Uptown Two or Three until they start to raise steel on Uptown One.    And that’s going to have to happen fairly soon. 

We are still working to attract federal stimulus funding for the transportation center.    It is a worthy project and will require our attention. 

The library’s planning process calls for more space and more parking either on the current site or somewhere else in the community.   The Normal Public Library is where it belongs, as a major Uptown asset.   In the next four years, we will certainly be addressing the library’s needs.

In general, the council and community must  review where we’ve been and refine where we’re going with the Uptown plan.   It’s been ten years since it was conceived.   Obviously, over the years it has evolved.   Ten years into it seems to be a good time to chart its course for the next 10 years.

Communications

Just About Normal has improved my ability to connect with the community.   I am committed to stay with this for as long as I have the honor of serving you.    I feel an obligation to share useful information and opinion and give you a place for civil dialogue.

Thank you for your contributions to this space, and I look forward to interacting with you here and in person in the years ahead.

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Filed under All About Normal, Town Council