Tag 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.

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 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.

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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

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

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