Council Member: The new Uptown plan calls for a “better mix” with a stronger focus on housing

A Normal City Council member says the latest proposal for the Trail East and Trail West sites in Uptown Normal is a “fundamentally different project” than its scuttled predecessor and will better serve the needs of the community because it includes more dwelling space.

The city council voted Monday night to move forward with Iowa developer Eagle View Partners on the $50-60 million project. It would bring two mixed-use buildings to the north side of the Uptown Circle.

Eagle View’s plan came about only after an earlier Bush Construction proposal for Trail East was abandoned last fall. City Councilman Kevin McCarthy said that Eagle View’s new lot shows a primary focus on housing — over 150 units — compared to Bush’s more commercial plan.

“It’s a better mix,” McCarthy said Tuesday on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Bloomington normals need more housing, in part because of the thousands of jobs that electric car maker Rivian has quickly created. The home inventory is low, home prices are rising and rents are tight. The council recently approved growth within several traditional new-build housing developments, McCarthy said, but rents are also a need.

“That type of housing isn’t really available for this young professional in our community,” McCarthy said. “So this is a different type of housing, aimed at a different market. It is sorely needed.”

The last mixed-use building to open on the circle was 1 Uptown Circle, where the first-floor restaurant or retail space is known to have been vacant since opening day.

“We have a space in this building that is unoccupied. And I, and I think everyone on the council and everyone in the community would like to see 100 percent occupancy. But that’s not a reality in today’s market,” McCarthy said, noting that demand for commercial real estate has declined during the pandemic.

Eagle View said Monday its new Uptown residential units are targeting people ages 26 to 30 and singles. Baby boomers looking to downsize would be another option. An Eagle View leader said they had an “income requirement” that would cap the number of college students.

McCarthy said reality doesn’t mean the city of normality isn’t investing in creating more affordable housing opportunities. He noted that council members at Monday’s meeting also discussed the city’s 2022-23 community development block grant action plan, which includes the partial conversion of 905 N. Main Street to affordable senior housing.

“Just because we’re doing a project doesn’t mean we’re doing it without supporting other projects,” he said. “This development (Trail East and Trail West) is not for everyone.”

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