Trail East developer abandons downtown effort

Trail East project developer Uptown Normal has pulled out of the deal.

Bush Construction tells the city now is not the time to move forward. The move comes two months after city council granted Bush’s demands to rework the design of the mixed-use structure to four instead of five stories and to revise the development agreement.

“As they continued to work on the details of their financing, they realized that this was not going to happen not only because of the financing, but also because of the increase in construction and changes in the building. market, ”said city manager Pam Reece.

Reece said she was still optimistic the northeast corner of Uptown Circle is a desirable location for a mixed-use building.

“There is always interest in Uptown in terms of development. Bloomington-Normal and McLean County are currently experiencing strong growth which is an economic engine in our community. There is significant interest in a residential component and part of the trail. The East project included apartments or a residential component. And frankly, the tenants who had indicated they had a pre-rental agreement on the first three floors, I think, are still very interested in having a physical presence in Uptown, ”Uptown said.

Reece said that so far, the city has mainly devoted time to its staff for the five-year effort that began with a request for proposal in 2017. She said the city had not yet buried the utility lines or transferred ownership of two buildings in the city’s project footprint to Bush Construction

“It presents a challenge and an opportunity for city staff to partner with Farnsworth Group and other potential tenants to see who we can bring to the table to make it happen,” said Reece.

She said the city will have to unwind the development agreement. After that, she said she would look for other potential developers to talk about it. The way forward is not yet clear and the city has time to assess the next steps.

“We have to follow our sourcing policy. So I don’t know if that requires another bidding because we put out a proposal in 2017. So we can see if we can bring someone to the table and can -be can we award the signed agreement, if that’s possible, or maybe that’s like issuing a tender, ”Reece said.

A complication for any future developer is a mural on the exterior wall of one of the buildings in the footprint of the proposed new building. It was once the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by some of the artists who created the mural, who fought for its preservation. The lawsuit put the project on hold for about a year, Reece said. The city had agreed to move the wall and mural before the building was demolished and the Trail East site cleared. Then, Bush Construction redesigned its plan to include the existing wall. Reece said she hopes the wall will fit inside any future development.

“It presents challenges in terms of construction, but I think it was a good solution. Relocating the mural, while it can be done, is incredibly expensive and presents construction challenges in itself. So hopefully we can find a way to keep it in place, ”Reece said.

The WGLT also asked Reece if this would be a limiting factor in finding a new developer.

“I’m sure any developer who comes to the table now will want to make sure this doesn’t continue to turn into a lawsuit. The handwriting is on the wall, figuratively and literally, that anyone talking about Trail East is certainly aware of this mural problem. It’s been a very public conversation, “said Reece.

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