Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bloomington Downtown

The new Bloomington downtown plan is now available online. (It's a PDF file that's around 15 megs, so I hope the link stays valid.) A few years back I was very interested in the Monroe County plan, which showed certain areas that were supposed to stay rural, others that were designated for business, etc, but you look at the county now and there pretty much appears to be random subdivisions just thrown up all over the place, which probably says more about the influence of money in local government than it does about anything else. Apparently the Republican members of the town council are also making a Delay-like redistricting plan to grab even more power - I'll be keeping an eye on that story too. But the Bloomington downtown has been exploding over the last couple of years, rather like the west side in the years before that, and it has several new nine or ten story buildings and more parking garages, and construction still continuing. I find it odd that the plan was written by a Colorado company, too...

I was kind of expecting to rip the plan to shreds when I started this article. But overall I think it's a thoughtful document, with some good ideas, and worth putting online in a format that doesn't require a pdf reader and enough time to download the whole thing. I may look into that.

Of course, I do have issues with it. The plan makes the fundamental assumption that the population of childless, older households, such as "empty-nesters" and young professionals, is going to jump, and have plenty of ready cash to spend. I have my doubts about that, since the town still consists of at least half college students. It assumes that the aggregate spending in Bloomington is going to jump more than 25% over the next five years, from $375 million to $475 million, and suggests that the downtown might be able to capture a quarter of that.

Favorite quote: "The Courthouse Square serves as the center of the Courthouse Square." Uh, right.

But there are interesting ideas as well. The plan mentions a lot that everyone who spends time downtown now, considers parking as a big issue. But they point out that there are very often plenty of spaces within just one or two blocks of any given destination. I can vouch that on weekends at least, parking is not really an issue. I suspect that what people mean by parking is similar to what students mean by university parking on campus: Parking for eight hours at a time, and free. That's not going to happen. The authors threw this community a bone at the end by adding "new parking garage" at the end of their recommendations, but I think that's a result of city or focus group pressure. The downtown would probably do just as well by doing a better job of pointing drivers to the downtown spots. Also, I really like the sectioning of the downtown into areas - the Railroad Gateway, the University Village, and others.

So what will it all mean? Probably not a lot. A piece of paper to be thrown in a drawer. But with luck, enough of the good ideas will be taken away by the people responsible for permits for downtown projects to make some nice additions to downtown. We'll see...

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