Our Redevelopment Story
In the spring of 1999, after much thought and deliberation, the Normal Town Council embarked on an extensive assessment and planning process for the community’s Central Business District, referred to as "Downtown Normal." The district was showing signs of blight and not realizing its full potential. Regardless of the results of the planning process, the Town council knew that it needed to invest in major public infrastructure improvements. No capital projects had taken place in the area for nearly 20 years, and in many cases, water and sewer lines were over a hundred years old.
The Town Council elected to hire a planning firm with extensive experience in urban revitalization efforts. After a public search, the Council hired Farr Associates to guide the community through the master planning process. This process was rooted in heavy public input and opinion. Several dozen local businesses were interviewed, approximately 70 public meetings were held, and emails and comment cards were solicited in order to gather public opinion. A committee was appointed to analyze the results of the initial public input efforts. The committee consisted of Council members, several Town staff, Illinois State University representatives, property owners and business persons from the district, and other community representatives. The result of this effort was an extensive Downtown Normal Redevelopment Plan, which was subsequently adopted by Council in 2001. Implementation of the plan started immediately and continues through the present day.
On November 20, 2006, Town Council voted to change the name of “Downtown Normal” to “Uptown Normal.” This decision was made with input from local businesses and the community. The change in name signified the rebirth of the business district and has helped the Town of Normal further define itself as a local attraction and regional destination.
Funding the Revitalization
From the outset of the project, the Town Council recognized that a significant amount of local funding would be required to achieve the vision of the Uptown Renewal Plan. To ensure this project would not take away from other needs in the community, the Town Council created new revenue sources that would be solely dedicated to the implementation of the Uptown Plan. Among these new revenue sources included a sales tax, hotel/motel tax, and food and beverage tax, as well as an establishment of a Tax increment Financing (TIF) district. Together these new revenues have been used to carry out public projects in the Uptown district and ensuring a stable source of revenue for future obligations.
The establishment of the TIF district for Uptown was the first for the Town of Normal. TIF is a tool that state lawmakers have given to local governments to help restore blighted areas or jump-start economically sluggish parts of town. TIFs help local governments attract private development and new businesses, which in turn bring more jobs, more customers and more private investment. TIF designation also helps retain existing businesses that might otherwise find more attractive options elsewhere. The Town of Normal has used TIF to encourage high-quality development and to attract and retain businesses. TIF has also played an integral part in financing infrastructure such as road and utility improvements.
For more information on how TIF works, please visit the Illinois Tax Increment Association website.
In the spring of 2001 Town Council adopted the Uptown Renewal Plan. The action signaled the Council’s commitment to improving all aspects of the Uptown district. A major goal of the plan was to improve Uptown’s overall appearance.
Uptown Renewal Plan recommended two actions to support this goal:
- First, the Town must adopt strict standards requiring that existing buildings be better maintained both for safety and appearance.
- Second, the Town must adopt design standards for new construction in Uptown that would “raise the bar” in the market for what is acceptable.
The adopted Uptown Design Ordinance applies to all exterior building renovation, new construction and other exterior alterations to property located within the B-2 Central Business District. Before any exterior rehabilitation, alteration, or new construction can begin,a property owner must obtain a Certificate of Compliance ensuring all relevant design standards are met. An appointed Design Review Commission was established to review the plans and issue certificates.
The design standards attempt to address all key elements of exterior building design:
- New construction must be built to the front and side yard lines in order to create a seamless wall of facades.
- Entryways must be recessed and have strong design elements consistent with overall façade design.
- Windows must cover 50-75% of the storefront and 30-50% of the upper façade. Storefront windows must be vertically oriented and must begin between two and three feet above the sidewalk.
- A well-defined cornice or fascia must be located at the top of the storefront and at the roofline.
- Roof styles are not limited; however, roofs must be concealed by a parapet.
- Mechanical equipment must be located on the roof or in the rear yard. Such equipment must be located on the roof of corner buildings.
- Side and rear faces of buildings visible to the public must incorporate architectural elements that tie the building faces together.
- Anti-monotony rules prohibit blank wall lengths in excess of 15 feet.
- Colors are limited to those in historical lines of paint.
- Prohibited and permitted building materials are listed.
- Awnings and canopies may not have interior lighting except at the entryway and must be segmented if longer than 25 feet. They may not cover more than 25% of the storefront windows. A list of prohibited materials is included.
- Exterior lighting fixtures must be architecturally consistent with the building façade and are limited to mounting on the first floor. Certain types of light are prohibited, and light levels have a maximum intensity. Building owners must light their display windows until 2 a.m.
- Sign materials are limited and signs are generally limited to the storefront. Only wall signs and projecting signs are permitted. Interior lighting of signs is prohibited. Signs may not obscure more than 25% of the storefront window area.
- All new buildings must be between two and six stories tall and may not be more than two stories taller than adjacent buildings, with an exception for buildings around the roundabout.
- Both street-facing sides of corner buildings will be treated like storefront facades.
All property in the Central Business District must follow maintenance standards set forth in the design ordinance. All exterior façade materials must be maintained in a sound and attractive condition; all deteriorating materials must be removed. Peeling surfaces must be repainted or refinished. Permanent boarding of windows is prohibited.
Finally, the ordinance requires that all new construction with more than 7,500 square feet at the ground level comply with at least the “Certified” level established in the U.S. Green Building Council LEED standards. These standards require high-performance technologies and environmentally sensitive design techniques in order to promote high-quality, long-lived buildings and healthy indoor environments.
For more information on design requirements in the Uptown area, please follow the links to the Municipal Code provided below:
- Section 15.17 (Design Ordinance)
- Section 10.12 (language pertaining to the establishment of a design review commission)
Major Public Projects
As part of the Uptown Plan, the Town of Normal has embarked on several significant public projects. These projects were aimed to both create and facilitate future economic growth in the region. A synopsis of these projects is provided below:
Children’s Discovery Museum: The Children’s Discovery Museum was the first new construction project associated with the Uptown Plan. Construction of the 34,000 square foot museum commenced in January 2004 and officially opened to the public on November 27, 2004. In its first year of operation over 150,000 visitors came to play and learn at the museum within the first year. Operated as a division of the Town of Normal Parks and Recreation Department, the museum provides quality interactive and educational opportunities for youth of all ages. The museum, located at 101 E. Beaufort Street, is designed to complement the existing structures in the Uptown area. The Beaufort Street facade gives the appearance of multiple buildings while serving as one larger facility. The west face of the museum overlooks the Gateway Plaza and provides a unique opportunity to blend internal museum programming with external public plaza space. The Children’s Discovery Museum was designed by Francois Associates Architects of Bloomington, Illinois and constructed by CORE Construction of Morton, Illinois. In October 2005, it received Silver LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Marriott Hotel and Conference Center: In order to fully implement the vision contained in the Uptown Plan, the Town of Normal embarked on several public/private partnerships. The largest of these partnerships resulted in the construction and 2009 opening of the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. The Town of Normal partnered on the project with John Q. Hammons, who is widely recognized as the leading independent developer and owner of full service upscale hotels, resorts, and suites. The 9 story hotel is owned and operated by Mr. Hammons and contains 229 guest rooms as well as amenities such as a pool, restaurant, fitness center, business center, and concierge service. The attached conference center is owned by the Town of Normal and includes over 23,000 square feet of usable space. The conference center is connected to the historic Normal Theater, which present guests with unparalleled entertainment and meeting opportunities.A 500 space parking deck was constructed just south of the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. The deck accommodates all hotel guests and it also includes parking for other Uptown patrons. A skywalk across Beaufort Street provides a climate controlled walkway between the hotel and the parking deck.
Multimodal Transportation Center: The centerpiece of the Uptown Plan is the Multimodal Transportation Center. As designed the Transportation Center is 68,000 square foot four-story structure with an attached parking structure. The first floor of the facility will accommodate Amtrak and BNPTS ticketing and office space, waiting areas, a food court, retail, and general community information. The second and third floors will accommodate Town of Normal municipal offices. The fourth floor includes public meeting space and the Town Council chambers for the Town of Normal. The facility will bring together and streamline several modes of transportation including high-speed passenger rail, intercity and local bus service, airport shuttles, taxi services, passenger vehicles and pedestrians. The Transportation Center will not only improve transportation efficiencies and amenities in Normal, but it will also greatly enhance the regional transportation network. The facility will replace an aging and undersized Amtrak station and will also connect that passenger rail service with other transportation modes, thus making rail a more attractive and convenient alternative. The state-of-art Transportation Center is designed to achieve a LEED silver certification. It will sit directly adjacent to the Gateway Plaza, which will further enhance the experience for the passengers using the facility. The adjoining parking structure sits above a covered bus bay. The parking will alleviate a current shortage for Amtrak passengers, while the covered bus bay will protect riders from the weather.
Traffic Circle and Gateway Plaza: A roundabout, or traffic circle, that connects Beaufort Street, North Street, Constitution Boulevard has replaced a formerly awkward intersection at that location. The traffic circle has slowed vehicular traffic and made it easier for pedestrians to cross the intersection as traffic flows from only one direction around the roundabout. A uniquely designed public space now sits in the middle of the traffic circle. This small gathering space accommodates passive activities for people in the area. It also can be used for small, intimate gatherings and performances. Visitors that take advantage of this unique setting will enjoy mature shade trees and a flowing water feature that sits prominently along the exterior edges of the park-like environment. To the immediate south of the traffic circle sits Gateway Plaza. This unique plaza space is boarded by the circle to the north, the railroad tracks to the south, the Children’s Discovery Museum to the east and the Multimodal Transportation Center to the west. The Plaza is a large, flexible, paved space that can accommodate more intensive uses. It is designed to exclusively host smaller events, such as farmer’s markets, without disrupting the Uptown streets, but will also serve as the major area for larger events and activities, such as the Sweet Corn Blues Festival and the Sugar Creek Arts Festival. For visitors arriving on the passenger rail, the Plaza will also serve as the “gateway” to Normal and the Uptown area.
Infrastructure and Street Improvements: As part of the Uptown renewal effort, the Town made significant investment in street and infrastructure improvements. Many of the underground utilities in Uptown Normal were between 80 and 100 years old and were in need of full replacement. Similarly, many of the streets and sidewalks were in need of resurfacing and general upgrades. As part of this investment process, the Town made every effort to ensure that the Uptown remained a pedestrian friendly area. The Town undertook a comprehensive streetscape plan which included enhancements in landscaping, lighting, and other areas such as seating. The underground infrastructure project started March 5, 2007, and was fully completed in 2009. Street construction and improvements began in 2007 and were substantially completed in late 2009. The final phase of streetscape improvements (lighting, landscaping and street furniture) is scheduled to be completed in 2010.As a result of this investment, the Uptown area has more reliable and higher capacity water and sewer services. Additionally, the streetscapes have been more aesthetically pleasing and inviting to patrons in the area. The entire area has been made more pedestrian-friendly and the balance of street parking has been made more equitable throughout the district.