It’s interesting to read about the history of the business district in Normal. The layout of the streets seems to have been greatly influenced by the placement of the railroad tracks, and the types of businesses attracted to the area were certainly influenced by the university next door. After so many years, it isn’t easy for residents and people who visit Normal to accept the dramatic changes that are taking place in what is now called Uptown Normal: new businesses and buildings, changes to parking, infrastructure repair, and streetscape changes.
In addition to some new and relocated retailers and restaurants, the larger projects going up in Uptown are the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center (with an attached parking garage), two mixed-use buildings, and a parking deck. The mixed-use buildings (Uptown One and Uptown Crossing) will provide condos and apartments as well as retail and office space. The proximity to the university will undoubtedly bring many conferences to the Marriott and many students, professors, and other university personnel to the new residences. The parking deck is already in use and should prove very convenient for those attending special events in Uptown (e.g., the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, Trailside Markets, and the Sweetcorn Blues Festival).
The main streets through Uptown have been redefined, in a way. There is now a traffic circle at what was once an awkward intersection. The circle was constructed in 2008 and is now open to traffic. Work continues on the water feature and landscaping for the circle. Some façade work was also completed on several businesses in Uptown, with more improvements planned for 2009.
So, it’s a new Normal and maybe the saying “no pain, no gain” is true. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the Uptown changes in terms of attracting students to Illinois State University, but I think that this has to have played a role in the planning. When prospective students and their parents visit Normal to check out ISU, of course they are going to look at the community around the university. The students expect to venture off-campus for entertainment and shopping, so they are looking to see what’s available. And their parents look to see if the area seems inviting and safe. An active business district with new (and newly renovated) retailers should be just what they’re looking for. And, over time, residents will adjust to and appreciate the changes. (Well, this resident will adjust to most of the changes…)