Bloomington Normal (BN) is doing a good job of developing housing on its periphery and needs to continue doing that according to Justin Carney a Principal at Development Strategies out of St. Louis, Missouri. But the area needs to do a better job developing housing opportunities in its core he says.
Carney spoke Thursday at BN by the Numbers, a quarterly event sponsored by the BN Economic Development Council (EDC). Development Strategies is the company that did the BN Housing Study for the EDC. Carney presented a talk providing some updates to the March 2022 study.
Carney told Cities 92.9 in an interview after his presentation, “Sometimes we have seen in our infill and redevelopment opportunities, we are seeing the city say, ‘This is our investment. We are going to improve our sidewalks. We are going to improve our parks and improve those amenities around these neighborhoods’ that then add to the marketability that allow a housing developer to say ‘look at the amenities and those community amenities. Now I am willing to take that investment in my private development.’”
Carney continued, “And a lot of times that’s what we are seeing kind of needing to come together. It doesn’t have to be just the city investing directly in that developer. It’s in their (the city’s) community assets.”
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Drew Mitchell, a Partner with Holladay Properties out of Chicago, was attending the BN By the Numbers event and volunteered to answer a question from the audience that Carney admittedly wasn’t sure he had a good answer for. Mitchell did such a good job that many people sought him out to meet him during a break and after the conference to make his acquaintance.
Mitchell told us in a sit down interview, “What I am passionate about, what I love to do, is try to identify infill development at the center of that nucleus and bring really an elevated living experience, hotel style lobbies and amenitized buildings.
While we were talking, Jeff Martin, a Sr. Urban Planner with Farnsworth Group of Bloomington came by to meet Mitchell. We paused our interview so they could greet one another. And then Martin joined us for our interview. When Mitchell shared his passion for identifying infill development, Martin was excited to comment.
Martin said, “Just to play off that a minute, not everything is infill but you can still take what he is talking about and do it in the greenfield areas. You can still have neat developments that have density that have mixed use in them that have walking trails. And we are always going to have infill development. And we are also always going to have development on the periphery.”
Martin continued, “I think what we are both talking about is they each need to have character. They need to have walkability. They need to have placemaking. Whether it is infill, which is wonderful, it’s near all those, you can walk to the show.”
“Whereas, If your living out near Rivian, a new development that happens out there, there’s a neighborhood park in your development that you can go to. There’s a dog park that you can go to. There’s an area where you can do yoga outside in that type development. So I think there is a home for both infill and peripheral development Martin added.
Mitchell believes that whether we are talking about infill or periphery development, “The pie really can get bigger with collaborative approaches where government actually does need to play a role in matchmaking and helping identify paths.”
Mitchell continued, “It’s pass through the red tape. Red tape exists for a reason. Regulations exist. Some of them are great. Some of are difficult. But ultimately people are taking major major risks here and deploying capitally intensive, super capitally intensive dollars to make big projects like this happen.”
“So everybody does kind of need to be on the same page and if government isn’t there or they’re not answering the phone call then you may not be able to get to a ribbon cutting,” Mitchell added.
Regarding infill development Martin said, “You got to get the momentum going. You want to keep that old housing stock if you can. There’s a real character. This was designed a 100 years ago. It just feels right. It was done right.”
Martin continued, “So how do we maintain that? So sometimes it takes that momentum. So you kind of get some catalyst projects going. And then hopefully now it’s a pebble being dropped in a pond and that slowly is going to radiate out. And you are going to start to see improvements in those neighborhoods.”
We asked how you get that catalyst started and Mitchell responded. “I think it starts with the conversation you and I are having right now. It starts with education and awareness. It starts with a community indication that we have the wherewithal and energy to try to raise the tide and lift all ships.”
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Mitchell continued, “It’s inviting different groups together. So today we had folks from utility companies. We had bankers. We had real estate brokers. We had developers. We had Civil Engineers and Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Structural Engineers. All these people are in the same room.”
“And we are all trying to identify ways and paths to projects. And it’s not because we all like to have meetings and stuff but ultimately we need projects in order to stay busy and have a career. But we are not trying to just invent projects here. There is something really really special that is happening in Bloomington Normal,” Mitchell added.
“And I think that is why you are attracting developers from St. Louis, brokers from St. Louis, folks coming from Chicago and from Indiana, because there is really really neat stuff happening,” Mitchell said.
“And you have got a unique environment here where the community seems to be really moving together and to be moving in lock step regardless of partisanship,” Mitchel said of our community. “I am not picking up on any of that here. And so I think it’s that energy that’s attracting people to these opportunities.”
“So what’s next,” Mitchell asked rhetorically. “I think it is continuing to understand our land inventory. What are the easiest areas to develop? Jeff talked about you can continue to develop on the periphery. It doesn’t have to be at the nucleus or in the center.”
“But ultimately there is private owners and private buyers of land. The government doesn’t always play a role in that,” Mitchell pointed out. “And so these things don’t happen particularly quickly. You have got different people that are focused on different product too. So it’s hard to get everybody together.”
“But I know that when you get a project launched … there is this catalytic infectious nature where quality investment begets quality investment. When we start to see, as Jeff mentioned, the dropping of a pebble in the pond, the ripple effect, it really happens,” Mitchell continued excitedly.
“And I don’t mean to be cute, but it really doesn’t necessarily matter where you start, it’s about direction and momentum and are we growing? Are we in a positive feedback loop where things are building on one another or a negative feedback lop where things are tearing each other down? And Bloomington Normal feels like it is squarely on the positive side,” Mitchell concluded.
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January 27, 2023 at 08:14PM