NORMAL – The question Normal Town Council members debated Monday at their regularly-scheduled meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station: Should the Town of Normal agree to give Illinois State University’s Art Gallery at the west end of the Uptown Station parking deck free rent for the next five years? It was a question debated around the Council dais and there were Council members who found the notion of continuing the agreement, which began in 2013, had pluses and minuses.

After a lengthy discussion, Council members voted 4-3 to approve the measure which would maintain the lease under current conditions. Those conditions date back to 2013 when the Town and ISU executed a lease permitting the University to use the west-end ground floor portion of Uptown Station parking deck for gallery space. Total amount of lease payments the Town received from ISU tallied $2,081,658. The original lease expired last October and the two sides met then to extend it until this month.

Approving the contract at Monday’s session were Mayor Chris Koos, along with Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Chemberly Cummings, and Kevin McCarthy. Council Members Stan Nord, Karyn Smith, and Scott Preston voted in opposition to the measure.

ISU pays its own expenses for the space, but Nord raised the issue of no property tax coming in from the museum because the University is a tax-exempt entity.

McCarthy reminded that all events at the gallery are open free to the public, and with people coming to see the gallery, local businesses, shops, restaurants, and nearby hotels benefit by being visited by patrons using those facilities.

Koos said ISU invested a “lot of money to improve a raw space from the floor up. It was oddly configured for retail. There was no interest in the space from business. And since it’s been there, there has been community involvement there.” He reminded ISU paid $2.1 million to place the gallery at that location.

City Manager Pam Reece told the meeting, the Town picks up the tab for general maintenance costs. She added if ISU wanted to reconfigure the site to, for example, put a wall in, the University would need the Town’s approval.

Making a profit seemed to be on Smith’s mind as she explained that Rivian Automotive, which is scheduled to roll out their first electric vehicles sometime later this year, is approaching having 1,000 employees and that ancillary businesses with employees coming to town or already living here will become consumers in Town, which she said will help the Town profit.

Preston said he didn’t find an “out clause” for either side from the way he read the five-year lease contract Council members voted on.

Council Approves Ordinance Making On-Street Café Seating Permanent: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance which amended a section of Town Code concerning on-street café seating, making it permanent after a two year test run. Town Council members unanimously voted to establish a pilot program for street café seating in May 2018. On North Street, Stave Wine Bar, 111 W. North St., is an example of on-street café seating.

Under the program, any on-street café can operate between April 1 and Oct. 1, and once installed would be required to operate five days a week, weather permitting.

Among the rules for such establishments, referred to as “parklets” because they are primarily in established parking spaces in front of the business operating it, the owner must provide parking blocks on all sides not adjacent to a curb; must be associated with a business that serves food; and hours of operation would be restricted to between 6a.m-12 midnight.

The Town sent a questionnaire last October to five businesses which surround Stave seeking input. According to the report provided Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, five of six businesses replying responded calling Stave’s operation a positive for those experiencing Uptown. One respondent did express a concern about the amount of garbage on-street operations produce.

Adult-Use Cannabis Operation Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance granting a special use permit for adult-use cannabis at 501 W. Northtown Rd. The business at that location, The Green Solution, submitted a request for a special use permit so they could operate a dispensary at that location. The business currently operates a medical use dispensary at the location, something permitted by State law. The adult-use ordinance concerning cannabis does not permit consumption at the Northtown Rd. facility.

The State would not approve an adult-use cannabis permit for The Green Solution until the Town provided zoning for the business. Among special use standards by the Town the business had to meet were: Providing the hours of operation and an anticipated number of employees and customers; An anticipated parking demand and the number of parking slots to be considered private; A site plan, and a sign plan.

The operators of the business informed the Town they will operate from 8a.m.-10p.m., the business will have video surveillance at all times, and that the business will not have a drive-through, according to the report provided Council members by Davison.

Business Trip Expenditure Questioned: Nord questioned a line item in the Town budget concerning paying for six staffers of the Children’s Discovery Museum to attend an annual conference of the Association of Children’s Museums which is scheduled to be held in St. Louis in May. He contended the Town should not send that many Town employees to such a meeting. ACM annual conferences rotate cities in which they are held, the last one being held in Denver last year, Reece explained. The Town spent $3,905 in registration for those staffers, including Children’s Discovery Museum Director Beth Whisman and five CDM staffers, to attend the four-day event.

Reece said that many staffers attending the event would allow for them to cover many aspects of what would be presented at the conference and would qualify as professional development time for those Town Staff members. Council members unanimously approved the item.

Ordinance Abating Taxes For Special Service Area Questioned: Also during the portion of the meeting concerning omnibus items, Smith pulled an ordinance which would abate the levy of 2019 property taxes for a section of the Town identified for tax purposes as Special Service Area Number One. This area specifically pertains to The Shoppes At College Hills, and the Special Service Area has existed since the shopping complex was built in the 1970s becoming familiar to shoppers as College Hills Mall.

Smith asked about what obligation the Town had concerning the bond. Koos explained while the Town is the issuer of the bond, it has no obligation on it, only the owners of the shopping complex do. Reece added to the conversation explaining the bonds end in December 2024.

Chizuko Tsukamoto Appointed To Sister Cities Committee: Council members heard of the appointment of Chizuko Tsukamoto to the Town’s Sister Cities Committee, an announcement made by Mayor Pro Tem McCarthy. A long-time resident of McLean County, Tsukamoto holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Illinois State University, focusing on finance. She has had employment with both Seven Seas Travel and Mitsubishi Motors, and currently is working for Komatsu America as a translator and a safety instructor. Tsuksamoto will be filling a vacant seat on the committee with her term expiring March 31, 2022.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting held Jan. 21, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 15, 2020.

• A resolution retaining confidentiality of executive session minutes from June 19, 2017, Feb. 18, April 15, and December 19, all 2019.

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