In April, ULI Advisory Services presented recommended redevelopment possibilities for the 24-acre (9.7 ha) site of Bloomington Hospital—a campus in Bloomington, Indiana, that will move its operations to the new Indiana University Health Bloomington Regional Academic Health Center in 2020.
Drawing from research on the city and region, site visits, and interviews with more than 100 community members, the panel considered land uses and development that best address community needs, boost economic growth, and enhance livability.
Referencing Bloomington’s current bicentennial, Mayor John Hamilton said that the site provides an unprecedented opportunity for the city to “reimagine the next 200 years.” The city of Bloomington—which will purchase the land from IU Health—sponsored the advisory panel’s work. The outcomes supplement the efforts of a local hospital utilization task force.
Opportunities for Office Space
“To identify redevelopment opportunities, it’s important to start with a regional context that drives the real estate market and what might be built,” said Sujata Srivastava, principal, Strategic Economics, Berkeley, California.
Located approximately 60 miles (97 km) southwest of Indianapolis, Bloomington—home to Indiana University—is a county seat with a population of 85,000. Situated off a state highway being replaced by an interstate, the city holds many employment destinations, with densities near the highway corridor and downtown.
Over the past five years, office industries in surrounding Monroe County have driven much of the overall employment growth. If that growth continues, there will be demand for 30,000 square feet (2,800 sq m) of new office space each year. And with an occupancy rate of 95 percent, there is already a shortage of supply for new and expanding businesses.
Adjacent to downtown, the site provides potential to provide needed office space, reinforce the city core as an important employment area, and create job opportunities. The panel recommended providing 10,000 square feet (930 sq m) of Class A and B office space focused on professional services.
The panel’s assignment included evaluating whether the city should keep the existing parking garage and administration building. The panel advised keeping and beautifying the garage to provide incentives and value to office developers while accommodating density.
“The parking garage can become a public art aspect,” said Matt Lascheid, graduate student at Ball State University in Indianapolis. In addition, as James Coleman of Denver-based Hill Companies pointed out, the first floor could be renovated to house limited retail space.
Addressing Housing Needs while Maintaining Neighborhood Scale
The panel’s housing market analysis shows a lack of affordable housing in Bloomington, with prices higher than in Indianapolis and Indiana overall and rising rapidly. From 2012 to 2017, the average asking rental rate rose 12 percent, from $814 to $914 per month. With a median income of $31,000, many Bloomington households cannot afford market-rate housing prices and rents. And while developer interest in new multifamily housing is strong, with about 1,400 units in the pipeline, student housing has dominated recent developments. There are gaps for low-income rentals, workforce and young adults, seniors, and the local artist community.
The panel’s recommendations for housing include a variety of options and price points. Lascheid noted that single-family housing would match the scale of the adjacent historic neighborhoods; townhouses would provide more options for ownership in Bloomington; and multifamily apartments would cater to people with lower incomes. To create a smooth visual transition from surrounding neighborhoods, the developments should scale up gradually, with increased building height at the site’s center.
Connecting Key Community Assets
Christine Richman, principal at Salt Lake City–based GSBS noted that the current site is separate and distinct from the rest of the community. “Redevelopment is an opportunity to reconnect and strengthen connections between people and places,” she said.
The panel’s vision fosters many of those connections—social, community-based, and economic. In addition to office space, potential key assets include an arts and activity center (the heart of the redevelopment), an urgent care facility to replace some of the health care offerings vacating the site, education and skilled-trades training facilities, arts and culture amenities, and artists’ workspaces.
The panel’s approach extends the historic street grid with a multimodal living street, or woonerf, to break down the current “megablock” and foster both internal and external physical connections. Gabriela Canamar-Clark, principal at Alexandria, Virginia–based LandDesign, noted that the living street will both feed off of the multiuse B Line Trail and create a string of parks by connecting to public green space.
The living-street concept also introduces branding opportunities for the district, through public art and design elements that enhance wayfinding, highlight amenities, and celebrate Bloomington’s history and future.
The panel proposed demolishing the administrative building to free up the site for the new developments while enabling this connectivity.
Moving Forward: Implementation Recommendations
The panel noted that the city has multiple current priorities and exciting developments underway. “It’s a string of pearls that any community would love to have,” said panel chair Glenda Hood of Orlando-based triSect. To execute on the opportunity, the panel recommended that the city:
- Engage a master developer to manage the redevelopment. “Real estate is risky and best managed with a third party,” said Coleman.
- Invite robust and ongoing community engagement, prioritize community needs and wants, and identify and support a common vision. The panel’s interviews revealed many strong opinions about what Bloomington, “a quintessential college town,” should be. The city is currently in a branding study and the panel recommended that this continue, along with a robust public engagement process about the site. “Every step must derive from a meaningful community engagement process,” said Cate Ryba, new projects director at Asheville, North Carolina–based Urban3. The panel also urged the city to collaborate regionally.
- Build partnerships early and ongoing. The redevelopment plan lends itself to multiple partnership possibilities, from education and training facilities to nonprofit organizations to businesses.
- Evaluate regulatory policies and practices. “A big challenge is transforming the current zoning into community’s vision,” said Richard Krochalis of the Seattle Design Commission.
“Building support for the most important needs in the community should be the number-one priority,” Hood said. “We’re confident that as you find yourself in historical crossroads you’ll have the courage, the will, and the engagement of necessary partners to go through this transformation of Bloomington; and in 20 years, this ULI panel’s recommendations will have helped turn the site into something wonderful.”
ULI’s Advisory Services group included nationally renowned land use and urban planning experts who made recommendations at a public meeting at city hall. The full presentation of recommendations can be found here.