Student population, alcohol establishments seen as hurdles in city planning


Bloomington City Council members listen to a presentation Tuesday night at a meeting to review the "Downtown" chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, a detailed resolution that establishes goals for the future of Bloomington.The council will next meet to discuss the Comprehensive Plan Sept. 12.  Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

There were two elephants in the room when the Bloomington City Council reviewed part of the city’s comprehensive plan Tuesday night — the concentration of IU students and the abundance of alcohol-focused establishments in the downtown area.

Many of the council members, Stephen Volan included, had concerns with the combination of alcohol and IU students. Volan said that the city has a problematic relationship with Kilroy’s on Kirkwood and much of the issue has to do with the bar's undergraduate demographic. He said most of the non-undergraduate students he knew wouldn’t pick the bar as their first choice when going out.

“In a way, I think Kilroy’s gives alcohol a bad name,” Volan said. 

The council has some control over the appeal of the downtown area for people who do not attend IU, and when non-students criticize students, their main concern is in relation to drinking, Volan said. 

He said he spoke with officials at the state's Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, who told him if the council had a problem with the way the bar did business, they could challenge their liquor license the next time it was up for review, which he said is sometime next year.

Among discussions of the plan, the question of affordable housing and the ratio of student-to-nonstudents living in the downtown area was brought up.

One proposal in the plan is to prevent more housing geared toward students from being built in the area in favor of more affordable housing opportunities for Bloomington’s residents. 

Council member Dave Rollo said he’d be satisfied with creating equal proportions between the town’s residents who are and are not students. 

Robinson reminded the council IU accounts for a large portion of the town’s population and contributes significantly to the economy, so balancing these aspects is a challenge. The challenge was exacerbated by the fact that the housing market wasn’t as controllable as officials would like it to be, something council member Chris Sturbaum agreed with.

“The downtown, in some ways, was saved by students,” Sturbaum said, referring to growth that occurred following the recent economic recession. 

Council members agreed the area in question did not necessarily have to be the only city center going forward. Some suggested the area around College Mall as a potential opportunity for development. Another location mentioned was Switchyard Park, which is located southwest of downtown.

“There's nothing to stop Switchyard Park from becoming the new Central Park,” Volan said.

Volan said there was potential for development all around the park, which is about 65 acres in size, according to the city’s website. 

But Bloomington isn't going to change just yet.

“Really what the comprehensive plan represents is a first step in a journey,” Scott Robinson, the city’s planning services manager said. 

Council member Jim Sims, who was recently elected as an at-large representative, said he saw the document as a guide, and he brought up the record levels of first-year students at IU. He said the planners should take into account past city policy. 

“We have to be able to look and see what’s working, and what is not working,” Sims said. “I don’t see this as giving up on what worked in the past.”

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