The smokestack attached to the Johnson Creamery building has defined Bloomington’s skyline since its construction in 1949. But now — more than seven decades later — the city deems the smokestack unsafe. These safety concerns led some community leaders to call for its removal and others to call for its protection.
This debate was the core of the legislation on the Bloomington City Council’s docket Wednesday. During the meeting, the months-long process came to an end when the council finally — and unanimously — gave a decisive answer: the Johnson Creamery will become a historic district. The Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission will allow the smokestack to be shortened to 60 feet. The smokestack currently stands at 140 feet.
After last Wednesday’s meeting, a majority of council members seemed ready to make the Johnson Creamery a historic district at the request of the BHPC. However, at that meeting, the council left the boundary of the historic district unclear. Questions arose regarding whether or not the council would include the smokestack in the historic district or not.
The council clarified its position Wednesday and included the smokestack in the historic district boundary. This position is shared by the BHPC — which wanted the smokestack included. The BHPC also asked for a buffer from the building to prevent any encroachment by future development.
Peerless Development, which purchased the property in 2019, already has plans for future development on the site. The company plans to build an apartment complex with 77 bedrooms that would be located just north of the proposed historic district, according to city documents.
“Part of the draw (to buying the property) was the iconic nature of the smokestack and the structure,” Michael Cordaro, Peerless founder and principal, said at last week’s council meeting.
Peerless asked the council for the boundary to hug the building a little tighter, effectively minimizing that buffer to make future development plans easier. The council overwhelmingly agreed with Peerless’ request. Only one member of the council, Councilmember Rollo, voted against that new map.
This decision from the council comes on the tail of the BHPC’s vote to allow the Johnson Creamery smokestack to be chopped to 60 feet tall for safety reasons. That outcome seems likely after the council’s action Wednesday, as the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Department ordered the smokestack be taken down to 60 feet within 60 days on March 11.