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City to review plans for Showers West, public safety in Bloomington

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Nearly 30 city leaders, employees and community members met Wednesday to share their perspectives on the ongoing Showers West project and ideas to improve Bloomington public safety during a public work meeting between the council and the mayor’s office. By the conclusion of the meeting, Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson said the city will put decisions regarding the future of the Showers West building on hold until it can review funding options and unanswered questions associated with the project.  

Bloomington Public Safety 

To begin the Wednesday meeting, Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson asked attendees to consider how they think Bloomington’s public safety will look different in the future. 

City councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said the city should invest in resources that prevent crime and address systemic issues with the justice system. She also said the city needs to pay police officers more.  

“The system of public safety relying on police  is a broken system,” Piedmont-Smith said. “I think that is no less true for the city of Bloomington.” 

Bloomington Police Department Chief Michael Diekhoff said before the police can implement new social programs, they need to address staff shortages. Diekhoff said the department is currently short-staffed by around 20 officers. 

“I agree that there needs to be changes in policing I think we at BPD have embraced that philosophy and have already started to do that,” Diekhoff said. “We are limited right now in what we can do because we are short-staffed, and the bulk of our time is spent responding to calls.”  

Thomson said another way to alleviate the workload of police and fire departments is for the city to provide solutions for homelessness in Bloomington.   

“It’s at crisis levels, and the people who are unhoused are living in crisis,” Thomson said. “If we want to throw some money at doing something that is upstream to help, getting a plan that is going to help people move beyond crisis is the single most impactful thing we can do.” 

While much of Wednesday’s meeting surrounded how relocation to Showers West would impact BPD, Bloomington Fire Department Chief Roger Kerr urged attendees to consider the fire department’s role in the future of public safety. Councilmember Hopi Stosberg echoed Kerr’s concerns.  

“There’s lots of pieces of public safety, lots of pieces that keep our community safe because it’s not just about police and crime,” Stosberg said. “It’s about car accidents, accidental fires, electrical issues, water main breaks and flooding.” 

At the end of the meeting, Thomson said her administration will look at how it can adjust its plan for Showers West to address the overall concerns with public safety. She said her administration will look at how they could expand the current BPD headquarters, increasing certain areas of funding and collaborating with the county.  

History of the Showers West Project  

The city purchased the western portion of the Showers Building, located at 320 W. 8th St., for $8.75 million in January 2023 with plans to relocate the BPD and BFD administration. 

However, the decision to relocate BPD has faced pushback from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, which represents officers from BPD. FOP 88 representatives voiced concerns about the accessibility and safety of the Showers West location.  

The Bloomington Redevelopment Commission voted to reject all renovation bids for the Showers West building during their meeting Feb. 5. At this meeting, Thomson told the commission she wanted to work with the city council to ensure future decisions about the police headquarters are made “in the interest of the future of public safety.”  

The Showers West building houses businesses including the Bank of America, Bloomington Health Foundation, Monroe County CASA, Warrant Technologies, ProBleu, Bloomington Board of Realtors and the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra. The city hired a realtor to negotiate early lease terminations with these tenants. However, these lease terminations have faced pushback from some tenants.  

By rejecting the bids, the commission also halted lease terminations with businesses in the building.  

At the RDC’s Feb. 5 meeting, city attorney Larry Allen said the city no longer plans to sell the current police headquarters on Third Street, which was listed for $3.2 million in October 2023. The City Council rejected the sale of this building in December 2023. However, city officials indicated plans to relocate the fire administration to Showers West will likely move forward.  

In January, Thomson’s administration created a working group to review the Showers West project. City council members Isak Asare and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, former mayor John Fernandez, former Board of Public Safety member Susan Yoon, and executive director of the Community Justice and Mediation Center Liz Grenat serve on the working group. This group advises Thomson on the next steps for the project. The working group has reviewed four plans for the Showers West project.  

The first plan, which would cost around $8,887,708, would relocate BPD and BFD administration to Showers West, according to a city council memorandum 

The second plan would expand the BPD headquarters on Third Street  which is currently 20,000 square feet  by 15,000 square feet, which would house the fire administration. The city estimates this plan would cost around $10,637,357.  

Under the third proposed plan, the city would construct a new 35,000 square foot building to house BPD and BFD administration. Although a site for this building is not provided in the memorandum, the city estimates this plan would cost at least $12,637,357.  

The fourth plan proposes renovating the current BPD headquarters and moving the BFD administration to Showers West. The estimated cost of this plan is around $362,642.  

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