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Former Bloomington Kmart Property May See Progress As Early As Next Year

kmart east

The former Kmart site has sat empty for years. (Tyler Lake, WTIU/WFIU News)

It’s been three years since the Kmart on Bloomington’s east side shut down and more than a few Bloomington residents are curious about the future plans for what is now an abandoned storefront and a lot of empty parking spots. East side resident Doris Burton wants to know what is happening with what could be the next big development on that side of town.

“I am wondering what has happened to the development of the Kmart east property. At one time there was a great deal of publicity about this, there were plans in the newspaper and we got to vote on what sort of layout we like best and nothing more has happened it’s sort of disappeared,” Burton says.

She’s right, last summer the final public input session for the 12-acre property adjacent to College Mall gave city residents a chance to hear ideas and give feedback. But since then, not much has happened with the site.

kmart
The 12-acre former Kmart site could become mixed-use retail and multi-generational housing. (Tyler Lake, WFIU/WTIU News)

The proposal was a mixed-use development with retail, grocery, multi-generational housing and a hotel. Now Aaron Bartels, senior vice-president of Lafayette-based Trinitas Development, says the hotel is probably not in the cards.

“I think we have since learned over the last year in continuing the conversation, that the demand for hotel has subsided, the demands in economics for office uses doesn’t support development at this time,” Bartels says.

He says the latest draft for the site won’t vary much from the plans shown to the public last July.

But that new development may not spring up all at once. He says they will phase in development of the site over time.

And at the heart of the new project is what Bartels calls a multi-family development, which he says means it’s not just housing for students. But Trinitas focuses on what they call “campus edge locations,” and that’s one thing Burton, is worried about.

“One thing I am not real excited about is more student housing and the traffic it generates,” Burton says.

She says she isn’t bothered by students, but fears a large number of people moving to the site would add to an already congested area.

kmartdoor
Trinitas may start tearing down the existing structure some time next year. (Tyler Lake, WTIU/WFIU News)

“Most of the time it’s backed up from the bypass to as far back as the Kmart property. Even though there are two lanes there,” she says. “This is I think a real problem if we put in some sort of development that creates a lot more car traffic.”

But Bartels says the development could result in less traffic than it created a few years ago, saying it will draw fewer cars than did the 120,000 square foot Kmart retail location.

And change is coming soon to the former retail site. Bartels says in the next couple of months Trinitas with begin to re-engage the community about the proposal.

“The pause is just the natural cycle of development. For us it was digesting what we heard last year and really taking stock of the physical plan but also the comments and the input that we heard in the community,” he says.

He also says Trinitas didn’t want to accelerate its efforts until four new city council members take their seats early next year. But plans are moving forward.

“Ideally we have something by the end of the year that we can file, and be in a position to begin construction of that initial phase, whether it’s the demolition of the existing Kmart building or starting to put in the public infrastructure on the site, begin that work this time next year,” Bartels says.

Burton says she also concerned about a Bloomington staple that currently sits in the corner of the property.

I also liked the thought that they were going to provide room for Bloomingfoods to return to that particular area,” she says.

bfoods front
The developers say they want to make Bloomingfoods a part of future development plans. (Tyler Lake, WTIU/WFIU News)

And Bartels says he wants the new project to reflect the character of the city and the co-op grocery can help with that.

“Bloomingfoods brings that character, so we’ve had conversations with them, we want them to be part of that plan and we think there is a viable opportunity to do so,” he says.

And that’s something Maggie Sullivan, board president of Bloomingfoods, would like to see as well.

“Bloomingfoods would love to maintain a presence on the east side. I know we have many loyal customers that that’s the most convenient place for them,” Sullivan says.

Bartels says their planners have been following the city’s draft version of the Unified Development Ordinance and the project will fit with goals the city has outlined in that document. City leaders say they have not seen an official plan for development on the site.

But the future of the property is still up in the air, and the fate of the project will most likely lie in the hands of a much changed city council, sometime next year.

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