Bloomington panel won’t support chain-store ban

A task force appointed by Bloomington’s mayor has decided against supporting his push to ban new chain stores and restaurants from parts of the city’s downtown, and will instead consider other steps to protect the character of the area.

Supporters of restrictions said they believed some limits can be placed on businesses around the courthouse square and streets near the Indiana University campus.

One businessman told the group Tuesday that the threat of chain stores to the city’s character isn’t that great. CFC Inc. President Jim Murphy says that his company couldn’t attract chain-store tenants to its downtown property because of the city’s design restrictions and a lack of foot traffic.

Those issues haven’t deterred all chain stores and some downtown sites could be redeveloped for such businesses, said Tim Micuda, the city’s planning director.

"They could be substantial, and they could be substantially impacting us," he said.

City Councilwoman Isabel Piedmont-Smith says she doesn’t want to remove existing chain stores, but wants to ensure they don’t dominate the community.

As IBJ reported in October, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan came up with the idea of banning chains in an effort to preserve the college town’s identity. 

"For Bloomington, uniqueness is our strength,” he said then.

Already, the first block of Kirkwood Avenue outside Indiana University’s Sample Gates hosts as many franchises as any strip center. Urban Outfitters, Dunkin Donuts, Noodles & Co. and Panda Express operate alongside Nick’s English Hut and other longtime local fixtures. Kruzan said he became concerned recently when plans emerged to redevelop two key sites.

One is the former Linnemeier building, 422 E. Kirkwood, which housed a dentist’s office and independently owned balloon shop. The building was demolished over the summer, and the site is slated to become luxury apartments with street-level retail. The other is the former Ladyman’s Cafe at Kirkwood and Washington Street, where a developer is planning condos with ground-floor retail.

Kruzan formed the task force to evaluate the implications of a possible chain ban.

Last month, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce said it opposed Kruzan’s proposal.

“We see no evidence of an imminent or future threat to the vitality of the downtown–nor a compelling argument of similar nature–that would justify restricting chain or formula businesses in the downtown,” chamber CEO Christy Gillenwater said in a prepared statement released Nov. 4.

The chamber said it surveyed more than 850 members. Approximately 170 surveys, or 20 percent, were returned. Among those businesses that responded, 70 percent opposed “any sort of ban on chains or formula businesses in downtown Bloomington,” the chamber stated.

City staffers intend to present the task force early next year with several proposals for restrictions, Micuda said.

"We don’t expect (to reach) consensus, but our goal is to appeal to some of the different points of view we’ve heard," he said.

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