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Former Bloomington Hospital Site Aims for Sustainable Redevelopment

by: Jack Quigley
Photo courtesy of SOM
Photo courtesy of SOM
Photo courtesy of Tomorrow AB
Photo courtesy of Tomorrow AB
Photo courtesy of Tomorrow AB
Photo courtesy of Tomorrow AB
The City of Bloomington purchased IU Health’s former downtown hospital site – bound by Second, Rogers, First, and Fairview Streets – to steer the area’s redevelopment consistent with the values of Bloomington residents. Foremost among those expressed communal values for the site were sustainability and inclusion.

Skidmore Owens & Merrill (SOM), CORE Planning Strategies, and others worked with the City of Bloomington and residents to formulate a Master Plan for the site that lays the groundwork for a long-lasting, human-scaled neighborhood in the heart of downtown.

“As one of several major developments in Bloomington, the city consulted the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to recommend objectives for redevelopment,” said Douglas Voigt, Urban Planning and Design Partner at SOM. “These goals include public and mixed income housing, office space, connectivity of public spaces, and mixed-use community spaces, all keeping within the scale of the surrounding developments and improving the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic along the B-Line.”

Engaging the Bloomington Community
Local neighborhood groups and other Bloomington residents who share an interest in the redevelopment helped the city reimagine the former hospital site.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said an inherent challenge exists with expansive redevelopment projects like this between neighborhoods within the immediate vicinity of the site and the city’s wider community. Navigating the range of interests from those who once lived next to the hospital or live there now, versus those who may want to live there requires a creative team of professionals, planners, and designers, Hamilton said.

“One of the constant challenges is trying to not just listen to the voices in your community today but listen for the voices of your community tomorrow; the ones who are not here yet,” Hamilton said. “What will they seek and what kind of quality of life will they want, and how do you make a city neighborhood work for people who aren’t here yet and try to listen for those voices and values?”

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Starting with SOM and CORE Planning Strategies, the City of Bloomington assembled a project team to engage Bloomington residents and communities from around the world in an effort to understand how basic societal values for redevelopment projects like this are evolving.

Josh Scism, MPM, CLSGB, Senior Project Manager at CORE Planning Strategies, said Bloomington first sought community input for the Master Plan through smaller, more traditional group settings like meet-n-greets and homeowners association meetings before ramping up into larger mediums such as city-wide surveys and public forums.

Public forums for this project were conducted virtually – a change in format made necessary by the pandemic, but Scism said the switch to digital ended up facilitating a more streamlined engagement process in certain areas.

Bloomington Deputy Mayor Mick Renneisen also said online forums allowed additional opportunities for a larger number of residents to provide input on the project. Two hundred people attended the first meeting, exceeding the attendance of any past in-person forums.

Additionally, many residents felt that smaller online breakout rooms provided a more comfortable setting for sharing feedback than the traditional method of standing at a microphone during a public meeting,

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“We learned that it’s really hard to answer questions in the traditional style when you’ve got a hundred people on a webinar,” Scism said. “It just gets cluttered. We quickly learned the best thing to do was break them out into work groups based on interest.”

More than a specific wish list of elements to be included in the redevelopment, Mayor Hamilton said the City of Bloomington tried to unearth values that their community wanted imbedded in this project through regular consultations with residents.

Two prevailing principles expressed by the Bloomington community for this development were sustainability and inclusion.

Building an Inclusive and Sustainable Neighborhood
The City of Bloomington purchased the site’s 24 acres from IU Health to give city officials the ability to steer this development consistent with the community’s values.

“We’re a 200-year-old city, we’ve had a long history, and we want to have a long future where people from all walks of life are welcome and can thrive,” Mayor Hamilton said. “I think the hospital site redevelopment offers a chance to create one of our most diverse and inclusive neighborhoods with many different price points for housing, both ownership and rental.”

One example of the city’s commitment to creating more affordable and diverse housing options is their openness to maintaining and reusing the 1947 limestone, art-deco Kohr Administration Building, the oldest structure onsite named after an early hospital administrator.

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According to The Bloomington Hospital Site Redevelopment Master Plan, the Kohr building is the only portion of the existing hospital structure that has retained architectural significance and maintains a high degree of integrity on its exterior as well as a low-to-moderate degree of integrity on its interior. Mayor Hamilton said the City hopes to turn the Kohr building into a low-income housing project that will double the building in size while maintaining its existing elements.

The Master Plan notes that historic designation of the building may open up the potential for historic rehabilitation tax credits to be used for future development.

Mayor Hamilton’s commitment to building sustainable societies can be traced back to his history as the overseer of Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management.

“The choice of where you live affects so many things about you and your carbon footprint,” Hamilton said. “Being able to let hundreds or thousands of people live in this location itself is probably the most significant step we as a city can take toward lowering our carbon footprint.”

Major green stormwater designs and the re-gridding of streets from one mega block into more traditional urban block structures will help create more a walkable, bikeable, and human scaled neighborhood, Mayor Hamilton said. Future residents at the transformed site will enjoy the site’s close proximity to Bloomington’s B-Line, Building Trades Park, and some of the city’s major grocery stores.

Opportunities for AEC Businesses
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Firms from across the state, region, and country are encouraged to participate in the development of this 75-acre site.

“We absolutely want to welcome the best and brightest minds to try to create a 21st century neighborhood,” Hamilton said.

Mayor Hamilton said this project presents a rare opportunity to not only transform 24 acres purchased by the city from IU Health, but also to develop another 50 acres of medically zoned land around the downtown site.

Hamilton said, “Having 75 acres in the heart of a vibrant university city like this to redevelop – we want to be challenged. We want to be stretched. We want partners who can help envision and then realize what a future Bloomington can look like 50 years from now and make those investments today.”

Bloomington sought bids from civil engineering firms in late February and early March to begin the project’s first phase, which supports the addition of streets, including a greenway that will act as a defining element of the public realm to the former hospital site. Construction documents will likely be ready by end of 2021 or early 2022, according to the Master Plan.

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