Voice of the Client: Mick Renneisen, Deputy Mayor, City of Bloomington, Indiana

For more than a century, Bloomington Hospital has served its community from a location in the heart of the city. This year, healthcare services will move to the new IU Health Bloomington Regional Academic Health Center, creating the opportunity to reimagine and redevelop the hospital site. The City engaged urban design team Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to guide them through the master planning process, and as a consultant to SOM, CORE Planning Strategies led the community engagement. (View more details on Bloomingtonhospitalsite.com). Shortly after the City published the Master Plan Report for the site, CORE sat down with Mick Renneisen, Bloomington’s Deputy Mayor since 2016, to discuss his perspectives on the plan, key takeaways from the experience, and some fun facts, too.

At a high level, please tell our readers about the transformation envisioned for the Bloomington Hospital site.

Transformation is the right word for it—we’re transforming 24 acres into an environment that our community helped envision. The redevelopment will be a game changer and an important destination in the city’s “string of pearls,” a series of developments along our B-Line Trail, which is adjacent to the site. To the north is the Downtown Courthouse Square; the Trades District; and the convention center, which we hope to expand in the future. Switchyard Park—the newest addition to our parks—is about a half mile south of the hospital site. As a former parks and recreation director, I’m excited about these planned connections to our existing public spaces. The master plan represents a consensus-based vision of how the area should develop over the next decade or more, so I feel fortunate to be part of this once once-in-a-generation opportunity.

What opportunities exist for developers and architecture, engineering and construction firms interested in the redevelopment?

The master plan calls for both public and private investment. We currently have an opportunity to design $10 million worth of infrastructure on some City-owned parcels just east of the hospital site. In late February/early March, we will seek bids from civil engineering firms to begin this first phase, which supports the addition of streets, including a greenway that will be a defining element of the public realm, to the former hospital site. Construction documents should be ready by the end of the year or early 2022.

IU Health will be moving services to the new campus toward the end of the year. The hospital structures will be demolished and the area will be remediated before IU Health turns the parcels over to the City, and we anticipate that will transpire throughout 2022. The City will follow that up with another design process for other public and private sector improvements on the site, with 2022 and 2023 focusing on private development and affordable workforce housing. Our economic advisor suggested there will be $180-200 million in private investment over time.

Based on the success of your public engagement, what approaches do you recommend to other municipalities who might be going through the process in the future?

Our Bloomington community members are extremely engaged and want to have a voice. We’re deliberate in the steps and time we take to go through processes so that our community is invested in the outcomes.

For this project, that involvement started six years ago when IU Health announced their move—that’s when we formed the Hospital Reuse Committee. The committee has more than 30 community members and serves as an advisor, providing checks and balances. In 2018, the committee recommended partnering with the Urban Land Institute to study the site. ULI met with community members and provided ideas about how to approach the redevelopment. We then kicked off a detailed master planning effort led by SOM, with CORE Planning Strategies facilitating a robust public engagement process that took place over several months of 2020.

In the spirit of involving our community, it was important for us to be transparent and keep people informed. We created a website for the project, and everything we’ve done from day one is there. We worked closely with staff and our consultant team to gather and distribute content and make sure the information was easy to find.

How did the COVID pandemic impact your approach to the process?

The COVID pandemic required additional steps to make sure the public was comfortable with our process and that it reflected their input. We appreciated how the team gave us options for public engagement, and we selected from those options based on the community’s expectations. We facilitated surveys, held multiple stakeholder interviews, participated in neighborhood association meetings, and held four online public forums.

We couldn’t gather in person, so we used Zoom for the public forums, and our team made sure we were on the cutting edge of using the tool. The online forums actually ended up providing more engagement opportunities. Two hundred people attended the first one, and we never have that many people at our in-person forums. In addition, many felt the smaller, online breakout rooms provided a more comfortable setting for sharing feedback than standing at the microphone at a public meeting. We were all figuring this out as we went, and it wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day, our plan was a product by the community and by consensus.

How has the partnership with CORE Planning Strategies enhanced the master planning process?

Having already worked with CORE on two parking structures, we were pleased when they joined SOM’s master planning team because we know they’re thorough and good listeners. CORE finds out what we need and then makes it happen. I give them high marks for their flexibility and adaptability to meet their client’s needs.

This is a big project that takes a lot of effort and time. We’re currently in year six of what will be 16 or so years of development, and none of us are permanent fixtures in a project like this. Solid planning means you’re leaving your successors with something that has been vetted and accepted by the community, and that’s powerful. Future staff members and mayors have a great foundation to build on, and CORE’s work with public engagement has contributed to that.

You have an unusually high count of Hawaiian shirts in your wardrobe. What’s the scoop on those?

Since 1984, I’ve been fortunate to be a statistician for Indiana basketball, along with two other colleagues. In 1995, we were given the opportunity to work for the three-day Maui Invitational basketball tournament, and they’ve asked us back every year. For each day of the tournament, we receive Hawaiian shirts to wear, so I’ve collected more than 75 Hawaiian shirts over the past 26 years. I find it fun to award them as special prizes or incentives for people we work with and recently gave some to our project managers.

Special thanks to the master planning project team:

Team Lead, Project Management, and Urban Design and Planning: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Blog image renderings)

Community Engagement: CORE Planning Strategies

Local Architect: Kirkwood Design Studio

Landscape Architecture and Public Realm Design: Merritt Chase

Civil and Transportation Engineering: Shrewsberry

Market Analysis & Economics: SB Friedman Development Advisors

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