The Bloomington City Council chose not to vote Tuesday on moving forward with the predesign phase of a community center at Valley View Park, a proposed location that has drawn pushback from neighbors.
Instead, council members said they will support Mayor-elect Tim Busse's idea to explore the concept of "centers of community" rather than one large community center.
Busse, who will surrender his at-large City Council seat when he becomes mayor Jan. 2, thinks the city should invest in and provide amenities at multiple locations across the city in an effort to spur redevelopment in neighborhoods.
In a Monday night meeting that went until 2 a.m. Tuesday, council members also expressed support for holding a referendum on the issue. They plan to revisit the issue and reach out to the community in 2020, when Busse will be mayor and newly-elected Jenna Carter will take her seat on the City Council.
Mayor Gene Winstead said that taking no action at the meeting "leaves the door open for [Valley View] to still be on the table for consideration." He urged the council to come to a solid consensus on any future decisions regarding a community center to avoid ongoing tension.
Winstead said the divisiveness didn't emerge until Valley View Park was chosen as the city's preferred site. He repeatedly said he was disappointed by the opposition group's rhetoric that a community center there would destroy the park.
"We are not going to let this issue be one that divides us well into the future," Busse said.
Council Member Nathan Coulter said the main lesson to be taken from the latest community center conversations is that officials need to rethink how they communicate.
"We need to acknowledge that and we need to learn from it, move forward and simply do better," he said.
Council Member Shawn Nelson said he looked forward to more community engagement and agreed with the decision to reevaluate, but expressed concern over another delay in bringing new community space to the city.
The conversation about a community center began five years ago, when a resident task force recommended the City Council evaluate options for a new community center. Since then, the city has considered multiple sites for the center.
Valley View Park was chosen as the most recent preferred site, as other properties were determined to be too small for a facility with the desired amenities.
"I just want to urge everyone that at a certain point, we need to make a decision on this," Nelson said. "I think I've heard everyone say 'This is the year, we have to do it,' and it didn't happen this year.
"I don't want to rush things … but I've seen how things can get kicked down the [road] until nothing ends up getting done and we are right back where we started."
About two dozen residents stayed through the end of the meeting and applauded the council's decision.
"We are optimistic that some council members have listened to the citizens," said Andrea Chatfield, a member of the Save Valley View Park group. She said the group wants to work with the council to look at other options that would not be a heavy financial burden to residents.
"If the people speak, eventually the powers will listen," she said.