Mayor Kruzan looks to future expansion “You are my Bloomington,” Mayor Mark Kruzan told about 100 people who gathered at the Liberty Ballroom for the Sept. 10 IURA luncheon. “I came to Bloomington in 1978 from Lake County, and because of the faculty and staff in this room, I have had life opportunities I never dreamed of.”
When he arrived in 1978, the population of Bloomington was 48,000. Now it is 84,000. By 2035, Mark said, a conservative estimate of the population is 125,000. “I-69 will bring more people who commute to Indianapolis,” he said. “As residents increasingly outnumber students, the average age will increase. We are planning now for that future.”
Mark explained how planning priorities have changed over the decades. In the 1980s the east side wanted shopping opportunities. In the 1990s the west side said it had been overlooked. By the 2000s, he said, “you couldn’t run for office without talking about sprawl.” Policies for increased density resulted in such buildings as Smallwood, which, Mark observed, “is neither small nor wood.”
The emphasis in what he called the 20-teens is demographic balance in the downtown area. Other cities – Muncie, Anderson, Terre Haute, Evansville – consider Bloomington’s downtown a huge success. Longtime residents, on the other hand, tend to romanticize what it was like in the 1980s. Yet many of those old buildings were firetraps, about to collapse.
As Bloomington’s mayor since 2004, “I have taken a very conservative approach to annexation,” Mark said. “I have been concerned with moving too fast because of the impact of expanding city services such as fire, police, parks, streets, recycling, and sanitation into new areas.”
Adding 5,000 households, 9,000 people, to city services overnight would strain resources enormously. Sanitation is a particular concern. The costs of providing trash pickup and recycling exceed revenue from trash stickers by more than $1.5 million per year.
Another challenge facing the city is water. “We came perilously close to running out of water a couple of summers ago,” Mark said. “It was not a matter of supply – Lake Monroe had plenty of water – but the water treatment plant was maxed out.” The $45 million improvement in the water treatment plant assures an adequate supply for the next several decades.
The new challenge will be the politics of water. “We don’t own Lake Monroe,” Mark pointed out. “We’re just a customer.” The donut counties around Indianapolis have their eyes on Lake Monroe as a way to supply water to them. “The challenge will be how to manage, conserve, and share,” he said.
In introducing the mayor, IURA President John Hobson pointed out the recognition Bloomington has received. The state Chamber of Commerce named it Indiana’s Community of the Year, Forbes called it the best city for work-life balance, and Travel and Leisure ranked it the ninth quirkiest town in America.
“The quirkiness of Bloomington is a marketable commodity,” Mark said. “It sets us apart from peer communities. Our three main challenges are growth, growth, and growth. My approach to each decision is a desire to maintain our uniqueness – to keep it quirky.”
“At the height – or depth – of the recent depression,” Mark said, “we made the decision to go forward and make investments.” The city acquired the Sportsplex, built 30 miles of pedestrian and bicycle trails, upgraded the water treatment plant, and provided a joint fire-police training facility. “We knew eventually the economy would turn around,” he said.
In answer to a question about whether IU Health Bloomington Hospital would move, Mark said, “It’s not a matter of if but when. It’s no longer a local decision. The city’s main concern is how the move