In the mid-1960s, people, including businesses and jobs, began leaving downtown Bloomington and over time, the abandoned buildings began to fall into disrepair. By the early 1980s, community leaders, along with CFC Properties, a real estate development and property management company specializing in historic renovation, recognized a desperate need to overhaul the downtown.
CFC led the charge, determined to reverse the downward spiral that had been affecting Bloomington’s downtown for so long. After renovating Graham Plaza (at the northwest corner of the downtown square) and Uptown Plaza (on the west side of the square), CFC proposed to renovate the entire south side of the downtown square. The massive project initially involved 13 buildings and would provide momentum to revitalization efforts.
Jim Murphy, President of CFC Properties, shared…
“Not every building is worth saving. This one was.”
Referred as the “Anchor Project,” it included all the buildings along Kirkwood Avenue between College Avenue and Walnut Street, including three additional buildings just behind the main strip on the south side. The plan was to preserve what could be and rebuild, repurpose, and renovate the rest.
Bill Cook, co-founder of Cook Medical, a global medical device manufacturing company, and CFC Properties, would say…
“Providing the opportunity for another person to have a job is one of the most noble things one can do.”
Over four years, the Anchor Project went through three renovation phases before it was complete. The three buildings on the south side were demolished to provide space for a parking lot and loading area, and the remaining ten were merged into one and given the name Fountain Square Mall. The name was inspired by Fountain Federal Savings Bank, who was a key player in the renovation project. The grand opening of the newly constructed 130,000 square feet mall took place on September 10, 1988.
Herman B. Wells, Indiana University Chancellor, said that the renovation was…
“A remarkable achievement… none of this could have happened without the leadership and inspiration of Bill and Gayle Cook.”
By 2016, the ‘mall’ designation was removed from the Fountain Square name, and the building was repositioned and rebranded as a multi-use center that provided leasable space for retailers, service providers, businesses, and events.
Following the pandemic that lingered from 2020 – 2022, the events portion was unable to operate. By 2023, it was decided those services would not resume. However, CFC continues to provide a festive environment for the holidays. Since the renovation, Fountain Square has been known as the home to the authentic Santa Claus. Every year, the community looks forward to visiting to see and interact with several holiday scenes, activities, and events. Popular holiday events include the Pajamborie Party, photos and stories with Santa, and more.
With mentions in several publications, blog post articles, and social media posts, Fountain Square has been coined as one of Bloomington’s top photographic destinations. It’s easy to fall head-over-heels for its preserved historical character. All ten buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The exterior offers many charming features and embellishments, and it’s hard to miss the iconic pink wall along Walnut Street with its cascading flower window boxes.
Once in the main atrium, visitors enjoy riding the glass elevator, climbing the large yellow staircase, posing in the red British phone booth, and tossing a coin or two into the one-story fountain on the lower level. In addition, visitors can also browse the two retail wings dedicated to nearly 20 boutique shops or get a bite to eat at the quaint restaurant on the lower level near the Walnut Street entrance.