Rivian Motorway name change approved by city council despite opposition

Rivian Automotive's Normal, IL factory. (Photo: Rivian)

The City Council of Bloomington, Illinois approved a motion last night to rename the highway where Rivian’s main manufacturing plant is located to Rivian Motorway. The road, which has parts located in both Bloomington and Normal, is currently named Mitsubishi Motorway after the prior owner of the facility. After some deliberation, the Council voted 7 to 2 to move forward with the requested name change.

Prior to the Bloomington Council’s meeting, the vote on the naming matter was expected to largely be a formality. However, one council member was decidedly against the motion. Donna Boelen, Alderwoman of Ward 2, objected over several concerns focused on the long-term ramifications of the move.

“Is this really in the best interest of the City of Bloomington and the region? It’s an unfortunate precedent that streets have been named after companies, and I would like to see that come to an end,” Boelen commented. “Rivian has two other operational entities, one in California, and one in Michigan… Rivian did not meet its incentive goal last year. They promised 1,000 employees over the next ten years, and that only means 100 per year.”

Along with casting doubts about Rivian’s long-term prospects in Illinois, Boelen further asserted that street names are free advertising that could deter future businesses from setting up shop nearby as there are several vacant lots near Rivian’s facility that could be developed.

Rivian’s 2.6M SQFT Factory in Normal, IL (Photo: Christian Prenzler)

Renaming Mitsubishi Motorway would also require local businesses to incur significant expenses, Boelen further claimed, citing one business owner’s quote of $5,000 to update their website and advertising materials with the new street name. This particular point caused a bit of debate among the members, specifically with regard to the amount cited.

“I have a really hard time understanding where a $5,000 total could possibly come from,” one member objected. “I mean, changing a website and changing the line to Rivian from Mitsubishi should take somebody like 5 minutes at the most… I think maybe he should have some serious conversations with his web developer at that point.” Mayor Teri Renner also added a comment about the overall street naming precedent in response to Boelen’s concerns. “It’s pretty common throughout the entire United States to name streets after major investors,” he said. “That is part of what some people think of as pro-business.”

The Town Council for Normal, where Rivian’s facility is actually located, had its own debate about the name change despite its motion ultimately being approved 4-2 in early July. Council member Stan Nord cited concerns about electronic databases adjusting to the temporary nature of businesses in the long term. Other members were not convinced that a problem existed, though, noting that new streets and street name changes were very common across the country.

Rivian specifically requested the name change earlier this year, according to a memo written by Assistant City Manager Eric Hanson to the Normal City Council. “Obviously, it’s not necessarily advantageous for them to bring (potential investors) down Mitsubishi Motorway,” he said. “ A second road for access to Rivian’s factory is also planned for renaming, citing the same reasons – Sakura Lane will be renamed Electric Avenue.

The nascent car maker bought their factory headquarters from Mitsubishi in 2017, and efforts are currently underway to transition to the electrified lineup they have in the works to include the R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV. Interestingly, many of the workers currently involved in Rivian’s changeover process were part of the original Mitsubishi team that opened the factory when it was new.

Rivian must gain one more approval from the McLean County Board before Rivian Motorway is final. Along with the Normal and Bloomington Councils, the Illinois Emergency Telephone Systems Board has also approved the move. The County Board will consider the request later this month.

The City Council’s deliberations in full can be viewed below:

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