Bloomington, Monroe County both move on separate land acquisitions as part of planned expansion of convention center

Some important pieces of a downtown development puzzle were slotted into place this week, as the City of Bloomington and Monroe County both made progress on separate real estate deals.

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The red-circled area highlighted on the map shows the area of downtown Bloomington where a an expansion of the Monroe County Convention Center is planned. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The transactions are expected to factor into a planned expansion of the county’s convention center, located at 3rd Street and College Avenue. Neither deal decides the direction of the expansion—at this point only westward appears to have been ruled out. The city wants to expand north. The county is not committed to that direction.

At the Monroe County Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday morning, the three-member board approved a $500,000 deal to purchase a couple of parcels making up the parking lot of the NAPA Auto Parts store at Walnut and 3rd streets.

Two days earlier, the city closed on a nearly $5-million deal to buy most of the block north of the existing convention center. The block is bounded south-to-north by 3rd and 4th streets and east-to-west by College Avenue and the B-Line Trail. Deputy Mayor Mick Renneisen told The Beacon the purchase price was $4,995,000.

Renneisen said the city is now pursuing negotiations with the owners of the remaining part of the block, which are a couple of parcels that make up the parking lot of the Bunger & Robertson law firm’s building, which was the parcel purchased by the city on Monday. The previous owner is listed in county property records as RBOWA LLC, and state records show James Whitlatch, an attorney with Bugner & Robertson, as the registered agent.

The city’s approach was first to buy the more significant piece of real estate, with the intent later to acquire the smaller neighboring piece, from a different owner. The concept echoes that of the county, which is now buying a smaller piece, after purchasing some surrounding parcels, including a building, almost a decade ago.

The multi-parcel deal done by the county in November of 2010 with Sycamore Property Investments was a transaction recorded in sales records at $2.735 million. County attorney Jeff Cockerill said at Wednesday’s meeting that the owner of the smaller parcel did not want to sell at the time. Property records show the owner as Canita McPheeters. It’s her estate from which the county is now buying the land.

The county’s deal approved by county commissioners at their Wednesday meeting is still contingent on approval by the County Council and the Convention and Visitor Commission (CVC), Cockerill said at the meeting. Involvement by the CVC stems from the source of funds the county is using for the purchase, which is the five-percent innkeeper’s tax levied in Monroe County.

When that transaction is final, the canvas on which the city and county’s development plans are being painted will still have two real estate holes to fill—even if much of the land envisioned for the convention center expansion is now controlled  by local governments.

One hole is the parking lot next to the Bunger & Roberson Building. County records show Thomas Sicks and Nancy Held as owners.

Another hole is the property on the south end of the block where the city’s now-derelict 4th Street parking garage stands. The property is currently owned by Juan Carlos Carrasquel, whose building at 222 S. Walnut is home to Realty Company.

The city has started  eminent domain proceedings to take the land, because it would allow for the city to build a replacement parking structure on a larger footprint. For the same number of spaces, a building on a larger footprint could be designed shorter, which would help the project exceed by a lesser margin the city’s height limit for that area.

Based on documents provided by the city in response to a records request from The Beacon, the city offered Carrasquel $587,500 for the building. Carrasquel stated publicly, at the plan commission’s July 8 meeting, that he’s not interested in selling the building to the city. He’s objecting to the eminent domain proceedings in Monroe County Circuit Court. Those proceedings could last several months.

In conversation with county commissioners after their meeting, president of the board Julie Thomas pointed out to The Beacon that the city’s replacement parking garage at 4th Street is not intended to have capacity to serve an expanded convention center. That means additional parking would need to be constructed for the bigger convention center, she said—and it would need to go somewhere on the land controlled by either the city or the county.

Other components of the planned convention center expansion are likely to include a hotel. County commissioners on Wednesday told The Beacon that the future location of a hotel, an additional parking structure and the expansion of the convention center itself was still not determined.

Thomas said the convention center steering committee’s recommendation, made in May, to expand across 3rd Street to the north did not mean a final decision on the location of the expansion. It is certain, though, that it will be built on land controlled by the city or the county in the area neighboring the convention center.

From the city’s perspective, the recommendation to expand northward is reflected in some April design charettes which focused on that location. Deputy mayor Renneisen said the purchase of the Bunger & Robertson property this week also reflects the city’s view that northward is the direction that makes the most sense for expansion.

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The red-circled area highlighted on the map shows the area of downtown Bloomington where a an expansion of the Monroe County Convention Center is planned. (Dave Askins/Beacon)