Twenty elected officials to meet and discuss one topic : Convention center expansion

Twenty elected officials are now scheduled to meet on Monday, Sept. 16, to discuss the expansion of the convention center in downtown Bloomington. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at the existing convention center, on the southwest corner of College Avenue and 3rd Street.

Monroe County commissioners announced the scheduling of the 20-strong gathering at the start of their regular Wednesday morning meeting.

Bloomington’s mayor (1), the city council (9), the Monroe County Council (7) and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners (3) have agreed to come together to talk about how to move the convention center project ahead.

The backdrop to the meeting is the work of a city-county steering committee over several months, which culminated earlier this year, in May.

After the steering committee’s recommendations were made, city and county officials batted around drafts of a possible new MOU (memorandum of understanding) that would underpin continued collaboration on the convention center expansion project. Nothing concrete emerged from that back-and-forth.

In late July, the county’s board of commissioners made a public invitation to other elected officials to meet and discuss how to move forward. A key component of the county commissioners’ July 24 memo was the idea of creating a capital improvement board (CIB), which is enabled by statute, Indiana Code 36-10-8. The CIB would own, manage and control the expanded convention center.

After the regular board of commissioners meeting on Wednesday, president Julie Thomas said that the Sept. 16 meeting, which she thinks won’t go longer than 90 minutes, would focus on just the first point of the July 24 memo, which is funding.

Also highlighting the funding issue was Wednesday’s statement from the county board of commissioners:

The expansion of the convention center includes renovations to the current facility, the construction of a second building, erecting a new parking garage, creating at least one connector, and properly incentivizing a new hotel development. The total cost for this expansion is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $59 M—not including incentives for the hotel. The food and beverage tax created by the County Council can support a 20-year, $30 M bond. Together, we need to identify additional funding sources to support the $59 M total estimated cost plus the additional incentives for the construction of a hotel. These funding sources should be identified before any work begins.

Thomas said the July 24 memo would define the agenda for the Sept. 16 meeting, but she did not think the group would be able to tackle anything more than the topic of funding. Once the funding issue was handled, she said, the other points would be easier to address.

Asked who would run the Sept 16 meeting, Thomas said she would play the role of chair, but that the group would sort out its own rules.

Scheduling for the Sept. 16 meeting was arranged through a Doodle poll conducted in the last couple weeks. Appearing in the Herald Times on Sunday, Sept. 1 was an op-ed by Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, Erin Predmore, who addressed the topic of  the convention center project.

The op-ed said, “The current center, which opened in 1991, is a partnership between Monroe County and the city of Bloomington.” It’s a description that county commissioners on Wednesday morning said is not accurate.

The  statement from commissioners said the current convention center is not a partnership: “The current Convention Center is wholly owned by Monroe County, and proceeds from the county’s inn-keepers’ tax pays for its operations.”

Asked after the Wednesday regular meeting about idea that currently the convention center was some kind of partnership between the city and the county, Thomas said she thought it was a “myth” that has developed over the years.

The convention center is not currently a partnership between the city and the county, Thomas said, but the idea now is to establish such a partnership for the new, expanded center.