County, city disagreement defused with oral agreement to pursue CIB for convention center expansion, down to working out details

Two days short of the second anniversary of the Monroe County council’s vote to enact a 1-percent food and beverage tax, city of Bloomington and county officials have agreed on the basics of the governance structure for a $59-million convention center expansion.

By law, the tax has to be spent on the expansion of the current convention center facility or related economic development projects.  The current facility is located on the southwest the corner of College Avenue and 3rd Street.

The oral agreement, in principle to pursue a capital improvement board (CIB), was reached at Wednesday morning’s regular work session of the county commissioners. The session was attended by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, a handful of city councilmembers and other city staff.

If the city and the county can work out the details, a CIB could be established through an ordinance approved by the three-member board of county commissioners as soon as next Thursday (Dec. 19). City and county officials plan to meet at 4 p.m. that day to try to put together a draft of an interlocal agreement on the CIB. [Updated 10:45 Dec. 12, 2019: The formation of the CIB could also come a day earlier, at the regular meeting of the commissioners on Dec. 18.]

Signatories to the interlocal agreement would include the mayor, the county council, the county commissioners, and the city council. County commissioners heard the first reading of such a CIB ordinance on Dec. 4.

The project has been stalled over the governance question since late May when a nine-member steering committee made a recommendation on a choice of site plan—for a northward expansion. The choice of the specific site appears now that it will be made by the CIB that the city and county have agreed should be formed.

Hamilton led off Wednesday’s discussion by saying that he still felt that a 501(c)(3) non-profit has merit as an option for governance of the convention center expansion. But that was followed immediately by a statement of the city’s willingness to pursue a CIB, provided the CIB included certain elements.

Hamilton said if the elements of a CIB couldn’t be worked out, he thought a 501(c)(3) should be revisited.

The city’s requested elements of CIB elements were included in a written bulleted list distributed to attendees. The ensuing discussion identified some of the bullets as problematic, but apparently not in a deal-breaking way.

Many of the bullet points serve to give the city some roles that are parallel to those already specified for the county in the CIB statute. For example, the city council would need to approve the CIB’s budget and any CIB-issued bonds. Some bullet points would give the city some influence on the operations side of the expanded convention center, which is a role played currently only by the county. For example, the annual convention and visitors commission (CVC) budget would need approval from the city council.

As an example of an element that’s almost certain to get crossed off the list, one bullet point called for the CIB to name the new facility. City councilmember Dorothy Granger reacted to that bullet point saying she did not want to see naming rights sold for the building.

Another point that will likely be elided from the final, agreed-upon elements is the city’s request that the city’s controller be named as the CIB’s controller.

Hamilton gave some mild resistance to crossing that one off the list, because he wants the CIB to be able start its work as soon as the first week of 2020. Finding someone to serve as a controller would mean a delay, compared to just using the city’s controller, Hamilton said. City council president Dave Rollo said he wanted the CIB controller to be independent of the city.

Early in Wednesday’s meeting with county officials, Rollo gave an assurance about a constraint on the expenditure of food and beverage tax funds to pay architect’s fees for the design phase of the project. Rollo told the group that an amendment would be added to the city council’s $6 million appropriation ordinance to be considered later that evening. The amendment would stipulate that the city would spend not food and beverage tax dollars appropriated under the ordinance, unless city and county agreed in writing to a governance structure, Rollo said.

The city council made good on Rollo’s assurance at its Wednesday meeting on an 8–0 vote. (Chris Sturbaum was absent.)

Also at its Wednesday evening meeting, the city council added an amendment that expressed an aspiration, in a “whereas” clause, that the convention center achieve some energy efficiency standard like LEED Platinum energy standard and/or Net Zero. Councilmembers recognized that design decisions like that would fall to the members of the CIB board, which had implications for appointments to the CIB board. That amendment was also adopted on an 8–0 vote.

The inclusion of a parking garage in the project generated some discussion in connection with the energy efficiency requirements.

Also discussed at Wednesday morning’s meeting was the plan for the city to sign a letter of intent (LOI) with Convergence Design, the chosen architect for the project, which would not include anything related to design features or site plan. An LOI will, according to city attorney Mike Rouker, allow the city to encumber the funds in the appropriation ordinance. If the funds are not encumbered by Dec. 16, the appropriation would lapse.

Not getting a mention at Wednesday morning’s meeting of city and county officials was the previous night’s action by the county council to consider at first reading two different ordinances that would have rescinded the food and beverage tax. The intent of councilors who were in support of that appears to have been only to add some pressure to the city to reach an agreement, as opposed to rescinding the tax.

Referring to the sheaf of documents making up the two sunsetting ordinances, county councilor Trent Deckard said he thought there were options that would “put these papers in a very healthy Monroe County recycling bin.”

The city’s agreement on Wednesday morning to pursue a CIB and the development of the bulleted list does not appear to have been spurred by the previous night’s county council action. Asked after the meeting by The Beacon how long the bulleted list had been in the works, deputy mayor Mick Renneisen indicated at least a week.

Several county councilors appeared at the city council’s Wednesday night meeting to express support for the amended appropriation ordinance approved by the city council. Among them was Geoff McKim, who had opposed the previous night’s action by his colleagues, to add to their agenda the ordinances rescinding the food and beverage tax.

McKim described the meeting to city councilmembers earlier that morning like this: “The sun burst through the clouds.”

Photos from Wednesday morning, Dec. 11, 2019

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