A capital improvement board for convention center governance as soon as Wednesday?

Based on discussion at a meeting of Bloomington and Monroe County officials last Thursday (Dec. 12), a capital improvement board could be established as soon as this Wednesday to provide governance for an expanded convention center.

Thursday morning’s meeting of the county council and the county commission was attended by deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen.

Since late May, the question of governance for the long-planned expansion of Monroe County’s convention center has stalled progress on the project. After getting some preliminary site plan recommendations, Bloomington and Monroe County officials have disagreed over what entity will lead the $59-million project through final design, construction, ownership, and operation of the bigger facility.

After more than six months of arguing back and forth, in the last two weeks city and county officials appear have managed to settle on a basic approach. County commissioners will exercise their power under state statute to create a capital improvement board (CIB). But an interlocal agreement will spell out some ways that the city of Bloomington will exercise some control, while still following the letter of the CIB statute.

A bulleted list of elements related to a CIB, which Bloomington officials would like to see put into an interlocal agreement, was first released last Wednesday (Dec. 11) at meeting between city and county officials. For Thursday’s meeting, the following day, numbers had been added to the list to allow for easier discussion.

Before that discussion took place, the county council voted to table the two ordinances that councilor Cheryl Munson had introduced at the county council’s meeting two days earlier, on Tuesday. Those ordinances threatened to kill the food and beverage tax. The tax, which was enacted two years ago on a controversial 4–3 vote, is supposed to fund the construction of the expansion project.

Over the sole dissent of councilor Geoff McKim, the county council had wanted to signal that it was willing to rescind the tax, if an agreement could not be reached on convention center governance that made for an equal partnership between the city and county.

The county council’s tactic likely had no impact either way on the Bloomington city council’s enactment of a $6-million appropriation ordinance  on Wednesday, to pay for architect’s fees for the expansion project. By the time the city council voted on the ordinance, city officials had earlier in the day put forward a proposal for governance under a CIB. They’d been working on the details of that proposal for at least a week, according to deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen.

Several county officials attended the Wednesday night meeting to thank city councilmembers for baking into the appropriation ordinance a clause that makes expenditure of the money contingent on  having a governing entity in place to accept the design contract.

Last Thursday’s meeting followed up on the initial discussion of the bulleted list that had taken place the previous day. A lot of the talk centered on the eventual operations portion of the project, which will tap the county’s innkeeper’s tax—a separate tax from the food and beverage tax.

The first item on the list addresses equal representation on both the capital and the operations side of the expanded center.

On the capital side—the part that’s funding construction—Bloomington officials agreed to equal representation for the city and the county on the seven-member CIB. How does that add up? The city and the county would each appoint three members, with the remaining member jointly appointed by the city and county.

The partisan prohibition in the CIB statute against the board having more than four members of a single political party would be handled like this: Require the city and county both to include one member among their three appointees who is not a member of the majority party.

Equal representation for the county on the CIB is seen by Bloomington as a concession, because construction of the expansion will be funded just with the city’s share of the food and beverage tax. The county is using its share (about 10 percent of the total revenue from the 1-percent tax) to develop a separate limestone heritage destination site. The associated parking garage will also tap city money, through its TIF district.

So in exchange, Bloomington is keen to have some influence on the membership of the convention and visitor’s commission (CVC), which uses the county’s innkeeper’s tax to service debt on the existing convention center and for operations of the center.

Under state statute, the five-member CVC has three appointees from the county council and two from the county commission. The idea discussed on Thursday is for those bodies to continue to make the appointments, but for the potential appointees to be drawn from a “panel” or “slate” of candidates provided by the city.

The idea is similar to the panels that are sometimes used to fill vacant judge seats, county attorney Margie Rice said at Thursday’s meeting. Councilor Trent Deckard compared the process to one he’s seen in Indiana General Assembly where the Speaker of the House receives recommendations informally from the minority party, and makes appointments to various committees to get common business done. Deckard joked that he did not often put the General Assembly or the U.S. Congress forward as a model for how to do things.

Point (13) on the list solidified the idea that county and city officials don’t want elected officials or staff, for either city or county, to be members or staff of the CIB. The proposal under point (13) is for the city’s controller, to be appointed as the CIB’s controller. Pushback on the idea of appointing the city’s controller was heard already the previous day, when the list was first floated.

On Thursday morning, Bloomington’s deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen, echoed the sentiments of Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, the previous day: The idea is to make the city’s controller available perhaps on an interim basis, so that the CIB can starts its work quicker. So it wasn’t a sticking point.

Discussion of point (12), which involves transfers of city and county land to the CIB, helped narrow of the focus to just the land in the immediate vicinity of the planned site of the expanded convention center. The current convention center stands  on the southwest corner of College Avenue and 3rd Street.

Renneisen said the city’s intent was not to require the inclusion of the land on North Walnut where the Bloomington Visitors Center is located and which is  currently owned by the county commissioners. But Renneisen added that “it’s not a secret” that the city hopes that the Visit Bloomington operation moves into the expanded convention center.

The naming of the newly expanded convention center got some discussion on Thursday. It’s point (15) of the 17 points on the list, and assigns responsibility of the naming to the CIB.

The focus of the discussion on Thursday morning was more on the question of naming rights and the timing of the name selection than on the entity responsible for the decision. The general sentiment from the day before, and on Thursday, seemed to be against selling naming rights.

But on Thursday morning councilor Geoff McKim said selling naming rights shouldn’t be ruled out. He pointed to Great American Ball Park, home to the Cincinnati Reds, as an example of a good name derived from selling rights. The name of the baseball stadium comes from the Great American Insurance Group.

About the naming question, Deckard said, “I think all of us are mindful that
if you call it the ‘Coca-cola 3000 Civic Convention Center Extravaganza’
we’re gonna have a problem.” But he added that he didn’t want see a name being fought over late in the process, so he wanted to see some kind of deadline for the naming decision.

At Thursday’s meeting, Renneisen cautioned that deciding the name is not the last step in the process, because the newly expanded center needs to be marketed much sooner than its planned completion date. Previously, Renneisen told The Beacon that whatever governance entity handles the convention center expansion, from the time a site plan settled, there’s probably about a three year timeline until a ribbon cutting.

County commissioners could take the legislative step of forming a CIB as soon as their Wednesday, Dec. 18 meeting.

The following day, on Dec 19 at 4 p.m., county and city officials are scheduled to meet again on the details of the interlocal agreement. Commissioner Julie Thomas said on Thursday she understands that given the time of year, attendance by all parties might not be possible, but she hoped for a “contingent” from each of the four entities—mayor, city council, county council and county commission.

About the meeting on Dec. 19, Thomas said, “If the skies really open up and we have a great amount of agreement,” the interlocal agreement could be taken back for consideration by the various bodes, entertained for public comment with a signed agreement sometime by early next year.

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