Bloomington consultant: Build arts incubator with small venue; keep Waldron; look close at BCT; showcase art in expanded convention center

On Monday, the city of Bloomington released an arts feasibility study done by Trahan Architects, which was commissioned by mayor John Hamilton’s administration.

Three possible geographic areas recommended for a potential “arts incubator” in the Trahan report: (1) downtown; (2) the  Maple Heights/Crestmont neighborhood; and (3)the former IU Health hospital site (Hopewell).

A key recommendation from Trahan was for the city to keep the Waldron building on Walnut Street as a permanent city arts venue—not just for the five-year commitment that Hamilton made in May 2021.

Paired with the advice on the Waldron was Trahan’s suggestion that Bloomington not build a larger standalone purpose-built performing arts venue.

One possibility, which a 2021 task force had recommended for more investigation, had been the idea of selling the Waldron and using the proceeds to construct a standalone performance facility.

The conclusion from Trahan’s investigation: Bloomington doesn’t have enough population or projected growth to support another standalone performing arts center.

Instead of a large purpose-built performance venue, Trahan recommends building a new arts and culture “incubator.” The idea would be to offer space to artists an affordable price point, where they could create their work. Three general spots in the city are identified in Trahan’s report as good locations for an arts incubator: downtown, the former IU Health hospital site (Hopewell), and the Maple Heights/Crestmont neighborhood.

Trahan’s report includes a case study for an arts incubator in the Hopewell redevelopment area, at 714 S. Rogers Street.

But the incubator space should include some performance space, too, according to Trahan’s report. There’s a need for a small arts facility with 100 seating to 200 standing capacity, according to Trahan. A venue that big would support smaller performances and could be used for rehearsing and recording, according to Trahan.

Trahan’s report also recommends that Bloomington consider an expanded convention center as another place to showcase local artists, by including murals, sculptures, performance venues, and galleries so that Bloomington artists are exposed to the broader audience of convention attendees.

Trahan also recommended in its report that the Buskirk-Chumley Theater get some attention—to investigate the potential flexibility of its seating configurations, backstage areas, and rehearsal spaces.

In addition to physical infrastructure, Trahan’s report recommends more support for the arts through better programming and marketing.

Youth programming is mentioned specifically as a need. Trahan says Bloomington should invest in all-ages spaces that serve K-12 students.

Trahan’s report also calls for more community programming like neighborhood showcases, concerts, public art commissions, murals, neighborhood public art stewardship programs, or neighborhood festivals.

Marketing should be developed that reflects Bloomington’s role as “a regional leader in the creation of arts and culture,” according to Trahan’s report.

The report released on Monday was called for in Bloomington’s planned expenditures for American Rescue Plan Act money. The initial amount described for a feasibility study for a purpose-built performing arts venue was around $50,000.

Based on Bloomington’s online financial records, the city has now made eight payments in 2022 totaling $100,149.85 to Trahan Architects, starting at the end of May, for an “arts feasibility study.”

The Sept. 30, 2022 payment to Trahan is described in the city’s online financial records with the phrase “100% complete.”

9 thoughts on “Bloomington consultant: Build arts incubator with small venue; keep Waldron; look close at BCT; showcase art in expanded convention center

  1. Wow. $100,000 in tax dollars paid to a consultant. I wonder how much total has been paid to consultants since hamilton became mayor.

    1. I don’t have that number, but I do know that several of Hamilton’s top campaign donors are people who donate to his campaign and then have their companies get contracts worth tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands from his Administration. Seems pretty shady, if you ask me.

  2. “The conclusion from Trahan’s investigation: Bloomington doesn’t have enough population or projected growth to support another standalone performing arts center.”

    $100,149.85 paid in order to ‘discover’ the obvious. But given this administration’s propensity for spending other people’s money I can hear it already: “Build it and they will come”.

    Never mind that we’ve been building white elephant parks and business incubators for a decade and they haven’t come.

  3. It is a quandary for this community – we want big city amenities without the population. We want the County to be rural, without density. We don’t want more density downtown. We won’t approve new housing for adults, even though student housing gets approved by the thousands. We take every opportunity to put more taxes and costs on businesses and residents, but don’t want new people moving here. If one took a step back, it might seem a bit contradictory.

  4. Bloomington already has an arts incubator, it’s called Artisan Alley. I was unaware our government needed to “incubate” arts locally, as we’ve always had quite the strong arts scene locally.

  5. Yes, this administration loves consultants! The $100K was well-spent if it gets the Hamilton administration off the notion of building another auditorium. That the community can’t support it may be obvious to most of us but one of the most common reasons to use a consultant to give credibility to the obvious . With the loss of Player’s Pub, Bear’s Place, and so many other venues, there’s almost no place in Bloomington for small, local groups to perform. Seems to me, that’s a real need. Not sure where that fits in their plan.

  6. Of course the Mayor’s administration loves giving big money contracts to consultants who produce meaningless, unnecessary studies for the City Administration to point to as “proof” they’re “doing their job” – the Mayor partially relies on consulting firms to donate to his campaign (including firms that have had contracts with the City)!

    From the Herald-Times, May 3, 2019, Kurt Christian: “Hamilton’s campaign funds bolstered by small group” – “Twelve of the 33 donors giving $1,000 to the Hamilton campaign work in commercial real estate, engineering, development, design and other industries the city relies upon to source consultants. Several of those donors listed in Hamilton’s election finance form work for companies that have directly engaged in contracts with the city on projects totaling more than $1 million.

    Greg Henneke and Cash Canfield, the respective senior executive and executive vice presidents of the Indianapolis-based engineering firm American Structurepoint, gave Hamilton’s campaign a cumulative $2,000. A cursory search of the city’s website shows American Structurepoint worked as a consultant on city’s traffic signal re-timing efforts, Adams Street sidewalk and intersection improvements, a Tapp Road and Rockport Road intersection improvement project and the developing Seventh Street multimodal corridor, which is being paid for out of the city’s recently issued $10.3 million Bicentennial Bonds.

    Another of Hamilton’s top-tier donors is Douglas Shatto, chief operating officer of Lochmueller Group.

    Lochmueller Group has done work for several city departments since Hamilton took office. Kopper listed the city’s street department contracts with Lochmueller to show how the company inspected downtown curb ramps for $65,752 and designed intersection improvements along 17th Street under a $214,595 contract.

    Holly McLauchlin, assistant to the director of Bloomington’s utilities department, said the city’s utilities board has approved two contracts with Lochmueller Group since Hamilton took office. She said the city paid Lochmueller Group $5,000 for water quality consulting in 2016 before contracting with Lochmueller again this year for $40,000 in tank improvements.

    Though it’s not an exhaustive list of those consultants’ contracts with the city, it’s also not an exhaustive list of those donors with ties to companies that could benefit from a contract with the city.

    Another top donor is Sanjay Patel, president of Indianapolis-based VS Engineering — the firm that contracted with the city on intersection crossing improvement projects at Allen and Walnut streets, as well as improvements at Fourth and Rogers streets. It also has an on-call engineering staff support contract with the city to the tune of $65,000.

    Kevin Osburn, listed as an attorney in Hamilton’s campaign-finance form, is a managing principal at Rundell Ernstberger Associates. That’s the Indianapolis-based urban design, landscape architecture, planning and civil engineering firm the city has contracted with since 2012 to design the developing Switchyard Park.

    Hamilton said he tried to think of a way for his campaign to reject donations from anyone doing business with the city.

    ‘I don’t believe there is a practical way to do that,’ Hamilton said. ‘People who are active in the city of Bloomington may have relationships with the city government, county government. They may receive grants from city council, contracts from city government, and they care what the city does. It is a fact that many of those lawyers or accountants or people who work in the public field care a lot about progressive cities and want to see a community that opens its doors to everyone.'”


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