The first meeting of the year for the Monroe County convention and visitors commission (CVC) was relatively upbeat.
It was held on Wednesday at the Monroe Convention Center.
The revenue report for the county’s five-percent innkeeper’s tax showed a a 55-percent increase for the first two months of 2023 compared to the first two months of last year.
Mike McAfee, who’s executive director of Visit Bloomington, described the current state of planning for the solar eclipse next year. The narrow band of the full solar eclipse will pass right over Bloomington just a little over a year from now, on April 8, 2024.
One glumly received point of information was the status of the convention center expansion project, which still has not moved forward as hoped.
The CVC is the five-member public entity that controls expenditures of the innkeeper’s tax revenues. The CVC’s purpose is to promote the development and growth of the convention and visitor industry in Monroe County.
State law prescribes that the associate director of Indiana Memorial Union serves on Monroe County’s CVC, and Mike Campbell serves on the CVC in that role as chair.
It was Campbell who gave an update on the current convention center expansion stalemate: The county commissioners, the county council, and the Bloomington city council all favor the use of a public body called a capital improvement board (CIB) to govern the expansion project.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton has instead moved forward with the creation of a 501(c)(3), which he has pitched as a better way to handle the governance of the convention center expansion. The name of the nonprofit, City of Bloomington Capital Improvement, Inc (CBCI), is one indication that it’s meant to be a substitute for the public alternative of a CIB.
But for now, the Hamilton administration has walked back the idea that CBCI would be involved in the convention center expansion—or the development of the Trades District. At least initially, CBCI’s focus is supposed to be the redevelopment of the Hopewell neighborhood, which is the site of the former IU Health hospital at 2nd and Rogers streets.
At Wednesday’s CVC meeting, McAfee said his understanding is that the CBCI’s current focus is on the Hopewell neighborhood. He added, that “I’ve been told by several members of that group that the convention center has never even come up in their conversations.” The first meeting of the CBCI board, which was held on March 3, did not appear to include discussion of the Monroe Convention Center expansion.
The March 3 CBCI meeting was held with just the four board members who were appointed by mayor John Hamilton—Mick Renneisen, Sarah Bauerle Danzman, John West, and Valerie Peña. The fifth appointment, Doris Sims, was made later by the city council.
Geoff McKim, who has succeeded county councilor Peter Iversen as the county council’s appointee to the CVC, agreed with McAfee and Campbell’s assessment, saying, “Personally, I still support the capital improvements board…”
McKim added, “Whenever I hear from constituents on the matter, I think 100 percent of constituents who do support the convention center expansion, support a CIB as the governance model, except for those who are employed by the city.”
Campbell gave the report on innkeeper’s tax revenues, which are up 55 percent for the first two months of 2023 compared to the first two months of 2022. In January and February of this year, $467,708 was collected. In January and February of 2022, the innkeeper’s tax brought in $301,349.
Of the $467,708 that was collected this year, about 20 percent of it ($93,095) came from short term rentals (STRs) like Airbnb and Vrbo.
More than a year ago, in December 2021, McAfee had already reported to the CVC on the planning that was underway to prepare for the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, when the narrow band of the full solar eclipse will pass right over Bloomington.
At Wednesday’s CVC meeting, McAfee said he has a meeting set on Friday with the county emergency management department and Indiana University’s emergency management team and Kirk White, who is IU’s vice provost for external relations.
Next week, McAfee said, there’s a meeting of a local organizing committee, composed of about 15 to 20 people.
McAfee impressed on CVC members the scale of the expected number of visitors in connection with the solar eclipse. Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people are expected in Bloomington. Central Indiana is expecting 500,000 to 2 million people, McAfee said.
In anticipation of the eclipse, someone rented out the county fairgrounds to turn it into a campground—that woman is on the organizing committee, McAfee said.
McAfee said part of the preparation is to sort out locations where people can be encouraged to go watch the eclipse—like Switchyard Park or the IU Memorial Stadium, or Lake Monroe. “We’ve got to come up with places and things for them to do, and do it safely, so that they don’t just pull over on Walnut and College and I-69 and everywhere else,” he said.