Board picks former Encore Cafe owner to join group to oversee Monroe Convention Center expansion

On Wednesday afternoon, Jim Silberstein was appointed as the final member of Monroe County’s seven-member capital improvement board (CIB).

Silberstein’s LinkedIn profile describes his role in founding the Encore Cafe and Tina’s Cuisine, which operated for 18 years, until the early 2000s, in the 6th Street building that is now home to Bloomingfoods.  Among the credentials cited at Wednesday’s meeting in support of his appointment were Silberstein’s MBA from Northwestern University and his work for Deloitte Consulting in Chicago.

The CIB was established by Monroe County commissioners in July of this year, under the terms specified in state law.

According to the ordinance enacted by the commissioners, the first six appointments to the CIB have to come from four different entities—county commissioners (2), county council, the mayor (2), and the city council. Those six then choose a seventh—which turned out to be Silberstein.

On Wednesday, the vote among the six on the seventh appointment was 4–2. The other two votes went to Valerie Peña. She is associate vice president in Indiana University’s office of government relations.

The group of six met for the first time in early October.

Wednesday marked the second meeting for the six initial appointees: Mick Renneisen and Adam Thies (mayor); John Whikehart and Joyce Poling (county commissioners); Eric Spoonmore (county council); and Doug Bruce (city council).

The breakdown of support among the six for Silberstein and Peña showed the same pattern as for the early October election of a CIB president and vice president. That’s when Renneisen and Thies dissented on the selection of Whikehart and Bruce for those respective roles. Thies said he wanted to see a more collaborative approach, possibly involving co-chairs.

On Wednesday, Renneisen and Thies supported Peña, while the other four supported Silberstein.

When Polling nominated Silberstein, it was Bruce who seconded that nomination. Renneisen then nominated Peña, a motion that was seconded by Thies.

Spoonmore called Silberstein and Peña “two great nominees.” He added that he “could certainly live with either one of them serving on the capital improvement board.”

But apparently sizing up the potential for 3–3 deadlock, if he and Whikehart were to split, he said, “I think, for me, if we can get to four votes, that’s the quickest way to getting this done.” So he asked others for their thoughts.

When it was Whikehart’s turn to weigh in, he led off by saying, “I’m not speaking against anyone’s nomination—but I would speak in favor of Jim’s.” Whikehart said that Silberstein’s experiences complement the experiences of others on the board.

Whikehart also cited Silberstein’s previous services as an advisor to the Small Business Development Center, which is housed at Ivy Tech. That’s where Whikehart is chancellor emeritus.

As the CIB transitions from construction of a convention center expansion to operation of the facility, Whikehart said, ”I think Jim brings a strength to that process.”

Responding to Whikehart, Renneisen said that everything that Whikehart had said about Silberstein’s strengths applied as well to Peña. What Peña brings to the table is her specific knowledge of conventions and meetings in downtown Bloomington—through her longtime previous service as head of the convention and visitors bureau, Renneisen said.

Renneisen also pointed out that Peña served as a member of the steering committee that guided the convention center expansion project through 2019. The expansion project stalled just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and is now getting restarted.

Before calling the question, Spoonmore thanked the 14 applicants who had stepped up to serve. Spoonmore joined Whikehart, Bruce, and Poling in voting for Silberstein.

In other business on Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to engage Jim Whitlach, with Bunger & Robertson, as its attorney. Whitlatch’s name could also be familiar from his service on Bloomington’s board of park commissioners.

As the CIB’s treasurer, Spoonmore reported that one of the first tasks for Whitlach would be to work on getting the board incorporated by the state of Indiana as an official government entity. That’s a requirement for the CIB to set up bank accounts, which it needs in order to receive and disburse funds.

The design firm that did some preliminary work on the Monroe Convention Center expansion before 2020 was Convergence/Schmidt Associates. So that firm has been invited to attend the CIB’s next meeting.

The next meeting of the CIB is set for 9 a.m. on Dec. 13.

7 thoughts on “Board picks former Encore Cafe owner to join group to oversee Monroe Convention Center expansion

  1. Valerie Pena would have been the ideal choice. She is the most experienced with her past work with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. And I am sorry Eric Spoonmore was concerned with what would be the quickest way to appoint the 7th member. This appointment certainly deserved more thoughtful consideration than what was the quickest.

    1. Sue, As always, thanks for your input. Let me explain. When deliberating the nominations, it was clear that three board members were voting for Silberstein and two were voting for Pena. It takes four votes to be appointed. A 3-3 split would have resulted in absolutely nothing except for more unnecessary delays related to the convention center. We need to get to work on this project. It’s been 30 years.

  2. I am always reluctant to engage in message board debating, and will offer this as my only reaction to comments. Let me repeat my response to posts from last month as well as some I offered at yesterday’s meeting. As earlier expressed, my support for a 7th member would be based on creating a board with diversity of experience. We did not appoint ourselves to this board. We are each members based on appointment by elected officials. The last two apportionments made to our board were made by Mayor Hamilton, the composition of the board to that date was evident, and his final appointments of two men created a board of five men and one woman. The commissioners’ earlier two appointments were Joyce Poling and myself. The four of us are up for re-appointment by the new mayor and current county commissioners in January. As to deliberations yesterday, nothing was “quick” about the process. Board members had from October 4 to November 8 to review all applications. We had the board’s unanimous support in October for our selection process, including the timelines for consideration. As I considered my own support I was looking for experiences that complemented that of other members and brought experiences we did not have. Several of us have been involved on the three different convention center committees dating to 2017. We have excellent active advisors from the current convention center and the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. But none of us has owned and operated a successful business in the local hospitality industry, led Downtown Bloomington, Inc, or served as an advisor to local small or start-up businesses. As we consider the design and construction of the new convention center, and its impact on the local hospitality industry, those experiences will be invaluable. The perspective of a successful local business owner, the key developer of the Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, and an advisor to business plan development through the state’s Small Business Development Center will also be invaluable when we transition from construction to marketing, business plan development, management, and operations. As a result Jim Silberstein was the clear and ideal choice for my support. Finally, let me again express my appreciation for the 14 individuals in our community who indicated their interest in serving and offered their time and expertise. I believe that serves as an indication of community excitement for moving this project forward.

    1. Thanks John. I appreciate the detail. My reference to quick was the quote from Eric. I appreciate you all.

  3. Renneisen and Peña are two of the mayors appointment to the CBCI, which while much touted when formed, seems to be meeting only sporadically now. I infer that the CBCI may be stalled and I give the two of them credit for seeking out other responsibilities.

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