For now, “free” parking in Bloomington’s new 4th Street garage, due to computer chip shortage

Bloomington’s new 4th Street parking garage opened for use three weeks ago on Monday, Aug. 23.

The opening was announced in a release issued by the mayor’s office the previous week.  It means the city hit its hoped-for opening date of August 2021.

The city has sold 370 monthly permits for the garage. Hourly parking will eventually be charged at 50 cents an hour.

But for now, it’s possible for visitors to downtown Bloomington to park without paying for a space in the new 4th Street garage.

That’s not because the city has adopted a philanthropic approach to parking garages. It’s due to a worldwide supply chain problem, according to the mayor’s office. The metering of time spent in the garage, as well as the customer service portal, run on technology that requires a computer chip from China, where it’s being manufactured.

As soon as the equipment arrives and is installed, the gates will go down, and daily parkers will start getting charged, according to the mayor’s office. Continue reading “For now, “free” parking in Bloomington’s new 4th Street garage, due to computer chip shortage”

Column | Because sometimes it takes a village: Local diner says, “We need your help!”

Next Friday it looks like I will again be able to enjoy a breakfast of biscuits and gravy from Village Deli on Kirkwood Avenue.

A temporary shutdown was supposed to go through Sept. 1. There was no word as that date came and went, so speculation had tended towards permanent closure.

But in a Facebook post this past Friday morning, the diner announced an attempted re-opening on a limited basis starting Sept. 17.

According to the Facebook post, online orders only will be taken on Fridays, with full table service for “very limited seating” to be offered on Saturdays and Sundays.

The missing ingredient for a more ambitious re-opening is staff. The Facebook post invites people to apply for positions online.  As of Sunday morning, the Facebook post has been shared 120 times. That’s a measure of the affection Bloomington has for the place.

Lots of folks don’t hang out on Facebook. If you have a network that includes folks looking for work, please help spread the word.

And to be clear, it’s not just Village Deli that needs more staff.

I think the next several months could help decide what Bloomington’s retail and restaurant landscape looks like in the downtown area through the mid-2020s.

On Sunday morning, a quick lap around the courthouse square and down Kirkwood Avenue confirmed that Village Deli is not the only place looking for help. Here’s a list of the 14 places I saw with help-wanted signs or notices about staff shortages: B-Town Diner; Baked!; Cafe Pizzaria; The Indiana Store; Nick’s; Five Guys; Noodles and Company; Soma; CVS; Pili’s Party Taco & Deli; Bub’s; Bloomington Bagel Company; B-Town Smoke Time; and Taco Bell.

And I know there’s plenty more places looking for help that don’t happen to have a sign posted on their front window. One of those is my favorite place of all: Function Brewing. From their Facebook post a week ago,  “The position requires multitasking, efficiency, precision, and the ability to follow directions independently. Prior kitchen experience is a plus but not required as this can be a good first kitchen job.” Continue reading “Column | Because sometimes it takes a village: Local diner says, “We need your help!””

Post-flood recovery: Monday signing of local disaster declaration part of Monroe County’s two-pronged approach to aid, officials caution against high hopes

On Monday, Monroe County board of commissioners president Julie Thomas signed a declaration of local disaster, because of weekend flooding that hit downtown Bloomington and other areas of the county.

The disaster declaration will appear for ratification on the three-member board’s regular meeting agenda on Wednesday.

A declaration of local disaster, under Indiana Code 10-14-3-29, will “activate the response and recovery aspects of all applicable local or interjurisdictional disaster emergency plans.”

Such a declaration could also make homeowners and business owners alike eligible for reimbursement of uninsured flood damages by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

But the county’s emergency manager, Allison Moore, told a gathering of about 25 business and nonprofit leaders on Monday morning that nothing is guaranteed to be reimbursed.

Still, a disaster declaration would “help our cause,” Moore said, in connection with another approach the county is taking. The second approach is to ask the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest loan assistance. Continue reading “Post-flood recovery: Monday signing of local disaster declaration part of Monroe County’s two-pronged approach to aid, officials caution against high hopes”

Bloomington council says no to corridor zoning for 87-acre parcel

A requested rezone for 87 acres of land at the southern tip of Bloomington, next to I-69, was rejected by Bloomington’s city council at its meeting last Wednesday.

The requested rezone by owner Bill Brown—from PUD (planned unit development) to MC (mixed-use corridor)—was based on the idea that it would improve the marketability of the land, which has sat undeveloped under its current zoning for more than three decades.

The vote on the nine-member council was 1–7. Ron Smith’s was the sole vote of support. Steve Volan abstained when the roll was called. Continue reading “Bloomington council says no to corridor zoning for 87-acre parcel”

Kirkwood closures won’t include half block in front of CVS pandemic vaccination clinic

Starting Thursday next week, Kirkwood Avenue’s yellow bollards will reappear, blocking off isolated segments of the east-west downtown Bloomington street.

That’s the result of action taken at the regular Tuesday meeting of the three-member Bloomington board of public works.

Like similar decisions made last summer and fall, the Kirkwood closures are meant to help retailers and restaurants expand their customer reach, while COVID-19 pandemic restrictions limit their indoor capacity.

The street closures authorized by the board of public works go through June 30, 2021. In December last year, Bloomington’s city council extended to August 6, 2021 the term of an ordinance allowing for the waiver of the relevant parts of city code.

The Kirkwood closures will persist through the week, not just on weekends. Affected will be the block between Grant and Dunn streets, as well as the block between Walnut and Washington streets.

But the half-block between Washington and the alley behind the Book Corner will stay open to automobile traffic, Michael Large, operations manager for public works, told the board on Tuesday.

That will allow the same current access to the CVS at the corner of Kirkwood and Washington, which is operating a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Continue reading “Kirkwood closures won’t include half block in front of CVS pandemic vaccination clinic”

A tour of Trades District parking structure: “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages.”

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One of the two parking garages currently under construction in downtown Bloomington is close enough to completion that on Tuesday afternoon a dozen city insiders and media types got a tour.

Just north of city hall, the opening of the Trades District garage, with around 380 parking spaces, is on course for late March. But enough of the main elements are in place that it’s already unmistakable as a parking garage.

That contrasts with the replacement facility for the 4th Street deck, which is not due to come online until August of 2021. So it’s still coming out of the ground.

Of the 540 spaces to be constructed in the 4th Street replacement garage, 352 count as replacements for the spaces that were housed in the previous 4th Street structure. It was closed at the end of 2018 due to structural failure, and demolished last year.

Leading Tuesday’s tour were Bloomington’s director for economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, and Josh Scism, with Core Planning Strategies, the firm that’s managing both parking garage projects.

Scism focused the group’s attention on the structural elements: concrete, cabling, pumps and the like.

Crowley took the chance to review with the group the case for the city’s decision to build the garage, but hedged against any perceived enthusiasm for parking garages generally. “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages,” Crowley said. Continue reading “A tour of Trades District parking structure: “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages.””

Bloomington hopes to put $2M of local money into $10M “tech accelerator” if feds will make up the difference

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A view from the west of Bloomington’s Trades District. The April 2020 image is from the Monroe County online GIS system.

Bloomington is applying to the federal government for an 80-20 matching grant that would pay for a $10 million “tech accelerator” to be constructed in the Trades District area of downtown Bloomington.

According to Jennifer Pearl, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, the tech accelerator would “make programming and services available to tech companies in our region, to help them grow and commercialize.”

The physical location in the Trades District would make it a “technology hub,” Pearl said.

Startups and mature tech companies alike would be candidates for using the tech accelerator’s services, Pearl said.

Bloomington’s 20 percent share of the project would be $2 million, drawn from revenue to the city’s consolidated TIF (tax increment finance) district. That’s why the proposal appeared on the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s Monday night agenda. The RDC administers the city’s TIF funds.

The RDC did not approve any expenditures of funds on Monday. They just gave a green light for the grant application to be made. Continue reading “Bloomington hopes to put $2M of local money into $10M “tech accelerator” if feds will make up the difference”

Bloomington’s city council asks for dollar amounts on active tax abatements, accepts report saying all are in “substantial compliance”

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Image links to dynamic version of the map, with clickable dots that reveal links to the resolutions on the tax abatements approved by the Bloomington city council, including vote tallies.

At last Wednesday’s regular meeting, Bloomington’s city council accepted a report about tax abatement activity over the last year, from the city’s five-member economic development commission (EDC).

The oldest tax abatement reviewed by the council dates back to 2013. The most recent one was last year.

By accepting the report, without taking further action, councilmembers were acknowledging that the companies are in “substantial compliance” with the commitments they made—related to jobs and affordable housing—that led the city council to grant them a tax abatement.

Councilmembers have requested that city staff provide some followup information, about the dollar amounts of tax abatements.

And the city council will likely soon be asked to approve revisions to the  guidelines on tax abatement compliance. The point of the revisions is to ensure that affordable housing projects don’t get analyzed as non-compliant due to a failure to create or retain the jobs they indicated in their applications. Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council asks for dollar amounts on active tax abatements, accepts report saying all are in “substantial compliance””

Food and beverage tax support for pandemic-impacted businesses continues, advisory group to meet Tuesday

Last Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners awarded about $21,000 more in grants to pandemic-affected tourism-related businesses outside the city limits of Bloomington. That brings the total amount awarded by the county to $266,442.

bordered R-OUT Unemployment Initial Claims Monroe County 2008-2020 June 14 output
In the last three weeks for which numbers are available, initial claims for unemployment filed in Monroe County are 368, 354 and 363. That’s  still around the top levels seen during the 2008 downturn.

The food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC), has recommended that the county can use up to $400,000 of such tax tax proceeds to help businesses recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Bloomington has a corresponding loan program for up to $2 million of food and beverage tax proceeds. Through last Wednesday, the city’s loan numbers looked the same as the week before—$939,600 has been awarded to 34 businesses. All of the submitted applications had been processed as of last Wednesday.

Bloomington has loaned out another $247,170 for pandemic-relief using funds from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association.

On Tuesday at 3:15 p.m., the FABTAC will hold a meeting, when it’s possible that they’ll approve an expansion to the county’s grant program. Continue reading “Food and beverage tax support for pandemic-impacted businesses continues, advisory group to meet Tuesday”

Bloomington drops company’s public towing contract after son’s racist rant, but license for private tows could be granted

On Thursday, the city of Bloomington used a seven-day out clause in its contract with Ken’s Westside Service and Towing to terminate its contract with the company for public tows. Those are tows that are requested by city police, not private property owners.

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Bloomington mayor John Hamilton in a screen grab of June 12, 2020 press conference conducted on Zoom. (Image links to closed-captioned YouTube video of the press conference.)

The company could still eventually be licensed by the city to do private tows, under the city’s new program regulating companies who do such work.

Termination of the contract for public tows was the city’s response to a self-recorded video of a racist statement posted online by the owner’s son, commenting on the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in late May. In the video, the son says: “That officer did us a favor… Ya’ll can hate me, do whatever…” In the video he’s wearing the company’s uniform shirt—he was an employee.

The officer to which the remark referred was Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who on May 25 pinned Floyd down with a knee-on-neck hold for about nine-minutes, killing him, a scene that was caught on video. It was the event that prompted nationwide protests against police brutality, including the local Enough is Enough march last week and the BLM-sponsored Black Against the Wall Facebook discussion.

The owners of the company, Ken and Kathy Parrish, posted a statement on Facebook saying they had fired their son: “With a heavy heart I have dismissed my son of his duties here with us at Ken’s Westside.” Continue reading “Bloomington drops company’s public towing contract after son’s racist rant, but license for private tows could be granted”