Monroe County commission preps for restart to convention center project maybe before year’s end

At a meeting on Friday , a question from a new member of Monroe County’s convention and visitors commission (CVC) got to the heart of a lingering issue for the Bloomington area local government officials.

“It’s my understanding that we’re looking to evaluate whether this convention center is…at a capacity that it would need to grow. Correct?” asked David Schaum.

Schaum got confirmation he was on the right track about a convention center expansion.

Schaum is the new general manager at Fourwinds Lakeside Inn & Marina on Lake Monroe. Schaum is new not just to the general manager job at Fourwinds. He’s new to the Bloomington area, having moved here from Washington D.C.

That means Schaum has not yet been fully briefed on the political friction between the city and the county governments that has stalled the convention center expansion project for more than two years.

The project has gotten as far as a preliminary assessment of sites, with a preferred site recommended by a task force. The price tag for one proposal was around $44 million, but that’s likely increased a lot, given general inflationary pressures and supply chain issues.

About the idea of evaluating the need for an expansion, CVC chair Mike Campbell, told Schaum at Friday’s CVC meeting, “I think we’re a little past that.” Campbell serves on the CVC as associate director of Indiana Memorial Union.

Executive director of the Monroe County Convention Center, Talisha Coppock, added, “We need to grow!” At Friday’s meeting, 10 lost event bookings were reported—purely due to the limited capacity of the current convention center.

The CVC is now looking at a six-month time-frame to get the expansion project restarted.

At Friday’s meeting, the CVC voted to recommend to the seven-member county council that the 2023 budget put $75,000 of the increased innkeeper’s tax revenue towards bumping up a line item for CVC members to use to support the expansion restart. Continue reading “Monroe County commission preps for restart to convention center project maybe before year’s end”

Bloomington RDC hopes to seal deal on smell for some offices at adaptive reuse coworking project

B Square file photo of The Mill, a co-working space in Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) is hoping that a $12,000 contract with Ann-Kriss, Inc.—to paint and seal some brick and concrete surfaces in an old industrial building—will wrap up an issue with lingering odor that has beleaguered part of the roughly $5.5 million adaptive reuse project.

According to Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, the issue with the unpleasant smell is limited to the confined space inside some of the interior offices. It has apparently not been a problem throughout the relatively open layout of the former dimension mill of the Showers Company furniture factory.

The building, which is located north of city hall in the Trades District, launched as a coworking space in 2018. The RDC leases the building to the Dimension Mill, Inc., which is a nonprofit formed to operate it.  Under the terms of the lease, DMI is paying the RDC $75,000 this year. Next year that amount goes up to $100,000.

The sealing work was described by Crowley at Tuesday’s RDC meeting as the final step of some measures that had been recommended by VET Environmental Engineering, after the company conducted some indoor air testing in early 2020 and again in early 2021. Continue reading “Bloomington RDC hopes to seal deal on smell for some offices at adaptive reuse coworking project”

First phase demolition for Hopewell: Bloomington picks Renascent for $589K job

By the end of summer, all but three of the buildings on a central Bloomington block, near the former IU Health hospital site, are set to be demolished.

It’s the area that has been named the Hopewell neighborhood.

On Tuesday evening, Bloomington’s board of public works, as well as the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC), approved the $588,755 contract with Indianapolis-based Renascent, Inc. for the demolition work.

It’s a separate demolition project from the one already underway on the west end of the former IU Health hospital site. IU Health has to demolish all the structures on the main site, except for the parking garage and the Kohr administration building, before transferring ownership to the city of Bloomington.

It’s part of a $6.5-million real estate deal. In early December last year,  IU Health moved to its new facility on the east side of town, on the SR 45/46 bypass.

The focus of the demolition work approved on Tuesday is Phase 1 East in the city’s master plan for redevelopment of the former hospital site.  It’s the block bounded by 1st and 2nd streets on the north and south, and Morton and Rogers on the east and west. The demolition contract approved on Tuesday involves property already under the city’s control. Continue reading “First phase demolition for Hopewell: Bloomington picks Renascent for $589K job”

June 27 start for Uber/Lyft in place of Bloomington bus night runs, Aug. 15 start for new fixed routes

Bloomington Transit’s (BT’s) new optimized bus routes will finally debut on Aug. 15 this year.

That’s the result of BT board action at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The routes were supposed to roll out two years ago, in fall 2020, but that launch date was delayed until this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the new routes to be implemented later this fall will be a lot different from those recommended by BT’s consultant three years ago.

Also getting a mention at Tuesday’s board meeting was the June 27 launch of subsidized rides on Uber or Lyft  as a replacement for night service (9 p.m. to midnight) on several BT fixed routes. The board had previously approved the service change. The only question had been the start date.

Under terms of the late-night service, which is branded as “BT Late Night,” passengers pay the usual $1 fare, with the difference, up to $19, paid by BT. Rides have to start and end inside a prescribed area of the city, which does not include chunks of the Indiana University campus, because fixed route bus service will continue for those parts of town.

The Uber/Lyft subsidized service for late evening hours was originally supposed to start on May 9, right after Indiana University’s spring semester ended. But details related to the technology platform took longer than expected to iron out.

At its Tuesday meeting, BT’s five-member board touched on several other familiar topics. Continue reading “June 27 start for Uber/Lyft in place of Bloomington bus night runs, Aug. 15 start for new fixed routes”

Bloomington awards $330K in socials services funds, Jack Hopkins total now $5.8 million since 1993

At its regular Wednesday meeting last week, Bloomington’s city council approved a total of $339,000 in grants, to 28 different projects for which local non-profits had requested funding.

These are the top 10 Jack Hopkins social services awards by amount of the grant. A complete table appears below.

The funding is described by the city as supporting projects that “make a difference in the lives of city residents in need.”

The annual allocation of social services funding has been made since 1993. Counting this year, about $5.8 million has been awarded, compared to around $12 million that has been requested.

This year, a total of $563,516 was requested for 32 different projects.

The top five awards were to: St. Vincent de Paul for a utility assistance program ($30,000); Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington for accessibility improvements for Crestmont youth with disabilities ($23,005); Monroe County United Ministries to pay for a new service van ($23,000); Indiana Recovery Alliance to pay for a syringe service program coordinator position ($21,600); and HealthNet Inc. to pay for rent ($20,875).

This year’s $7,500 award to Planned Parenthood drew objection during the meeting’s public comment time, because the nonprofit also provides abortion services. This year’s Jack Hopkins award is to fund the contraceptives for the non-profit’s safety net family planning services. Continue reading “Bloomington awards $330K in socials services funds, Jack Hopkins total now $5.8 million since 1993”

Bloomington redistricting advisory commission finally appointed, has 12 weeks to complete first task

Nearly 18 months after it was supposed to be seated, a citizens redistricting advisory commission has been appointed by Bloomington’s city council.

99-year-old Liberty silver dollar used for coin flip to determine membership on redistricting advisory commission.

Their task is to recommend to the city council new boundaries for the six city council districts, to even out the population imbalances that might have resulted from the 2020 census.

The five members of the new commission were chosen by the council’s selection committee, which met early Friday morning to determine five two-person candidate pools.

The choice between the two candidates in each pool was made by a coin flip.

Under the ordinance that the city council enacted in late 2020—then amended in early February this year, and again in mid-May—the commission was supposed to be seated by Jan. 1, 2021.

The five-member group has to give the city council a recommendation for a new district map by the first Wednesday in September this year. But there’s nothing in the ordinance that says the recommendation can’t come sooner.

That first deadline is just shy of 12 weeks away. The city council has a regular meeting scheduled for Sept. 7, which is the first Wednesday of the month. That means, at the latest, the city council would have a chance on Sept. 7 to decide the council districts that will be used for the 2023 municipal elections. Continue reading “Bloomington redistricting advisory commission finally appointed, has 12 weeks to complete first task”

3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton (right) addresses the Bloomington city council on June 15, 2022.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council took a couple of steps, on 8–1 votes, as a part of a potential deal to get high-speed internet connections built for most of the city.

The pending agreement would be inked between Paris-based Meridiam and Bloomington.

Under the arrangement, Meridiam would construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service. Meridiam would offer symmetric 250-Megabit service to low-income residents at zero net cost.

The arrangement would add another competitor to Bloomington’s market by giving an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP) exclusive access to the new network for at least five years. The initial ISP would also have exclusive access to the roughly 17 miles of conduit and fiber—the Bloomington Digital Underground—which has already been constructed by the city.

The agreement has been analyzed by the Indiana Cable & Broadband Association as “unfairly favoring one provider over others,”  which ICBA says conflicts with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. ICBA’s legal objections got no mention during deliberations by Bloomington public officials this week.

Wednesday was the third day in a row that three different public bodies took required steps for the deal to go through. All of the votes were unanimous except for those by the city council. Continue reading “3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam”

Council defers to Johnson’s Creamery owner wish, delays alley vacation vote until after own vacation

At its Wednesday meeting this week, Bloomington’s city council was expected to vote on a request from Peerless Development to vacate an east-west alley on the Johnson’s Creamery building property off 7th Street.

A future housing development, based on its current design, depends on the vacation of the alley.

But the council voted to postpone its vote until July 20, which is the next scheduled regular city council meeting. The month-long gap in meetings reflects the council’s “summer recess”—its own seasonal vacation—on its annual schedule.

Vacating an alley means ceding to private ownership some land that is now public right-of-way.

It is the second time the council has postponed a vote on the question—the first occasion was on June 1.  Both times, the request to postpone came at the request of Peerless.

Peerless wants additional time to explore its options with its title company and with the engineering firm that did a study of the 140-foot historic smokestack located in the middle of the alley. Continue reading “Council defers to Johnson’s Creamery owner wish, delays alley vacation vote until after own vacation”

2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther forms committee for independent at-large run

Early Thursday morning, Andrew Guenther filed the paperwork required to create an exploratory committee for a Bloomington city council run in 2023.

Photo included with Guenther’s news release.

Guenther will be starting law school at Indiana University this fall. He holds an undergraduate degree from IU in public affairs, and is currently working on a masters degree.

Guenther is former chair of Bloomington’s environmental commission. He has also served on Monroe County’s environmental commission and Bloomington’s board of housing quality appeals.

In 2019 Guenther ran for the District 2 city council seat as a Republican, but lost in the general election to Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.

Compared to 2019, two things are different about a potential run next year. First, Guenther is considering a run as an independent candidate, unaffiliated with any political party. Guenther announced on Jan. 2, 2021 that he was no longer a member of the Republican Party.

A second difference is that Guenther would be a candidate for an at-large seat on the council.

The three at-large seats are elected citywide, which means candidate eligibility is based just on city residency. That removes from the equation any uncertainty related to the outcome of this year’s redistricting process—which will likely see some changes to the boundaries of the six council districts.

The current at-large councilmembers are: Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, and Matt Flaherty. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther forms committee for independent at-large run”

Bank building on Kirkwood designated as notable historic structure by Bloomington city council

Any future modifications of the People’s Bank building at the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Bloomington will need approval from Bloomington’s historic preservation commission.

On an 8–0 vote, Bloomington’s city council approved the building as a “notable” historic structure in its own historic district. That’s a designation that is higher than “contributing” but not as high as “outstanding” in the four-tiered rating system for historic buildings.

The council’s vote followed the unanimous recommendation of the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC).

The owner of the building, ​​Bailey 8 LLC, had requested demolition of the building, to construct a three- or four-story building that would include apartments. That meant the HPC reviewed the structure under the city’s ordinance on demolition delay. Continue reading “Bank building on Kirkwood designated as notable historic structure by Bloomington city council”