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”

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”

Planned limestone heritage site now under Monroe County control, as $600K land purchase gets final OK

Monroe County will now own another 70 acres of land at the northwest side of the interchange of SR-46 and I-69.

On Tuesday, the county council approved the $640,000 purchase of the land, which contains several limestone quarry holes.

The purpose of the land acquisition is to establish the location as a kind of outdoor limestone museum that celebrates Monroe County’s heritage of high quality limestone, and the role the limestone industry has played in local history.

The tally on Tuesday’s vote by the seven-member council was 5–1. Councilor Marty Hawk dissented. Councilor Cheryl Munson was absent.

The 70-acre parcel is just south of another 29 acres, which were purchased by the county in fall 2021 for the same purpose.

Hawk’s objections were known, based on the land’s history adjoining an EPA Superfund site.

The three-member board of county commissioners gave its approval for the land purchase at its meeting three weeks ago. Continue reading “Planned limestone heritage site now under Monroe County control, as $600K land purchase gets final OK”

Two down, one to go: High-speed internet deal gets OK from Bloomington EDC

On Tuesday, Bloomington’s economic development commission (EDC) helped a potential deal between Paris-based Meridiam and the city of Bloomington take another step forward.

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.

On a 4–0 vote, the EDC approved a resolution that among other things green-lighted an  expenditure agreement that reimburses to Meridiam 95 percent of the roughly $10.9 million in personal property taxes that Meridiam will pay over a 20-year period.

The personal property taxes would be paid on the company’s conduit and fiber. The mechanism the city is using to reimburse Meridiam’s taxes is a tax increment finance (TIF) allocation area, not a tax abatement, even if the effect is basically the same.

The TIF area is exactly the physical space where the conduit and fiber is installed, which has an appearance that some have characterized as web-like. That’s what gives rise to the moniker “spider TIF.”

For Tuesday’s decision, the five-member EDC was missing Matt Flaherty. He is the city council’s representative on the EDC. But Flaherty will have a say when the city council considers two related questions on Wednesday.

That’s because a third step for the high-speed internet deal is teed up for Bloomington’s city council at its Wednesday meeting. Continue reading “Two down, one to go: High-speed internet deal gets OK from Bloomington EDC”

Downtown Bloomington march for stronger gun laws: “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.”

On Saturday afternoon, about 150 people were gathered on the southeast lawn of the Monroe County courthouse in downtown Bloomington. They stood in silence for 21 seconds.

The silence commemorated the lives of 21 children and teachers who were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, two weeks earlier.

The reflective moment was part of a demonstration and march that was organized by Bloomington North High School students Ingrid Pendergast and Alexandra Shirley, under the banner of the national movement called March for Our Lives. The non-profit organization advocates for stronger gun laws.

Demonstrators on Saturday marched from the southeast corner of the courthouse square, eastward down Kirkwood Avenue to Indiana Avenue, headed one block north to 6th Street, turned west, and headed back to the courthouse along 6th Street.

After demonstrators had again gathered on the courthouse lawn, Pendergast and Shirley gave remarks and invited several people to address the crowd. Then they turned the mic over to anyone who wanted to speak.

Pendergast told the crowd, “We can no longer allow gun violence to be a partisan issue. It is killing us. It is not about Republican versus Democrat.” She added, “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.” Continue reading “Downtown Bloomington march for stronger gun laws: “It is not about rights. It’s about lives.””

Appeals on fines heard by Monroe County election board, 2023 space needs not yet active topic

At its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, the Monroe County election board handled some routine business for the recent primary election cycle: appeals on fines for late paperwork.

On Thursday, just one of the cases got action from the three-member board

That was due in part to the fact that last week’s meeting was canceled and rescheduled for this week—without notice to the late filers that the hearing would be this week instead. That meant that the board could hear only the cases of the late filers who happened to attend on Thursday.

In the one case where the board took action, the board waived the fine as a first offense, which is the board’s typical approach to late filings.

So far, since the May 3 primary, the planned location of election operations for the 2023 municipal cycle has not been a topic of discussion for the election board.

The 2023 elections could see continued use of the former NAPA auto parts store building, at 3rd and Walnut streets, but that’s not certain. Continue reading “Appeals on fines heard by Monroe County election board, 2023 space needs not yet active topic”

Encampment on county-owned land: Local disaster declared by Monroe County commissioners

An encampment on county-owned land west of Bloomington has prompted action by the Monroe County board of commissioners two Wednesdays in a row.

Last week, commissioners added to their agenda a contract with Bio-One, which is an Indianapolis-based company specializing in “extreme cleaning.”

The $3,500-per-day contract  covered clearing out the trash and debris that was expected to be left behind, after the sheriff’s office enforced an order to vacate the encampment, which was located behind the At Home store, just west of I-69.

But the cleanup that started last Thursday, the day after Bio-One’s contract was approved, turned out to require more work than expected.

So at this Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to extend Bio-One’s contract another 15 days for a total of 20 days, which could cost as much as $70,000.

In other related action this Wednesday, commissioners invoked a state statute to declare an emergency—in order to speed up the process for hiring a contractor to clear trees under 12 inches in diameter, undergrowth and underbrush on the property.  The idea is to improve lines of sight into the property, to monitor for future  encampments.

Under IC 5-16-1-1.6, commissioners don’t need to advertise for bids, but do have to invite quotes from at least three firms. Administrator for the commissioners, Angie Purdie, is authorized in the emergency declaration, to execute the lowest quote that is received by Thursday at 9 a.m. Continue reading “Encampment on county-owned land: Local disaster declared by Monroe County commissioners”

Monroe County set for final vote on limestone heritage land, no news on convention center project

At their Wednesday morning meeting, the three Monroe County commissioners approved a $640,000 purchase of land that contains several limestone quarry holes, at the northwest side of the interchange of SR-46 and I-69.

That sets up a final vote on the land purchase by the seven-member county council at its June 14 meeting. The council heard the item for a first reading this week at its Tuesday work session.

The purpose of the land acquisition is to establish the location as a kind of outdoor limestone museum that celebrates Monroe County’s heritage of high quality limestone, and the role the limestone industry has played in local history.

The land that is currently pending a final vote would add about 70 acres to another 29 acres just to the north, which was purchased by the county in fall 2021 for the same purpose.

Then as now, county councilor Mary Hawk raised objections, based on the land’s history adjoining an EPA Superfund site. When the item comes back for a second reading, Hawk will be voting no.

The funding for the land acquisition will come from issuance of a general obligation (GO) bond issued in 2019.

When land acquisition is complete, funding for the development of the site as a tourist destination will come at least in part from the Monroe County government’s share of the 1-percent food and beverage tax (FBT). Continue reading “Monroe County set for final vote on limestone heritage land, no news on convention center project”

Pandemic news: Monroe County could see “medium” level of community spread on next map update

The number of daily COVID-19 cases recorded in Monroe County has grown steadily in the second week of May after leveling off in late April.

Through May 13, the rolling 7-day average of daily cases in Monroe County stands at about 42.

That is greater than 39.9—which is Monroe County’s daily average equivalent of the 200 cases-per-week per-100,000 population metric used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a threshold for its community spread levels.

The current CDC map still pegs the community spread of the virus In Monroe County at a “low” level—which is the lowest of its three categories (low, medium, and high).

But by Thursday (May 19), when the CDC map will be updated based on numbers through Wednesday, Monroe County’s category could change to “medium.” Continue reading “Pandemic news: Monroe County could see “medium” level of community spread on next map update”

Monroe County election board OKs 19 provisional ballots: “I love it when we get to accept it!”

At its Friday meeting, the three-member Monroe County election board voted to accept as valid 19 out of the 32 provisional ballots from the Tuesday, May 3 primary elections.

Provisional ballots are those that are cast by a voter, but set aside due to some question about whether they are valid. Provisional ballots allow a voter to make their choices for candidates, without requiring Election Day poll workers, in circumstances that might be hectic, to make a final decision on validity

Friday’s meeting was set to start at 12:01 p.m. Continue reading “Monroe County election board OKs 19 provisional ballots: “I love it when we get to accept it!””