It was a move that put a significant sum behind the city’s preferred site for the planned expansion of the Monroe Convention Center. But it came with at least some amount of controversy for what was supposed to be a city-county collaboration.
For some of the actors involved in convention center planning at the time, it had been an open question: Should the expansion be located north or south of the existing convention center at 3rd Street and College Avenue? The city’s purchase appeared to be an attempt to settle that question.
The price tag was just under the $5-million statutory threshold that would have required the city council’s approval. And the deal still did not put the whole block under the city’s control.
The city was still negotiating with a different property owner for the remaining 0.4 acres, which consists of about 45 surface parking spaces.
Now, Bloomington’s RDC is set to buy the remaining part of the block.
On Thursday, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon at the Monroe Convention Center featuring Indiana governor Eric Holcomb.
The main event highlighted Holcomb as he fielded questions from Indiana University president Pamela Whitten, as the two sat in easy chairs in front of an audience of about 450 people.
But for many in attendance, it was the remarks delivered by Cook Group president Pete Yonkman, towards the start of the program, that might have left a more lasting impression. Cook is Bloomington’s second largest employer behind Indiana University.
Yonkman said at the start that he did not have prepared speech to deliver, as he does on most occasions.
But the impromptu remarks that Yonkman did make were organized around one basic theme: Bloomington’s local leaders need to overcome their differences to make progress on important issues.
City and county officials met on Wednesday at the county courthouse to discuss a possible path forward towards expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
In his public commentary at the meeting, Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president Eric Spoonmore called the meeting “some of the most substantive progress that we’ve made on this expansion in six years.”
Food and beverage tax advisory commission meeting (Oct. 18, 2022).
Monthly food and beverage tax revenues.
From left: Monroe county commissioner Julie Thomas and Bloomington mayor John Hamilton (Oct. 18, 2022).
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, many elected and appointed officials across Monroe County will be reviewing election results from the day before.
But some of those officials have a meeting set for Nov. 9 to talk about the possible future expansion of the Monroe County convention center.
The idea of a joint effort by Bloomington and Monroe County to expand the existing convention center has been pursued for several years, but had stalled just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amid wrangling over governance issues.
According to county commissioners administrator Angie Purdie, the 1 p.m. meeting in the Nat U. Hill room of the Monroe County courthouse is supposed to include the mayor’s office in the form of Bloomington’s director of public engagement (Mary Catherine Carmichael), two city councilmembers (Susan Sandberg and Sue Sgambelluri), two county councilors (Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson), and all three county commissioners.
With an announcement on Friday from the mayor’s office, Bloomington appears to be charting its own course, independent of any deal with Monroe County government, to “to expand the space available for conventions and other large gatherings in Bloomington.”
Key to the city’s effort—just as it would have been if a deal had been reached with Monroe County government—will be the use of food and beverage tax revenues.
Expenditures of food and beverage tax revenue, by either Bloomington or Monroe County, have to be approved by a seven-member local commission called the food and beverage advisory commission (FABTAC). There’s currently a vacancy for a “community representative” on the FABTAC.
Under state law, the appointment to “community representative” seats on the FABTAC is made “by the city and county executive.”
On Friday, in a social media post, the Bloomington’s office of the mayor appears to have abandoned any further pursuit of a collaboration with Monroe County government on the expansion of the county’s convention center.
The statement reads, “Despite hoping to reach an agreement on moving the project forward together, these recent negotiations have concluded without a resolution.”
The statement, made on the Facebook page for Bloomington’s office of the mayor, does not mention Bloomington mayor John Hamilton.
The announcement quotes Bloomington public engagement director Mary Catherine Carmichael saying, “We believe that it’s time to shift focus fully to what we can do to follow through on our commitment to use the city’s portion of the food and beverage tax to expand the space available for conventions and other large gatherings in Bloomington.”
Bloomington’s announcement says “a flexible facility that can accommodate larger groups remains an unfulfilled but important economic and cultural asset missing in Bloomington.” Friday’s announcement says the city expects to announce potential next steps in the next 30-45 days.
Close up of red square inset. Bloomington owned properties in blue, county-owned in green.
B Square file photo of county commissioners (Aug. 3, 2022)
“I think it only makes sense to go into negotiations armed with knowledge.”
That was county commissioner Julie Thomas’s commentary on Wednesday morning about the possibility of getting an appraisal of county-owned real estate in downtown Bloomington.
Her comment came at the end of Wednesday’s work session, which followed the regular meeting of the three commissioners. The approval of a contract for the appraisal of county real estate in downtown Bloomington will likely appear on next Wednesday’s (Aug. 17) regular meeting agenda.
From left: Bloomington deputy mayor Don Griffin and Greater Bloomington Chamber president Eric Spoonmore address the Monroe County Council (Aug. 9, 2022)
Greater Bloomington Chamber president Eric Spoonmore addresses the Monroe County Council (Aug. 9, 2022)
County councilor Jennifer Crossley (Aug. 9, 2022)
View looking south from the top of the 4th Street parking garage of property that could be used for the convention center. The convention center is in the right of the frame.
While a lot of details remain to be worked out, Monroe County councilors appear receptive to the basic idea of transferring ownership of the county’s convention center and related properties to the city of Bloomington.
The city’s hoped-for timeline for getting the deal done is the end of September.