Convention center notebook: What’s the deal with the food and beverage tax advisory commission?

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.”

That means whatever path forward is taken on the question of adding convention center space, the mayor of Bloomington and the three-member board of county commissioners will have to agree on the appointment to the vacant FABTAC seat. Continue reading “Convention center notebook: What’s the deal with the food and beverage tax advisory commission?”

Bloomington effectively declares dead any deal to work with Monroe County on convention center

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.

The city’s announcement was met with expressions of disappointment from key players on the Monroe County board of commissioners, the Monroe County council, and the Bloomington city council, as well as the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Continue reading “Bloomington effectively declares dead any deal to work with Monroe County on convention center”

Potential convention center deal: City, county leaders meet, agree to meet again

On Wednesday at noon, the possible expansion of the county convention center was the topic of a meeting of Monroe County and Bloomington officials.

The gathering at the county courthouse included county commissioners, some county councilors, city councilmembers and the mayor’s office.

It was the first time that representatives from all four groups had sat at the same table on that topic since early March of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

After about 45 minutes of conversation, the group had not made much progress, but agreed it was worth another meeting.

The city wants to get a deal done by the end of September. So “sooner rather than later” was the city’s wish for a next scheduled meeting.

One twist that emerged on Wednesday was the possibility that a convention center deal between the city and the county could hinge on Bloomington’s approval of a rezone for land that the county wants to use for construction of a new jail.

At the table were: Mary Catherine Carmichael (Bloomington’s director of public engagement); Susan Sandberg and Sue Sgambelluri (president and vice president of the Bloomington city council); Lee Jones, Julie Thomas, and Penny Githens (Monroe County commissioners); and Cheryl Munson Geoff McKim (Monroe County councilors). Continue reading “Potential convention center deal: City, county leaders meet, agree to meet again”

Convention center notebook: Monroe County commissioners react to Bloomington pitch by putting appraisal of property on agenda

“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.

Possibly getting the county’s property appraised comes as a reaction to a proposal from the city of Bloomington, to transfer the real estate connected with the convention center to the city. That means the existing building, as well as other property the county has acquired as part of a planned center expansion. Continue reading “Convention center notebook: Monroe County commissioners react to Bloomington pitch by putting appraisal of property on agenda”

County council warm to Bloomington’s pitch for convention center transfer

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.

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, county councilors took turns responding to a pitch from Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Eric Spoonmore, who is their former colleague, and Bloomington deputy mayor Don Griffin. The two gave a somewhat longer version of the proposal that county commissioners had heard during public commentary at their regular meeting last Wednesday. Continue reading “County council warm to Bloomington’s pitch for convention center transfer”

Bloomington’s initial convention center pitch: County transfers property, city pays debt, gets hotel tax

The initial potential term sheet that has been floated by the city of Bloomington for the acquisition of the Monroe County convention center is now public.

The key points of the proposal include the transfer of the convention center at 3rd Street and College Avenue to the city of Bloomington—as well as other property that has been purchased by the county government with proceeds from the innkeeper’s tax.

The city wants to acquire the convention center, in order to purse an expansion of the facility independent of the county, because the joint venture between the two governments was stalled even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Under the terms, the county would also have to support an annual transfer from the county to Bloomington, or its property manager, the proceeds from the county’s 5-percent innkeeper’s tax. The tax is overseen by a five-member convention and visitors commission, which is appointed by county government. It’s the innkeeper’s tax that is used by the county to make the payments on the existing debt on the convention center.

As part of the term sheet, Bloomington would pay off the existing debt, which is about $2.5 million. The only other direct compensation for any real estate would be for property that the county has acquired using “non-convention center-dedicated funds.” That appears to be synonymous with “funds other than innkeeper’s tax revenue.”

Other property that has been acquired by the county for the convention center expansion, like the former NAPA auto parts store at 3rd and Walnut Streets, would simply be transferred to the city, without cash compensation. Continue reading “Bloomington’s initial convention center pitch: County transfers property, city pays debt, gets hotel tax”

Bloomington wants to buy Monroe County convention center for expansion, no numbers given

The city of Bloomington is now interested in purchasing Monroe County’s convention center and possibly other land from the county government, in order to pursue the expansion of the facility.

That’s the message that was conveyed to county commissioners during public comment at the start of their Wednesday meeting, when Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president Eric Spoonmore told the commissioners that “a viable path forward for convention center expansion” could “involve a transfer of assets from the county to the city.”

Spoonmore said the city of Bloomington is “willing to reasonably compensate the county.” No dollar figures were mentioned by Spoonmore or by deputy mayor Don Griffin, who followed Spoonmore to the public mic.

Griffin wrapped up his remarks in under a minute, saying, “We’re ready to talk. I’m ready to listen. And let’s move forward.”

The expansion project which was supposed to be a joint venture of the county and city governments, has been stalled since early March 2020, before the pandemic hit.  The county and the city were having trouble coming to terms over the selection of members for a capital improvement board, which could provide governance for the expanded convention center.

If the city were the sole governmental entity undertaking the expansion, that work would not require the kind of close collaboration between the city and the county, which up to now has not been achieved. Continue reading “Bloomington wants to buy Monroe County convention center for expansion, no numbers given”

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”

Food and beverage revenues up in Monroe County, as state legislators “make sausage” on time limiting tax

Food and beverage tax revenues for Monroe County were better in 2021 than 2019, the most recent year not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $3.63 million collected in 2021 is about 5 percent more than the $3.45 million generated by the tax in 2019. Based on just the last six months of the year, 2021 was about 16 percent better than 2019.

That’s based on the December numbers reported by the county, which got a passing mention at the end of the Monroe County council’s meeting on Tuesday.

About the $372,000 figure from December, county councilor Cheryl Munson said the numbers indicate that the public is supporting restaurants. “This is just good news for us in terms of our local economy,” Munson said.

The tax is divided between Bloomington and Monroe County government, based on where the business is located. The tax collected from customers by businesses located inside the city limits goes to Bloomington, the rest to Monroe County government.

The December numbers broke down like this: $331,340 (89 percent) for Bloomington) and $40,781 (11 percent) for Monroe County. Continue reading “Food and beverage revenues up in Monroe County, as state legislators “make sausage” on time limiting tax”

Convention center expansion talk picks back up: “People want to be together.”

View of the Monroe County convention center looking southwest from the top of the new 4th Street parking garage.

Two recent meetings of Monroe County officials featured renewed enthusiasm to start thinking again about the convention center expansion project.

The downtown project, which Bloomington and Monroe County officials have been pursuing for a few years now, had hit yet another rough patch in early March 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

The COVID-19 pandemic effectively paused the effort, as city and county elected officials were at odds over the way members would be appointed to a yet-to-be-established capital improvement board (CIB).

A year and a half later, at the county council’s Sept. 15 hearing on the convention center budget, council president Eric Spoonmore helped put the expansion project back on the civic radar. “I don’t want us to lose sight of this very important convention center expansion project that we have promised to the community,” Spoonmore said. Continue reading “Convention center expansion talk picks back up: “People want to be together.””