It might be next year before all parties have signed an interlocal agreement between Bloomington and Monroe County—in connection with an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The effort to get final consensus on a collaboration between city and county leaders about a convention expansion dates back several years, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But two weeks ago, both branches of Bloomington’s government approved the interlocal agreement, for the operation of the capital improvement board (CIB) and the convention and visitors commission (CVC)—in connection with the convention center expansion.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton inked the interlocal on the afternoon of Nov. 15. The city council followed suit that evening, with an uncontroversial vote to approve the interlocal agreement.
The county council and the county board of commissioners were expected to consider and approve the agreement this week.
But the item appeared on Tuesday night’s county council meeting agenda only as a discussion item. And that’s where it remained for Tuesday. No vote was taken, even though councilors expressed a fair amount of solid support for the agreement.
At its regular meeting last Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council approved its side of the interlocal agreement that will control the working relationship among local government entities as they collaborate on an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The vote was 8–0. Kate Rosenbarger was absent.
Signing the agreement earlier in the day on Wednesday was Bloomington mayor John Hamilton. That wraps up the city of Bloomington’s side of the arrangement.
CIB meeting (Nov. 8, 2023). Adam Thies attended via the Zoom video conferencing platform.
From left: Doug Bruce and Mick Renneisen
On Wednesday afternoon, Jim Silberstein was appointed as the final member of Monroe County’s seven-member capital improvement board (CIB).
Silberstein’s LinkedIn profile describes his role in founding the Encore Cafe and Tina’s Cuisine, which operated for 18 years, until the early 2000s, in the 6th Street building that is now home to Bloomingfoods. Among the credentials cited at Wednesday’s meeting in support of his appointment were Silberstein’s MBA from Northwestern University and his work for Deloitte Consulting in Chicago.
According to the ordinance enacted by the commissioners, the first six appointments to the CIB have to come from four different entities—county commissioners (2), county council, the mayor (2), and the city council. Those six then choose a seventh—which turned out to be Silberstein.
Board members are sworn in by Monroe County clerk, Nicole Browne. From left: Doug Bruce, Joyce Poling, Eric Spoonmore, John Whikehart, Adam Thies, and Mick Renneisen.
County attorney Jeff Cockerill, with back to camera, makes a point during the meeting.
Former Kokomo mayor Greg Goodnight.
Joyce Poling and Mick Renneisen visit before the start of the meeting.
From left: Jeff Cockerill and Beth Cate.
The most recent monthly figures for food and beverage tax revenue show the last three months as flat compared to last year.
Panorama of convention center looking to the southwest.
In early July, Monroe County commissioners used a state statute to create a seven-member capital improvement board (CIB) to govern the expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
About three months later, on Wednesday morning, the first six appointees of the CIB convened an initial meeting in the Finch Room of the convention center.
The six appointments that have been made so far came from four different entities—county commissioners (2), county council, the mayor (2), and the city council. The initial six will choose the seventh.
Based on Wednesday morning’s meeting, the choice of the seventh member is hoped to be made at the board’s next meeting, now set for Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. Those interested in being considered can apply using a web-based form on Monroe County’s website.
The six are a group that includes members with a substantial history of governmental service. Here’s the list with their appointing authority in parens: Mick Renneisen and Adam Thies (mayor); John Whikehart and Joyce Poling (county commissioners); Eric Spoonmore (county council); and Doug Bruce (city council).
Under the chairship of Whikehart, who was chosen as president, the group worked its way on Wednesday through a meeting agenda that included: a briefing from county attorney Jeff Cockerill on the CIB’s responsibilities, how the initial budget will be created, where things stand with the food and beverage tax revenues, and a review of the properties that could be available for the expansion project.
The Monroe Convention Center expansion project needs to make some progress, state representative Democrat Rep. Matt Pierce (District 61) said at a Friday luncheon hosted by the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce at The Mill.
Looming during this year’s legislative session is a threat to the project’s planned funding source, which is the county’s 1-percent food and beverage tax. The threat cited by Pierce is Senate Bill 37, which has already been filed by Republican Sen. Mike Gaskill (District 25).
If SB 37 is passed, it would end food and beverage taxes across all counties in the state 20 years from now, on Jan. 1, 2043, or the date on which all bonds or lease agreements that are outstanding on May 7, 2023, are completely paid—whichever is later.
Pierce summed up the stalled effort of Bloomington and Monroe County government to collaborate on the convention center expansion like this: “We gotta get moving on that.”
Pierce was joined at the event by three other area state legislators: Sen. Eric Koch (District 44); Sen. Shelli Yoder (District 40); and Rep. Dave Hall (District 62).
Pierce’s comment on the convention center expansion came in response to a question from chamber CEO and president Eric Spoonmore.
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.