Hiccup for convention center interlocal agreement: ‘Let’s take a breath’ says Monroe County council

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.

Part of the delay on the county council’s side relates to a request from Bloomington mayor-elect Kerry Thomson, who wrote a letter to Hamilton two weeks ago, asking him not to make strategic decisions that could have an impact lasting into 2024. Continue reading “Hiccup for convention center interlocal agreement: ‘Let’s take a breath’ says Monroe County council”

Interlocal agreement on convention center approved on Bloomington’s side, county’s OK expected soon

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.

Remaining signatories of the interlocal agreement are the Monroe County council and the county’s board of commissioners. The county elected officials are expected to consider the interlocal agreement at their first meetings after the Thanksgiving holiday. Continue reading “Interlocal agreement on convention center approved on Bloomington’s side, county’s OK expected soon”

Board picks former Encore Cafe owner to join group to oversee Monroe Convention Center expansion

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.

The CIB was established by Monroe County commissioners in July of this year, under the terms specified in state law.

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.

On Wednesday, the vote among the six on the seventh appointment was 4–2. The other two votes went to Valerie Peña. She is associate vice president in Indiana University’s office of government relations. Continue reading “Board picks former Encore Cafe owner to join group to oversee Monroe Convention Center expansion”

First meeting of new board gets momentum restarted for Monroe Convention Center expansion

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.

Some light friction emerged right at the start when the vote was taken on a motion by Spoonmore to make Whikehart president and Bruce vice president. They were confirmed on a 4–2 split vote, with dissent from Renneisen and Thies. Continue reading “First meeting of new board gets momentum restarted for Monroe Convention Center expansion”

Convention center expansion: Bloomington city council looking to make CIB pick by early September

The Bloomington city council’s one appointment to a new seven-member capital improvement board (CIB) could be made at the council’s Sept. 6 meeting.

That’s the timeframe that city council president Sue Sgambelluri announced on Wednesday.

The CIB, which was created under state law by Monroe County commissioners on July 5 , is supposed to provide the governance structure for an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.

The city of Bloomington has an online application for all board and commissions,  which now includes a box that can be checked for the capital improvement board. Continue reading “Convention center expansion: Bloomington city council looking to make CIB pick by early September”

“We’ve gotta get moving on that,” says state rep on convention center project, given threat of tax sunset

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.

The other three legislators didn’t comment on Spoonmore’s food and beverage tax question. Continue reading ““We’ve gotta get moving on that,” says state rep on convention center project, given threat of tax sunset”

Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond

A week ago, up at Miller-Showers Park, a flock of Canada geese banked overhead and came in for a landing on the southernmost stormwater detention pond.

The surface was half frozen, because a couple days before the temperature had dropped to –8 F.

As elegant as geese appear in flight formation, on landing they do not make a picture of grace. They sort of wobble along the final approach, webbed feet akimbo, before mostly crashing into the water.

But they were, of course, unscathed. They started cruising around, dabbling for whatever aquatic plants were under the surface.

That’s somewhat like how local government works: It’s elegant and smooth in theory, but when it lands on some particular topic near you, it might look a little clumsy. You might get splashed.

Where will Bloomington’s area local government land in 2023? Here’s a roundup of spots that is surely not exhaustive. Continue reading “Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond”

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”