3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton (right) addresses the Bloomington city council on June 15, 2022.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council took a couple of steps, on 8–1 votes, as a part of a potential deal to get high-speed internet connections built for most of the city.

The pending agreement would be inked between Paris-based Meridiam and Bloomington.

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.

The arrangement would add another competitor to Bloomington’s market by giving an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP) exclusive access to the new network for at least five years. The initial ISP would also have exclusive access to the roughly 17 miles of conduit and fiber—the Bloomington Digital Underground—which has already been constructed by the city.

The agreement has been analyzed by the Indiana Cable & Broadband Association as “unfairly favoring one provider over others,”  which ICBA says conflicts with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. ICBA’s legal objections got no mention during deliberations by Bloomington public officials this week.

Wednesday was the third day in a row that three different public bodies took required steps for the deal to go through. All of the votes were unanimous except for those by the city council. Continue reading “3 OKs in 3 days: Bloomington gets needed nods for high-speed internet fiber deal with Meridiam”

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”

One down, two to go: Fiber-to-home deal passes muster with Bloomington plan commission

Bloomington plan commission (June 13, 2022)

A deal between a Paris-based infrastructure company and the city of Bloomington, to construct a fiber-to-the-home open-access network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service, took a step forward Monday evening.

On a unanimous vote, the city’s plan commission found that an already-approved redevelopment commission (RDC) resolution and its associated economic development plan—on which the Bloomington-Meridiam fiber deal depends—is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

That’s the first of three approvals the city’s administration is hoping to get this week for a tax increment finance (TIF) arrangement, that would see about $10.9 million in personal property taxes reimbursed to Meridiam over a 20-year period. That’s down from the estimated $14.4 million that had been previously negotiated for a 25-year period.

Next up will be an approval from the (economic development commission (EDC)), which the city administration is hoping to get at the EDC’s 4 p.m. Tuesday meeting.

That could be followed by an approval at this Wednesday’s city council meeting.

Last week, the city’s RDC took the first step towards all the approvals necessary when it passed the required declaratory resolution.

On Monday, the administration’s case for conformity with the city’s comprehensive plan was presented to the plan commission by development services manager Jackie Scanlan. Continue reading “One down, two to go: Fiber-to-home deal passes muster with Bloomington plan commission”

Bloomington-Meridiam fiber-to-home internet deal: 3 public bodies, 3 meetings, 3 days

Now pending is a deal between the city of Bloomington and Meridiam, a Paris-based infrastructure company, that would build a fiber-to-the-home network offering symmetric 1-Gigabit service, reaching at least 85-percent of the city.

The image links to a dynamic map. (UG = underground; AE = aerial)

The city describes the deal in terms of a $50 million investment that Meridiam will make. Meridiam has made the arrangement contingent on a kind of “tax rebate” for the company, amounting to $14.4 million over 20 years.

Meridiam says the creation of the wholesale open-access network—after an initial 5-7 year period of exclusive operation by an as-yet-unnamed internet service provider (ISP)—would create about 10 new jobs, with a payroll of about $1.1 million.

Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) got the legal process started last week, when it voted 4-0 to approve a declaratory resolution.

For the deal to go through, three different public bodies will need to give approvals, at three separate meetings, which are set for Monday (plan commission), Tuesday (economic development commission), and Wednesday (city council) of this week.

The final vote, by the RDC, is set for July 5. Continue reading “Bloomington-Meridiam fiber-to-home internet deal: 3 public bodies, 3 meetings, 3 days”

First step for Bloomington-Meridiam internet deal OK’d, as current broadband companies ask: Why?

On Monday, the first step towards a $50 million high-speed internet fiber deal, between Bloomington and the Paris-based infrastructure firm Meridiam, got a 4–0 vote of approval from the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC).

The question in front of the RDC was a resolution that declares an economic development area, designating it as a TIF (tax increment finance) area, and approving an economic development plan.

The idea is to rebate about $14.4 million in personal property tax to Meridiam over the course of 25 20 years. Under the agreement, which is not yet finalized, Meridiam will build and operate a fiber-to-the-home network as an open access platform, which eventually any internet service provider (ISP) can use. That’s after an exclusive five-year period for the initial ISP. Continue reading “First step for Bloomington-Meridiam internet deal OK’d, as current broadband companies ask: Why?”

Tangled web: So-called “spider” TIF for Bloomington high-speed internet deal hits procedural snag

A 2–1 vote by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) on Tuesday night is now a procedural bump for a $50 million high-speed internet fiber deal between Bloomington and the Paris-based infrastructure firm Meridiam.

Even though two out of three was a majority of RDC members who were present and voting, Indiana state law and Bloomington’s local ordinance are both clear about the majority vote requirement for the RDC: “[T]he concurrence of three (3) commissioners is necessary to authorize any action.”

So the 2–1 vote meant the motion failed.

Bloomington’s five-member RDC was short-handed on Tuesday, because RDC president Cindy Kinnarney could not attend and no replacement for David Walter has yet been named.

Now, the RDC has set another special meeting to consider the question again, with four commissioners present. That meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 6 at 5 p.m., according to assistant city attorney Larry Allen, in an email message sent to The B Square after the meeting. Continue reading “Tangled web: So-called “spider” TIF for Bloomington high-speed internet deal hits procedural snag”

Some details emerge on $14.4M “spider” TIF funding for Meridiam’s high-speed internet in Bloomington

Late last year, a high-speed internet fiber-to-the-home project for Bloomington showed some signs of progress after starting in April 2016.

Existing tax increment finance (TIF) area in Bloomington.

In mid-November last year, Bloomington announced that it had about six weeks earlier signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Meridiam, an international player that builds infrastructure.

The $40-million investment by Meridiam, which was announced in November, grew to $50 million in mid-May, when Bloomington made another announcement about the pending deal. The service is supposed to provide up to 1 gigabit symmetric upload-download speeds to at least 85-percent of Bloomington.

The master development agreement (MDA) is not yet signed. But some aspects of the partnership have been sketched out. The basic idea is that the network will be operated as an open access platform, which eventually any internet service provider (ISP) can use—after an exclusive period for the initial ISP.

Meridiam has requested that Bloomington establish a tax increment finance (TIF) allocation area to support the project. Bloomington officials are calling it a “spider” TIF, because of the web-like appearance that will come from following the path of conduit to be installed by Meridiam.

One of the big unanswered questions prompted by the mid-May announcement was how such a “spider” TIF would actually work.

Some of those details about the TIF district have started to emerge—at a city council work session held on Friday, and at Monday’s meeting of Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC).

One of those details is the estimated benefit that Meridiam will receive from the establishment of the new TIF district—around $14.4 million over the course of 25 years. Continue reading “Some details emerge on $14.4M “spider” TIF funding for Meridiam’s high-speed internet in Bloomington”

Catalent tax break gets just a 6-vote majority from 9-member Bloomington city council, but it’s enough

A six-vote majority on Bloomington’s nine-member city council was enough Wednesday night to grant pharmaceutical company Catalent a tax abatement in exchange for a capital investment of $350 million and 1,000 new jobs.

The additional jobs would grow the pharmaceutical company’s local workforce by about one-third.

[Updated April 21, 2022: In a news release Catalent has announced it has chosen Bloomington as the location where it will be making a $350 million investment.]

Catalent is looking to spend about $10 million on development of real property, possibly by buying more land. The other $340 million would be invested in personal property, which includes all the non-permanent fixtures inside a building, like manufacturing equipment.

The investment by the pharmaceutical company would be contingent on a tax abatement on the additional value for both real and personal property. Real property would be abated at a rate of 50 percent a year for 10 years, making a total of $826,760 in additional paid property taxes and $826,760 in abatement.

The bigger break comes for the personal property, which is 90 percent for 20 years, and totals an estimated $43,450,785 in abated taxes, which is calculated to have a net present value of about $28.4 million.

Speaking in support of the tax abatement was Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, who allowed that the cumulative figure for the abatement  is an “eye-popping number.”

Public comment in favor of the abatement came from current and former elected officials, including former mayor John Fernandez (1995–2003) who also served as assistant secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Administration in the Obama administration.

Fernandez said, “This decision isn’t so much about Catalent—it’s about creating economic opportunities for our community, for people in our community who are at risk of being left behind in an ever changing dynamic economy.”

Speaking against the abatement during the public hearing was Ariana Gunderson, who said, “Being a company town is a really good situation for a company, but not for a town.” She added, “I am astonished that the city would invest so much money into the profits of a company instead of into its people.” Continue reading “Catalent tax break gets just a 6-vote majority from 9-member Bloomington city council, but it’s enough”