Bloomington wants to buy Monroe County Convention Center to expand, no numbers given – The B Square

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The City of Bloomington is now interested in purchasing the Monroe County Convention Center and possibly other lands from the county government, to further expand the facility.

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

Spoonmore said the City of Bloomington was “willing to reasonably compensate the county.” No dollar figures were mentioned by Spoonmore or Deputy Mayor Don Griffin, who followed Spoonmore to the open mic.

Griffin concluded his remarks in less than a minute saying, “We are ready to talk. I am ready to listen. And let’s move on. »

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

If the city were the only government entity to undertake the expansion, this work would not require the kind of close collaboration between the city and the county that so far has not been achieved.

Spoonmore has conducted a kind of shuttle diplomacy between the city and the county over the past few months, working in a race of sorts against what he sees as possible action by the state legislature in early 2023 to remove food and beverage taxes across the state. This is the tax that is supposed to pay for the expansion of the convention center.

County commissioners did not respond to the pitch at their Wednesday meeting, which had a light agenda. It was over in about half an hour. The three-member Board of Commissioners is made up of Julie Thomas, Lee Jones and Penny Githens.

After the meeting, they told The B Square they couldn’t comment on the city’s proposal because they hadn’t seen any of its details. In particular, they had not seen any dollar amounts or specific real estate that might be involved.

Speaking to The B Square, Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Julie Thomas put the city’s convention center proposal in the context of the other important work that needs the county’s attention, which includes replacing from the county jail.

Besides the convention center itself, the county owns additional land, which it acquired as part of the convention center expansion, including the parcel at 3rd and Walnut streets, where the former store is located. of NAPA auto parts. This building has been converted to serve as an election operations center for at least this year.

Griffin told The B Square that additional land besides the convention center could be “open for discussion” for any deal the city and county might reach.

The basic pitch that the city would purchase the existing convention center was supported by a few additional speakers at Wednesday’s meeting, which followed Griffin: Talisha Coppock (executive director of Downtown Bloomington, Inc.); Mike McAfee (executive director of Visit Bloomington), Kirby Brown (general manager of Aimbridge Hospitality which operates SpringHill Suites by Marriott in downtown Bloomington); and Jennifer Pearl (president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation).

Spoonmore had hoped to secure a place on the agenda for this week’s meeting, telling the commissioners, “Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to secure a place on your agenda this week.” Spoonmore told them the county council would have the item on the agenda for its meeting next Tuesday (August 9).

Spoonmore said there could be further discussion at next week’s county council meeting on the details of the proposal.

The county council is the fiscal arm of the county government, so it would have to approve any real estate transaction, along with the board of commissioners. Griffin answered a question from The B Square about possible dollar amounts: Would the dollar figures be revealed at next Tuesday’s county council meeting? “Maybe,” Griffin said.

Wednesday’s remarks to commissioners were just a “small step” in the process, Griffin said.

Spoonmore is a former county councilor, who took up the house post in November last year.

In 2017, the county council had sole authority to enact the 1% tax on prepared food and drink countywide. On the county council’s controversial 4–3 decision that year to pass the tax, Spoonmore voted against it. Spoonmore told The B Square after Wednesday’s meeting of county commissioners that if a deal had been on the table for Bloomington to acquire the convention center, as the city is now proposing, he would have voted for the food tax and drinks as a county councillor. in 2017.

The other two votes on county council against the food and drink tax were Lee Jones, who is now county commissioner, and Marty Hawk, who still sits on county council. The majority who voted to enact the food and drink tax were Ryan Cobine, Shelli Yoder, Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson. Of these four, only Munson and McKim still sit on the county council.

Minutes from county council meeting December 13, 2017, during vote on food and drink, show some consideration of alternative approach to funding convention center expansion – lobbying legislature from the state to allow Monroe County to increase its 5-percent innkeeper tax to 10 percent. One argument in favor of this approach would be that visitors, not residents, would pay for the expansion.

Even if the city of Bloomington owned the convention center, the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax — which is used to fund the debt and upkeep of the facility — would still be in the county’s bailiwick. The Convention and Visitors Commission oversees these funds, and the county government appoints the commission.

In the fall of 2019, there was concern about whether the Food and Beverage Tax revenue would be sufficient to pay for the bonds that would be issued to fund the convention center expansion. Revenues from the tax were slightly hit during the pandemic, but quickly rebounded and are now exceeding forecast figures, but part of this increase is due to general inflation. Estimation of the construction costs of the extension

The support of the three-member Council of Commissioners for an agreement to transfer real estate to the City of Bloomington involves the basic political arithmetic of counting to 2 – a majority of Commissioners. These votes could come from new commissioners.

If Githens wins his November race against Republican Dave Hall for the District 62 statehouse seat, his seat as commissioner will be filled by a Democratic Party caucus.

If there is a Democratic Party caucus campaign to fill the vacancy on the Board of Commissioners left by Githens, a key question for candidates could be: Do you support selling the convention center to Bloomington?

The same goes for the seat currently held by Lee Jones, who is opposed by Republican Perry Robinson in his bid for re-election. If Jones were to lose this race, it could cause Robinson to vote on whether to sell the convention center.

The county council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, when the city’s convention center proposal is supposed to be discussed in more detail, is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. The agenda will be posted on the county council’s website.

Chart: Food and Beverage Tax Revenue

Map of city (blue) and county (green) owned real estate

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