“It’s time to just throw some dynamite on this thing,” says new Monroe County council president, who’s in favor of capital improvement board to re-start convention center expansion project

At their regular meeting on Tuesday night, Monroe County councilors handled a raft of routine business before a scheduled presentation from county attorneys on the legalities of capital improvement boards (CIBs).

The presentation and commentary from Jeff Cockerill and Margie Rice confirmed in more detail, what was already generally understood—that a CIB could handle all aspects of the convention center expansion project, which has made no visible progress in the last five months.

The presentation on CIBs was enough to persuade the current six members of the seven-member county council that it is the right tool in the short term for the next phase of the project, and the eventual ownership, oversight and operation  of the expanded convention center. A CIB can hire architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys, and consultants and acquire land for a capital project like the convention center expansion.

As a part of the presentation, councilors also heard that a building corporation would need to be formed, in order to avoid going over either the county or the city’s constitutional debt limit. That limit is 2 percent of the value of the taxable property in the geographic area of the respective governmental units.

A general consensus formed on Tuesday’s meeting that the tentatively scheduled third meeting of city and county elected officials on Nov. 21 should include just two items: the site plan (northward versus eastward expansion); and the formation of a capital improvement board.

On Tuesday, which of the county councilors was most supportive of moving forward with a capital improvement board was a close call.

Cheryl Munson served on the nine-member steering committee that until May had led the expansion project. She offered a draft resolution for future consideration  that called for the creation of a CIB “as soon as possible.” The council did not vote on the resolution.

Councilor Trent Deckard said he would be willing to take out a second mortgage on his house, if he thought it would help move the convention center expansion forward. Councilor Marty Hawk said, “Why not get this thing going rather than delay, delay, delay? …Something has to happen for it to get off of this dead center.”

Eric Spoonmore—who was selected as president at the start of the meeting to replace the recently resigned Shelli Yoder—said, “I tend to think it’s time to just throw some dynamite on this thing, and try something new.”

Kate Wiltz, elected vice president of the council at the start of the meeting, said the continued involvement in the project of elected officials was “only gumming up the works.” She spoke of the need to “create something else and let it fly.”

Wiltz’s “something else” and Spoonmore’s “something new” were allusions to the nine-member steering committee that did the work of selecting an architect and shepherding a public input phase through the spring, which culminated in a recommendation of a site plan from several alternatives.

The steering committee voted in late May to recommend a preliminary site plan that calls for a northward expansion of the existing convention center facility. But the three-member board of county commissioners favors an eastward expansion, and gave a presentation on that option at Tuesday’s county council meeting.

It’s the three-member board of commissioners that has the statutory authority to create a CIB, not the county council. About Munson’s draft resolution, commissioner Julie Thomas said she appreciated the sentiment, but the commissioners did not need any additional encouragement to create a CIB.

On Tuesday there was some opposition in the room to the immediate creation of a CIB as the appropriate short-term tool, and possibly at all. The opposing view came from Bloomington’s corporation counsel, Phillipa Guthrie, who spoke from the public podium. She told the county council that a CIB is “a good option but it’s not the only option.”

Guthrie told county councilors the mandate the city had taken from the second meeting of county and city elected officials about the convention center expansion was that all the options need to be examined in depth. One of the options that Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, has floated is the creation of a 501(c)(3). At Tuesday’s meeting, county attorney Margie Rice said that a non-profit could “only try to mimic” the characteristics of a CIB, which were already defined in the state enabling statute for CIBs.

Revising the MOU that established the steering committee in the first place is the way that Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, wants to move forward to design and construction, while working in parallel to form the governance structure of the eventually expanded convention center. On Hamilton’s view, the steering committee could continue to work on design and construction, while the question of governance is worked out.

At Tuesday’s county council meeting, Spoonmore countered that view by saying, “You’re most successful at what you focus on, so let’s focus on one thing.”

Compared to the question of governance, the choice of site plan—northward or eastward expansion—appears to a lesser challenge for decision makers. That’s because the commissioners, even though they’re at odds with the steering committee’s recommendation for a northward expansion, say they’re willing to turn over a site plan decision to the CIB.

At Tuesday’s meeting, councilor Geoff McKim saw that willingness as a chance to simplify the focus of next city-county meeting, which is currently scheduled for Nov. 21. The site plan doesn’t need to be on that meeting agenda, McKim suggested. But after Valerie Peña, a member of the nine-member steering committee, spoke from the public podium, councilors seemed content to keep the site plan as part of the next city-county meeting.

Besides Guthrie and Peña, another notable who spoke from the public podium at Tuesday’s meeting was city councilmember Steve Volan, who said he was not representing the city council as a group. But he thinks that other councilmembers will be looking to get a better understanding of CIBs and building corporations at the tentatively scheduled Nov. 21 meeting of city and county officials.

Beyond the timing for the creation of a CIB, a significant point of contention will be the assignment of CIB appointments.

Monroe County’s commissioners envision either a 4–3 or a 3–4 split between Bloomington and Monroe County. Hamilton’s position, expressed in a letter sent to commissioners on Nov. 9, is: “The city would urge that such appointments be more reflective of the relative value of assets—land, buildings and financing—that would be provided to the ultimate project, which would suggest a ratio of 6 to 1 or 5 to 2 in appointments, in light of the city’s majority contributions of those assets.”

Neither the city nor the county has laid out publicly what they think the correct financial arithmetic is.

At Tuesday’s meeting, McKim sketched out how appointments to two other CIBs in the state work. Vigo County, the city of Terre Haute has three appointments to the CIB and the county government has four.  In Allen County, the split on CIB appointments is three for the mayor of Fort Wayne and three for Allen County’s commissioners, with a seventh selected by those six.

One difference between the two CIBs is that Allen County’s board has citizen members, while Vigo County’s board includes elected officials. McKim said during Tuesday’s meeting that he favored having a citizen-member board for Monroe County’s CIB.

McKim said after the meeting he did not agree with the suggestion in Munson’s draft resolution that it be the legislative bodies of the city and county that make the appointments to the CIB. He thinks it should be the executives who make the appointments.

The legislative bodies already have roles defined in the CIB’s enabling statute. The county council has to approve the CIB budget. And expenditures of food and beverage tax money have to be recommended by both the city and council legislative bodies.

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