A tour of Trades District parking structure: “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages.”

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One of the two parking garages currently under construction in downtown Bloomington is close enough to completion that on Tuesday afternoon a dozen city insiders and media types got a tour.

Just north of city hall, the opening of the Trades District garage, with around 380 parking spaces, is on course for late March. But enough of the main elements are in place that it’s already unmistakable as a parking garage.

That contrasts with the replacement facility for the 4th Street deck, which is not due to come online until August of 2021. So it’s still coming out of the ground.

Of the 540 spaces to be constructed in the 4th Street replacement garage, 352 count as replacements for the spaces that were housed in the previous 4th Street structure. It was closed at the end of 2018 due to structural failure, and demolished last year.

Leading Tuesday’s tour were Bloomington’s director for economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, and Josh Scism, with Core Planning Strategies, the firm that’s managing both parking garage projects.

Scism focused the group’s attention on the structural elements: concrete, cabling, pumps and the like.

Crowley took the chance to review with the group the case for the city’s decision to build the garage, but hedged against any perceived enthusiasm for parking garages generally. “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages,” Crowley said. Continue reading “A tour of Trades District parking structure: “I don’t wake up every morning wanting to build parking garages.””

Bloomington hopes to put $2M of local money into $10M “tech accelerator” if feds will make up the difference

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A view from the west of Bloomington’s Trades District. The April 2020 image is from the Monroe County online GIS system.

Bloomington is applying to the federal government for an 80-20 matching grant that would pay for a $10 million “tech accelerator” to be constructed in the Trades District area of downtown Bloomington.

According to Jennifer Pearl, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, the tech accelerator would “make programming and services available to tech companies in our region, to help them grow and commercialize.”

The physical location in the Trades District would make it a “technology hub,” Pearl said.

Startups and mature tech companies alike would be candidates for using the tech accelerator’s services, Pearl said.

Bloomington’s 20 percent share of the project would be $2 million, drawn from revenue to the city’s consolidated TIF (tax increment finance) district. That’s why the proposal appeared on the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s Monday night agenda. The RDC administers the city’s TIF funds.

The RDC did not approve any expenditures of funds on Monday. They just gave a green light for the grant application to be made. Continue reading “Bloomington hopes to put $2M of local money into $10M “tech accelerator” if feds will make up the difference”

Bloomington’s city council asks for dollar amounts on active tax abatements, accepts report saying all are in “substantial compliance”

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Image links to dynamic version of the map, with clickable dots that reveal links to the resolutions on the tax abatements approved by the Bloomington city council, including vote tallies.

At last Wednesday’s regular meeting, Bloomington’s city council accepted a report about tax abatement activity over the last year, from the city’s five-member economic development commission (EDC).

The oldest tax abatement reviewed by the council dates back to 2013. The most recent one was last year.

By accepting the report, without taking further action, councilmembers were acknowledging that the companies are in “substantial compliance” with the commitments they made—related to jobs and affordable housing—that led the city council to grant them a tax abatement.

Councilmembers have requested that city staff provide some followup information, about the dollar amounts of tax abatements.

And the city council will likely soon be asked to approve revisions to the  guidelines on tax abatement compliance. The point of the revisions is to ensure that affordable housing projects don’t get analyzed as non-compliant due to a failure to create or retain the jobs they indicated in their applications. Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council asks for dollar amounts on active tax abatements, accepts report saying all are in “substantial compliance””

Food and beverage tax support for pandemic-impacted businesses continues, advisory group to meet Tuesday

Last Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners awarded about $21,000 more in grants to pandemic-affected tourism-related businesses outside the city limits of Bloomington. That brings the total amount awarded by the county to $266,442.

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In the last three weeks for which numbers are available, initial claims for unemployment filed in Monroe County are 368, 354 and 363. That’s  still around the top levels seen during the 2008 downturn.

The food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC), has recommended that the county can use up to $400,000 of such tax tax proceeds to help businesses recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Bloomington has a corresponding loan program for up to $2 million of food and beverage tax proceeds. Through last Wednesday, the city’s loan numbers looked the same as the week before—$939,600 has been awarded to 34 businesses. All of the submitted applications had been processed as of last Wednesday.

Bloomington has loaned out another $247,170 for pandemic-relief using funds from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association.

On Tuesday at 3:15 p.m., the FABTAC will hold a meeting, when it’s possible that they’ll approve an expansion to the county’s grant program. Continue reading “Food and beverage tax support for pandemic-impacted businesses continues, advisory group to meet Tuesday”

Bloomington drops company’s public towing contract after son’s racist rant, but license for private tows could be granted

On Thursday, the city of Bloomington used a seven-day out clause in its contract with Ken’s Westside Service and Towing to terminate its contract with the company for public tows. Those are tows that are requested by city police, not private property owners.

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Bloomington mayor John Hamilton in a screen grab of June 12, 2020 press conference conducted on Zoom. (Image links to closed-captioned YouTube video of the press conference.)

The company could still eventually be licensed by the city to do private tows, under the city’s new program regulating companies who do such work.

Termination of the contract for public tows was the city’s response to a self-recorded video of a racist statement posted online by the owner’s son, commenting on the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in late May. In the video, the son says: “That officer did us a favor… Ya’ll can hate me, do whatever…” In the video he’s wearing the company’s uniform shirt—he was an employee.

The officer to which the remark referred was Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who on May 25 pinned Floyd down with a knee-on-neck hold for about nine-minutes, killing him, a scene that was caught on video. It was the event that prompted nationwide protests against police brutality, including the local Enough is Enough march last week and the BLM-sponsored Black Against the Wall Facebook discussion.

The owners of the company, Ken and Kathy Parrish, posted a statement on Facebook saying they had fired their son: “With a heavy heart I have dismissed my son of his duties here with us at Ken’s Westside.” Continue reading “Bloomington drops company’s public towing contract after son’s racist rant, but license for private tows could be granted”

“You are safest at home,” says Monroe County’s health administrator, but science plus art means re-opening start

Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill said Wednesday that last week’s local health emergency order on COVID-19 would likely be replaced at week’s end with one that allows barbershops and hair salons to re-open and restaurants to offer dine-in service, starting Saturday, May 16. [Updated: May 14, 2020 at 4:35 p.m. The order has been issued.]

The county’s current order is stricter than Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track” plan  announced May 1.

The local order—which was also issued on May 1, and maintained the same kind of business closures and stay-at-home directives as the governor’s “Hunker Down, Hoosiers” order had—is set to expire at the end of the day on Friday.

The new local order is expected to be effective through May 31, Caudill said.

Caudill made the announcement at Wednesday morning’s county board of commissioners meeting. She said that the new order is still in draft form and could change if there are new developments between now and Friday. Continue reading ““You are safest at home,” says Monroe County’s health administrator, but science plus art means re-opening start”

Monroe County commissioners OK $68K in first round of COVID-19 relief funding, using food and beverage tax proceeds

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Screen grab of the April 22, 2020 Zoom videoconference of the Monroe County board of commissioners. 

Ten Monroe County business owners outside the city limits of Bloomington will be getting an email sometime Wednesday with an agreement for COVID-19 relief grant funds. Once the agreements are signed, the county auditor’s office will be able to cut checks to the businesses.

A total of $68,352 in grant awards was approved by the board of county commissioners its regular Wednesday meeting. Awards ranged from a high of $15,274 for Knightridge, Inc. (Scenic View restaurant on SR 446) to $1,800 for Trivia with Skip, an event booking agency. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners OK $68K in first round of COVID-19 relief funding, using food and beverage tax proceeds”

Bloomington businesses impacted by COVID-19 could start to tap over $2M in local bridge loans by end of next week

3-Weeks Annotated Monroe Unemployment

On Thursday, the city of Bloomington officially launched a loan program for businesses and non-profits inside the city limits that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The application for Rapid Response Fund loans went live around 2 p.m.

A bit after 1 p.m. on Friday, under 24 hours after the form was launched, five completed applications had been received for the loans, which have a limit of $50,000 per business. Another five dozen or so applications were in the works, according the Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael.

Alex Crowley, Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development, said on Thursday the volume of applications could affect how fast they could be processed. Crowley said the city would proceeding “very aggressively to make the turnaround time as short as possible.” Crowley hopes businesses could have money in hand by the end of next week (April 17). Continue reading “Bloomington businesses impacted by COVID-19 could start to tap over $2M in local bridge loans by end of next week”

Local government officials get requests from social service agencies, small businesses to help soften COVID-19 impact

Last September, a joint meeting of city and county officials was held about the convention center expansion. City councilmember Dave Rollo asked Bloomington’s financial advisor a question about the estimates for future food and beverage tax revenues:

“In the event of an economic downturn, have you factored in a drop in revenue? … Do you have a historical analog that you’ve considered, say 2008?”

The downturn the Bloomington area is now confronting, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, looks different from 2008—for small businesses and non-profits alike. Continue reading “Local government officials get requests from social service agencies, small businesses to help soften COVID-19 impact”

Trash cart rate increase makes public works director think about the future of recycling: “Bloomington is a community that is known to be entrepreneurial…”

Starting in the April billing cycle, Bloomington residents will pay more every month for trash and recycling service. That’s the result of a unanimous vote on the three-member board of public works at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

In round numbers, customers will pay between $3.50 and $23 more a year, depending on the size of the trash cart they use.

The fee increase is due to costs that are charged to the city by Republic Services for processing recycled materials. Those costs have replaced payments the city previously received (“rebates”) for its recycling commodities, according to Bloomington’s director of public works, Adam Wason.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Wason spitballed a possible new way of paving local streets.

The two topics—recycling pickup charges and road resurfacing—are related. How? Continue reading “Trash cart rate increase makes public works director think about the future of recycling: “Bloomington is a community that is known to be entrepreneurial…””