Convention center expansion deal between Bloomington and Monroe County looks possible by year’s end

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City councilmember Steve Volan (center), is flanked by deputy mayor Mick Renneisen and county commissioner Julie Thomas at Friday’s meeting about the convention center expansion. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Last Friday, city and county officials met for two hours about the convention center expansion. It was the latest in of a flurry of recent efforts to bridge longstanding disagreements on governance of the project. What entity will have control, direction and eventual ownership of the project—a capital improvement board or a 501(c)(3) non-profit? Continue reading “Convention center expansion deal between Bloomington and Monroe County looks possible by year’s end”

Opinion: Convention center expansion should be designed from ground up as Net Zero facility

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“Climate Action Now” banner hung at city hall on Dec. 6, 2019. A meeting between county and city officials about the convention center expansion was taking place at the same time at the climate strike sit-in. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council is set to approve an appropriation ordinance for around $6 million of food and beverage tax money. It’s for an architect to design the expansion of the convention center at College Avenue and 3rd Street. Continue reading “Opinion: Convention center expansion should be designed from ground up as Net Zero facility”

Monroe county election board looks ahead to 2020 after imposing one fine, waiving two others, finding no violation of electioneering law

Members of Monroe County’s election board met Thursday afternoon to review some logistical issues related to elections in 2020 and to wrap up some loose ends from this year’s municipal elections in Bloomington. Continue reading “Monroe county election board looks ahead to 2020 after imposing one fine, waiving two others, finding no violation of electioneering law”

Monroe County commissioners want convention center deal done sooner than end of year, Bloomington city council OKs revised food and beverage tax request

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Monroe County commissioners at their Dec. 4, 2019 meeting. From left: Lee Jones, Julie Thomas, Penny Githens. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Some increased pressure on Monroe County’s board of commissioners and Bloomington’s mayor generated some activity on Wednesday, if not progress, on the question of the stalled convention center expansion project.

In a week, it likely will be easier to tell how much of the activity counts as progress.

Late last week, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, and county elected officials started an extra push for a speedier resolution to the disagreements between the city and the county that have stalled the project since late May.

Part of Hamilton’s push included relenting on the question of equal representation for governance of the expansion project. Hamilton committed in writing to equal appointments by the city and county.

Hamilton’s effort can be analyzed as at least two-pronged.

Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners want convention center deal done sooner than end of year, Bloomington city council OKs revised food and beverage tax request”

Vote postponed on Bloomington request for food and beverage tax money, opens week-long window for possible progress on convention center expansion

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Monroe County attorney Margie Rice (left) reads aloud from some city council meeting minutes as Bloomington’s corporation counsel Philippa Guthrie looks on at the Tuesday afternoon meeting of the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FBTAC).

[Note: The timeline at the end of this piece has been updated to include links to documents released at the Wednesday, Dec. 4 meeting of the Monroe County board of commissioners.]

On Tuesday afternoon, the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FBTAC) voted to postpone for a week Bloomington’s request for an additional $2.35 million of tax money to go with the $4 million that FBTAC approved in January of this year.

Food and beverage tax money, collected since early 2018, is required to be spent on an expanded convention center and related tourism.

Between now and the next meeting of the FBTAC on Dec. 10, it looks like county and city elected officials will either clear a path forward for the convention center expansion project or likely face at least the possibility that it won’t be built in the foreseeable future. Continue reading “Vote postponed on Bloomington request for food and beverage tax money, opens week-long window for possible progress on convention center expansion”

County commissioners rebuff mayor’s proposal on convention center governance, focus turns to next week’s $6M appropriation

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From left: County commissioners Julie Thomas, Penny Githens, and Lee Jones at Tuesday night’s county council work session as they read aloud a prepared statement rejecting Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed governance for the convention center expansion. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The Monroe County council was not expected to discuss the convention center expansion at its Tuesday night work session. A draft resolution on the topic, floated at the council’s meeting two weeks ago, had been pulled from Tuesday’s agenda.

But an appearance at the council’s Tuesday’s work session by all three county commissioners led to a half hour of discussion of the convention center expansion.

The three commissioners took turns reading aloud a statement that concluded with a rejection of a proposal in the previous day’s memo sent by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, for the governance of the expansion project. Continue reading “County commissioners rebuff mayor’s proposal on convention center governance, focus turns to next week’s $6M appropriation”

Beacon Benchmark: Crows make for terrible poetry

[Note: Beacon Benchmark columns are an occasional way for the B Square Beacon’s writer to give readers some regular behind-the-scenes insight into this website, which aims to serve some of the news and information needs of Bloomington, Indiana.]

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Crows fly over the Monroe County courthouse dome on Nov. 24, 2019, but do not stop to roost. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

What if news reporters had to write their copy in rhymed couplets? Here’s what that might look like: Continue reading “Beacon Benchmark: Crows make for terrible poetry”

Bloomington mayor suggests numerical equality for city, county in convention center governance, includes CVC in the mix

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, sent a memo late Monday afternoon to the 19 other city and council elected officials that have been meeting since September to try to re-start the convention center expansion project.

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The project has been stalled at the preliminary design phase after a nine-member steering committee shepherded the project that far in late May.

Hamilton’s Nov. 25 memo suggests something that he was not yet ready to embrace last Thursday, when the group met in city council chambers: numerical equality for the city and the county’s appointments to the governance of the expanded facility.

Hamilton and the three county commissioners have been wrangling over what kind of entity to create for the governance—a capital improvement board (CIB), which is enabled by state statute, or a 501(c)(3). They’ve also not been able to agree on the split for the appointments on a seven-member CIB, if that’s the entity that’s created. The commissioners want a 3–4 or 4–3 split. Hamilton countered with a 6–1 or 5–2 split in the county’s city’s favor.

But the Nov. 25 memo now suggests a 4–3 split in the city’s favor, which appears to put the two sides closer than they were before. County council president Eric Spoonmore told The Beacon he sees the spirit of Hamilton’s memo as consistent with moving forward, adding that he was encouraged by it. Continue reading “Bloomington mayor suggests numerical equality for city, county in convention center governance, includes CVC in the mix”

Local Greens take next step towards establishing new incarnation of political party

In the early 2000s, Bloomington’s local newspaper, the Herald-Times, was sprinkled with mentions of the Monroe County Green Party—about 50 references from 2000 to 2006. Only a couple mentions are recorded after that—and those are historical references.

In that era, local Green Party candidates included 8th District congressional seat write-in candidate Marc Haggerty in 2000, Jeff Melton as a candidate for the same congressional seat in 2002, and county council candidate Julie Roberts, also in 2002.

That’s based on records from the Monroe County Public Library’s portal to the online NewsBank archives of the Herald-Times.

At the library’s bricks-and-mortar building on Kirkwood Avenue, local Greens followed their first organizational meeting in late October with a second one on Tuesday. Leader of the current effort to achieve recognition as a local party organization, Randy Paul, says he wants the local Green Party to have an influence longer into the future.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the roughly 10 people present elected five interim officers, including Paul as one of the two co-chairs. The other co-chair is Nile Arena.

Rounding out the officer positions are Brandon Drake (vice chair), Amanda Sheridan (communications chair) and Gregory George (treasurer). Continue reading “Local Greens take next step towards establishing new incarnation of political party”

Convention center expansion: City councilmembers, county commissioners look to post-Thanksgiving work based on commitment to equal representation

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Excerpt from draft MOU extension, red-lined by the city in spring 2019, for continued work by a nine-person steering committee on the convention center expansion.
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On Nov. 21, 2019, city and county officials met for the third time on the convention center expansion. From left: city councilmembers Susan Sandberg and Dave Rollo; Mayor John Hamilton; county councilor Eric Spoonmore, and county commissioners Julie Tomas and Lee Jones. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Thursday night in Bloomington’s city council chambers, city and county elected officials convened their third meeting since mid-September about the convention center expansion .

It was hard for the watching public on Thursday to discern much forward progress for the project. It has been stalled since late May, when a nine-member steering committee made a preliminary site plan and size recommendation.

The project is an expanded 30,000-square-foot exhibit space with a 550-space parking garage. It’s estimated to cost $59 million, of which about $15 million is for a parking garage.

On the question of governance options, Thursday’s meeting established that the mayor is not alone in favoring a 501(c)(3) over a capital improvement board. Two city councilmembers, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Chris Sturbaum, expressed support for the non-profit option. County commissioners strongly favor a capital improvement board.

So on that issue, it’s possible that opinions are now, after Thursday’s meeting, more clearly divergent than they were before.

But county councilor Trent Deckard told The Beacon he thought the meeting was “incredibly positive,” even if it might be hard to see. A key positive outcome identified by Deckard: “There was a coalescing of views around equal representation.”

By “equal representation” Deckard meant the oral commitments that individual city councilmembers gave, at around the one-hour mark of the meeting. They committed to the idea that the representation on the expansion project’s eventual governing body would be evenly split between the county and the city.

The eventual governing body could be a 501(c)(3) or a capital improvement board. Continue reading “Convention center expansion: City councilmembers, county commissioners look to post-Thanksgiving work based on commitment to equal representation”