Several Bloomington and Monroe County officials met Monday evening to push ahead the $44-million convention center expansion project. They reviewed a draft interlocal agreement, circulated shortly before the meeting, that is intended to supplement statutory requirements for the eventual formation of a capital improvement board (CIB).
The three county commissioners, in addition to several members of the city and county councils, were joined by Bloomington’s deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen at the meeting they’d set at the end of last year.
Two years and five days ago, Monroe County commissioners voted 4–3 to enact a 1-percent food and beverage tax.
The convention center expansion, which the tax is supposed pay for, will need to wait a few more weeks to get a governance structure.
Monroe County commissioners voted Wednesday morning to put off until Jan. 8, 2020, a draft ordinance that would have exercised their power under a state statue to adopt an ordinance establishing a capital improvement board (CIB).
Chair of the board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, said the ordinance was “not quite ready for prime time.”
But it appears that the city of Bloomington and Monroe County have put the major differences behind them that have stalled the project since late May.
Formation of a CIB, which is now expected early next year, will answer the question of governance for the long-planned convention center expansion project.
Monroe County councilor Cheryl Munson on Dec. 12, 2019.
Monroe County councilor Geoff McKim (left) and deputy mayor Mick Renneisen on Dec. 12, 2019.
Based on discussion at a meeting of Bloomington and Monroe County officials last Thursday (Dec. 12), a capital improvement board could be established as soon as this Wednesday to provide governance for an expanded convention center.
City councilmember Steve Volan at the Dec. 4, 2019 Bloomington city council meeting.
County councilor Eric Spoonmore at the Dec. 4, 2019 Bloomington city council meeting..
County commissioner Julie Thomas at the Dec. 4, 2019 Bloomington city council meeting..
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.
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.
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 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 favor.
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.
The goal is for the fiscal body of the county to get a clearer understanding from the county’s legal staff about how a CIB might fit into the planned expansion of the county’s convention center.
County councilors will also get a presentation from the three county commissioners on the eastward expansion option for the convention center. It’s the option the commissioners favor. It’s different from the northward option recommended in the spring by a nine-member steering committee, and favored by Bloomington.
Part of the background for the Tuesday meeting of the county council will now include a letter sent on Saturday, by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to the county’s board of commissioners. The board is the executive branch of government for the county.
A second joint meeting of city and county elected officials about the planned convention center expansion was held on Tuesday night, this time at the county courthouse. The first such meeting was held a month and a half ago, at the existing convention center.
For roughly the first hour and a half of Tuesday’s meeting, the group’s focus was on the planned funding sources for the convention center expansion (food and beverage tax) and its related parking garage (TIF revenue).
The overall consensus of the group was: The presentation showed the food and beverage tax would generate sufficient revenue to pay for a 30,000-square-foot project, estimated to cost around $44 million. Previous questions about the adequacy of the city’s TIF district to pay for an expanded center’s separate 550-space parking garage got positive answers.
When the discussion of finances was concluded, Geoff McKim said about the city’s presentation, “It really was absolutely spot-on…all these questions—asked and answered.”
But the meeting concluded without a focused discussion about the third agenda topic, which was the formation of a capital improvement board. The unanswered questions indicated on the agenda were: When should a CIB be created? Which properties should the CIB own? Which units of government should make appointments to the CIB?
It’s possible the topic could surface again, at the next meeting of the city and county councils, plus the mayor and the board of county commissioners. It was tentatively scheduled for Nov. 21.
Scheduled for the Nov. 12 regular meeting of the county council is a presentation by county legal staff about CIBs.