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 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”

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”

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”

Monroe County commissioners: Equal county-city representation is “only way” to move convention center expansion forward

Set for Thursday night in Bloomington’s city council chambers is the third in a series of meetings between city and county elected officials about the planned expansion of the county convention center.

short letter Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 12.38.43 AMA short letter from the three Monroe County commissioners, sent Wednesday to Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, will help now set the mood for  Thursday’s meeting.

The single sentence in the letter, which dispenses with salutation and closing, runs 27 words:

The only way we will consider moving forward with the Convention Center Project is with the County having an equal representation of membership on the oversight board.

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.

In previous written and oral exchanges, it has been evident that representation in the governing entity—whether it’s a building corporation, a capital improvement board, or a 501(c)(3)—is a point of acute disagreement between county commissioners and Mayor Hamilton.

For a seven-member capital improvement board, commissioners have proposed either a 4–3 or a 3-4 split. Hamilton has countered by saying that he thinks 6–1 or 5-2 in the city’s favor would reflect better the city’s financial contribution to the project.

Based on Wednesday’s one-sentence letter, commissioners are not willing to negotiate the point. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners: Equal county-city representation is “only way” to move convention center expansion forward”

“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. Continue reading ““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”

New mayoral letter sets backdrop for county council’s Tuesday briefing on governance of convention center expansion

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Excerpt from the Nov. 9, 2019 letter from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to Monroe County commissioners, which was sent three days after he appeared at the regular meeting of the commissioners on Nov. 6.

Monroe County councilors will be getting a presentation about capital improvement boards (CIBs) at their meeting scheduled for Tuesday night.

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.

The letter summarizes the mayor’s position in writing, which he expressed orally last Wednesday, when he attended the regular meeting of the commissioners.

The main point of conflict between the mayor and the commissioners is what entity should move the convention center expansion forward from a preliminary design phase that concluded this spring. The project has made no visible progress since the preliminary site plan recommendation was made by a nine-member steering committee in late May. Continue reading “New mayoral letter sets backdrop for county council’s Tuesday briefing on governance of convention center expansion”

County commissioners, mayor meet about convention center: Points of conflict come into sharper focus

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, attended Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Monroe County three-member board of commissioners to talk about how to move the convention center expansion project forward. He acted on an invitation made by commissioners after a meeting of county and city officials on Tuesday a week ago.

The project has made no progress on the preliminary site plan recommendation made by a nine-member steering committee in late May.

Wednesday’s meeting did not produce any consensus for a path towards a design and construction phase of the project. Some of the points of disagreement between the mayor and the commissioners did come into sharper focus. Continue reading “County commissioners, mayor meet about convention center: Points of conflict come into sharper focus”