Some Bloomington councilmembers who've been holding monthly constituent sessions at city hall have pivoted to Zoom, an online videoconferencing platform, in the wake of changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Isabel Piedmont-Smith (District 5) will hold a constituent session on Saturday, March 28 from 11-noon. Click here to access the meeting via Zoom. Additional details are on her Facebook page.
Sue Sgambelluri (District 2) plans to hold a Zoom session for constituents on Saturday, April 4 at 1:30 p.m. Details will be forthcoming on her Facebook page and website.
Assuming the stay-at-home directive is still in place, Matt Flaherty (At-Large) will hold a constituent hour via Zoom or other online platform on Saturday, April 18, with details to be announced on his Facebook page.
To reach your elected officials directly, get contact info on the Chamber's Elected Officials Directory.
Work will start later this year on a redesigned 4th St. garage, following approval of required variances by the Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals. It will be built on the existing footprint with 7 stories, 537 spaces and ground floor commercial space. The estimated completion date is August 2021.
The city also has dropped its appeal in the eminent domain lawsuit it filed to take the JuanSells.com building at the south end of the block.
The variances granted by the BZA at its March 19 meeting included allowing the parking structure’s entrance driveway to be wider than would ordinarily be allowed under city code, and allowing the driveway to be closer to Walnut Street than the code allows.
The downtown garage was closed in late 2018 because of structural flaws. It was subsequently demolished last year.
Community and civic leaders have formed a coalition to coordinate responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The group is gathering resources and sharing information with twice-weekly conference calls. Here is a summary of the recent updates from around the community.
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund
The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund has been formed to respond to human service needs. It will launch with $250,000 from partners, including the Bloomington Health Foundation, Community Foundation of Bloomington Monroe County Government, City of Bloomington, Monroe County Community Schools Foundation, Bloomington Township, Perry Township, Van Buren Township, Duke Energy, Cook Group, Old National Bank, and Owen County State Bank.
The fund will be used to:
Monroe County Government
There are no confirmed cases so far. The Monroe County Health Department is working to communicate with the community, including businesses like childcare providers, group homes, etc. where groups gather. Get updates via Facebook @MoCoHealth or on the Health Department’s website.
The county has opened an emergency operations center. Monroe County has issued a local disaster emergency declaration, which will help secure resources for this area.
Monroe County has implemented Phase II of its continuity-of-government plan. Many buildings are closed to the public, as are county parks. Courts will hold only essential and emergency hearings. The county has allocated $25,000 to this coalition. Officials say it has a healthy rainy day fund and they want to hear what the community needs.
Cities and Townships
The City of Bloomington continues to maintain critical services, including police, fire, dispatch, water utilities, sanitation, transit, fleet maintenance, and animal shelter, among others. Click here for additional actions taken by the city. There are no directives to shelter-in-place at this time. Updates will be posted to the city's COVID-19 site.
Ellettsville is also maintaining critical services, and reaching out to some of the rural parts of Monroe County to offer help. Updates are available on the town’s website.
Three townships have committed to funding the COVID-19 relief fund. Bloomington Township has offered the township’s former office building as a facility for housing residents who need to be quarantined, if necessary.
Business: In collaboration with other Bloomington and Monroe County organizations, the Chamber has created a resource site to help businesses navigate the impact of COVID-19. The Chamber also compiled a listing of updates, information and resources provided by Chamber members. The resource categories include food, kids activities, housing and utilities, among others. These pages will be updated daily.
Local small business: Retailers, restaurants and other businesses are organizing to support each other and encourage the community to "Shop Local" during this period. The City of Bloomington is offering free two-hour parking downtown daily.
Low-interest loans: The U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loan program will provide 3.75% interest rates on 30-year loans for small businesses, or 2.75% interest loans for nonprofits. Call 812-345-1141 to reach staff of the South Central Indiana SBDC for more information.
Education: Both MCCSC and RBB districts are doing deep cleaning of their buildings and are preparing for remote instruction starting March 23. Both districts are providing food delivery on weekdays.
Childcare: This is a challenge, especially for businesses that rely on in-person employees. The Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County is working to assess childcare and early learning needs.
Blood supply: Many Red Cross blood drives have been canceled, and the blood supply is a concern. The Red Cross is looking for locations to hold blood drives. MCCSC Superintendent Judy DeMuth said the schools are available for blood drives.
Tourism: Hotel business has dropped dramatically. April-May are huge revenue months, and the local tourism industry will likely take a $75-80 million hit during that time. All events have been canceled at the Monroe Convention Center, and that facility might be available for community needs, if necessary.
Even as the community deals with COVID-19, it's important to encourage all residents to respond to the Census 2020 questionnaire. More info here.
In collaboration with other Bloomington and Monroe County organizations, the Chamber has created a resource site to help businesses navigate the impact of COVID-19.
In addition to guidance from the Small Business Administration, Centers for Disease Control and others, the site provides legal resources, economic recovery resources, and links to updates from the Monroe County Health Department, City of Bloomington, and local educational institutions.
We've also compiled a listing of updates, information and resources provided by our Chamber members. The resource categories include food, kids activities, housing and utilities, among others. Do you have an update to include? Click here to submit your information and we'll add it to the list.
Local governments are making changes in response to threats from the coronavirus pandemic.
The City of Bloomington is reducing large in-person meeting effective March 16, including advisory board and commission meetings and several upcoming special events. Monroe County has canceled all board and commission meetings through March 25, other than meetings of the Board of Commissioners and County Council.
Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a Declaration of Public Health Emergency on March 6.
In a press release issued March 12, the Monroe County Health Department stated that employers should encourage telecommuting where possible and consider temporary changes to sick leave and/or hardship policies to address employee needs. Penny Caudill, the county's health administrator, also recommended implementing contingency staffing plans that will include flexible scheduling as well as temporary changes and exceptions to leave policies, in order to allow employees to take care of themselves or family members.
The Centers for Disease Control has created a guide for businesses to plan, prepare, and respond to the coronavirus. The Indiana State Department of Health and the Monroe County Health Department will also continue to update their sites as more information becomes available.
As part of an effort to revise its strategic plan, the Bloomington Arts Commission is seeking feedback via an online survey.
The brief survey takes 2-5 minutes to complete. It asks several freeform questions about your awareness of the commission, what you'd like the commission to do for the city's residents, and what the commission might do to become better known in the community.
Click here to take the survey.
The commission's 2017-2019 strategic plan is available online here.
In a nearly unanimous vote on March 9, the Bloomington Plan Commission has approved a redesigned 4th St. parking structure. It will be built on the existing footprint with 7 stories and 537 spaces. The estimated completion date is August 2021.
Eighteen people spoke during public commentary. Of those, 11 strongly supported the project, including A John Rose, chair of the Chamber Advocacy Council; Ron Walker, immediate past chair of the Chamber board and vice president of operations for CFC Properties; Jim Murphy, president of CFC Properties who also serves on the Chamber Advocacy Council; and Mary Morgan, the Chamber's Director of Advocacy & Public Policy.
The project, which includes a public art component, does not require additional city council approval. Click here to read details of the project from the Plan Commission packet.
Watch the Plan Commission deliberations on CATS here. Or read the B Square Beacon report: "Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021."
A lively discussion on the proposed local income tax increase was the focus of the March 6 WFIU Noon Edition. Panelists included Mary Morgan, the Chamber's Director of Advocacy & Public Policy; Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton; Bloomington City Councilmember Matt Flaherty; and Ellettsville Town Councilmember William Ellis.
Click here to listen.
The panel was moderated by WFIU's Bob Zaltsberg and Sara Wittmeyer, who also took questions from listeners calling in or emailing.
The Chamber has not yet taken a position on the income tax proposal, as few details have been provided about how the money would be spent in the proposed Sustainability Investment Fund. We continue to advocate for transparency and accountability in all aspects of government, as well as for broad public engagement in decision-making.
An overview of the proposed Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan – including several recommendations to lower the use of single-occupancy vehicles – was presented to Bloomington City Council at their March 4, 2020 meeting.
Justin Schor of Wells + Associates, the transportation consulting firm hired by the city, made the presentation. Click here to view his slidedeck, or watch it on CATS here. The full report will be available on the city's TDM website.
Short-term recommendations include providing a carpool matching service, a "guaranteed ride home" service, education and marketing about transportation options, and an increase in the cost of parking by 50% or more.
To implement and manage the city's TDM program, Schor recommended 2.5 employees, including a TDM director, manager and a part-time coordinator. The program's budget is estimated at nearly $500,000 annually. The council would need to vote to approve the program and identify revenues to support it.
The City of Bloomington is hosting a forum on Thursday, March 5 to discuss priorities for a new Sustainability Investment Fund and a possible increase in the local income tax to support the fund. The event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Mill, 642 North Madison St.
According to a city press release, the format will include a brief presentation, followed by opportunities to discuss topics with subject-matter experts. Those topics include the city's "comprehensive response to climate change, how the fund might support social equity, and the possibilities the fund could create in areas from transit and other mobility options to sustainable housing and green infrastructure, among others."
A light meal will be provided. The city is also asking residents to share comments and suggestions about the Sustainability Investment Fund via this online form.
On Jan. 1, Mayor John Hamilton announced a proposal to increase the local income tax by 0.5% for Monroe County residents, raising about $16 million annually – half for the city, half for the county – to be used for economic development purposes. Hamilton proposed using the city's share for sustainability initiatives that have not yet been determined. The tax could be enacted if approved by the majority of the Bloomington City Council.
Director of Advocacy & Public Policy