Note: This "It's Your Business" column by Erin Predmore, the Chamber's President & CEO, first appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of the Bloomington Herald-Times.
Earlier this summer, we unveiled an important historical marker for our community as a whole, for the business community and, most importantly, for the Black business community.
In the 1960s, a business called The Black Market operated in the spot where Peoples Park is located now. Owned and run by Indiana University grad student Rollo Turner, it was a Bloomington store celebrating Black culture, with African art, clothing and music. It was a welcoming place for Black IU students and community members to gather.
On Dec. 26, 1968, in a violent reaction to the civil rights movement, the Black Market was firebombed. What was one moment a thriving, locally owned business and center for Black culture became in the next moment a burning symbol of hatred and racism. The store was destroyed in the fire.
As time passed, this location became a gathering place for local students, civil rights activists and other residents. The family that owned it later gave this land to the city of Bloomington to be maintained forever as a public park — Peoples Park.
But as time passed, the story of this place — The Black Market, the firebombing, and its place in the history of the local civil rights movement — was left behind. People stopped telling others about it, and many residents never knew what happened here.
I first learned about this history almost two years ago, when the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce began working with leaders in the Black business community in an effort that led to the formation of the chamber’s Black-Owned Business Affinity Group. With their leadership, we partnered with the city of Bloomington to submit an application to the Indiana Historical Bureau. That work led to the installation of an historical marker at Peoples Park that we celebrated on July 31.
But really, we were celebrating our community’s Black business owners and acknowledging that what happened here in 1968 still matters to Bloomington today. We forget that history at our peril.
The treatment of people of color in Bloomington and Monroe County has been horrible, ranging from microaggressions at work to racial profiling to physical violence. Taking a stand against these behaviors is required by of all of us who want to be decent and humane.
For those who don’t believe this is a moral issue or don’t acknowledge that racism still exists here, at least consider the economic impact of our community’s reputation. This summer, our office has fielded calls and emails from individuals and groups who were no longer willing to come to Bloomington because of the racist actions of some of our community members. In 2018, visitors spent over $418 million in Monroe County. What would we do if they all decided not to come back after the pandemic abates?
Here’s another harsh reality, from the Monroe County Quality of Place & Workforce Retention Plan: “Minority residents do not feel the sense of welcoming community that Monroe County prides itself on. The legacy of the KKK in the region is remembered and felt today. Recruiters have trouble attracting diverse candidates to the region, to Monroe County, and to Bloomington.”
Our community’s success is intricately tied to the success of our neighbors, friends and colleagues. We will all rise or fall together, and we can only rise by supporting those who need to be recognized as valuable members of our community. We must embrace the minority members of our community and stand for equality, equity and inclusion.
To all people of color, the chamber is glad you are here.
Three panelists representing different aspects of Bloomington's performing arts sector shared their views at an Aug. 13 Chamber Speaker Series event.
Topics in the wide-ranging discussion included the impact of COVID-19 on performing arts organizations, how groups are adapting in creative ways, infrastructure needs, ways that new collaborations are forming, and the need for ongoing support during these challenging times.
According to a 2019 study commissioned by Cardinal Stage, the Bloomington/Monroe County performing arts sector adds over $4 million annually to the local economy and supports more than 160 jobs here.
Click here to view a recording of the Speaker Series discussion.
March 6 is the deadline to apply for the 2020 Best Places to Work Bloomington. The awards are open to any business with an office in Monroe County and the equivalent of 10 or more employees. Click here to apply.
Best Places to Work Bloomington is part of a national awards program. Locally, it is sponsored by Dimension Mill, the Bloomington Herald-Times, and the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. An awards ceremony will take place at The Mill on June 9, 2020. Click here for more information.
February is Black History Month, the perfect time to reflect on our community’s diversity. It’s also a time to challenge ourselves, take a hard look at where we fall short – we’re not as diverse or welcoming as we’d like to believe – and take steps to strengthen those areas.
In the past year, the Chamber has made a commitment to supporting the work of black business owners in Bloomington and Monroe County. We’ve started an affinity group that meets regularly to strategize about how to raise up their voices and tackle issues specific to growing their businesses.
We also surveyed black business owners to get a better handle on their economic impact. The 27 respondents reported a total of $2.557 million in gross annual revenues, employing nearly 60 workers. In total, they reported 237 years in business, reflecting a depth of experience and the important role those businesses have played in our community’s history.
The Chamber is honoring part of that history – and acknowledging the often-uncomfortable legacy we share – by placing an historical marker at People’s Park to highlight the significance of that location.
In 1968, an African American student named Clarence “Rollo” Turner led protests against racial discrimination that were met with open hostility in Bloomington. That fall, he opened the Black Market in the location where People’s Park is located today. It sold books, clothing, records, artwork and other crafts made in Africa or by African Americans and acted as a cultural center for black students at Indiana University.
On December 26, 1968, the Black Market was firebombed, and the entire store destroyed leaving Bloomington residents to grapple with the brutal and harsh realities of racism. Two Ku Klux Klan members were eventually convicted of the arson. In 1970, IU students began developing the vacant lot into People’s Park, a place for activism, recreation and free expression.
The marker, awarded by the Indiana Historical Society, will be placed in People’s Park with a celebration on May 1. We’ll be providing more details about the event soon and hope you can join us.
Before then, February is full of Black History Month events: discussion panels, lectures, performances, film screenings and other activities throughout the community. I urge you to check out the calendars for Indiana University and the City of Bloomington to find at least one way to get involved.
Our past is still very much present – the things that make us proud, as well as the things we struggle to overcome. I hope you’ll join me in working to build a community that embraces everyone.
Note: This column by Chamber CEO Erin Predmore was published in the February issue of BizNet, a Chamber publication in partnership with the Bloomington Herald-Times.
As part of its Better Together – Creative Places Initiative, the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County is seeking applications for $20,000 in grants to activate or create public spaces that advance a more vibrant, welcoming, and inclusive community.
Proposals will be accepted from organizations that are designated as 501(c)(3) entities or that fall within the category of an exempt organization, such as schools, governmental units, and religious organizations.
Projects proposed should:
Click here for more information on how to apply. The application deadline is Feb. 29, with grants awarded in April 2020.
The City of Bloomington is conducting a survey to assess the space needs of organizations and individuals in the Bloomington Entertainment & Arts District (BEAD) .
The survey takes about 3-5 minutes and will close on Nov. 27.
BEAD is a state-designated cultural district that's overseen by the City of Bloomington's Department of Economic & Sustainable Development. It is an area in downtown Bloomington that includes a variety of cultural venues, including the Bloomington Playwrights Project, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (where the BEAD Info Shop is located), WonderLab Museum, Arts Row and more. Click here to view a walking map of the district.
For more information, go to VisitBEAD.com.
The City of Bloomington has hired RDG Consultants to conduct an in-depth housing study, examining the city's existing rental and owner-occupied housing stock, its location, price points and condition. Based on this analysis, the city plans to complete an assessment of future housing needs.
As part of this effort, the city is holding "listening sessions" to get input on Bloomington's current and future housing needs. Sessions will be held Oct. 21 through Oct. 24. For details on specific times and to sign up to attend a session, please click here.
Bloomington's housing study is building on the recent Indiana Uplands Regional Housing Study, which was also conducted by RDG Consultants and includes an assessment of Monroe County. Click here for more information on that effort.
An 11-county study of workforce housing needs has been released this week, assessing the regional housing market and proposing strategies for addressing challenges.
The 339-page Indiana Uplands Regional Housing Study includes the Bloomington/Monroe County community. Reports for individual counties also can be downloaded on the housing study's website.
Six main strategies are identified by the report (pp 318-337):
ROI is an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, and is funded through a $25.87 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
The Monroe County Public Library board has taken several steps toward building a new branch in the southwest area of Monroe County, though a specific location hasn't yet been announced.
At its Sept. 18 meeting, the MCPL board unanimously approved issuing a 20-year bond for up to $5 million for the project, which is estimated to cost about $10 million. The total financing would include cash from reserves as well as operating receipts. The library plans to fund this project without a tax increase.
On Sept. 18, trustees also approved hiring Bose McKinney & Evans LLP of Indianapolis to serve as bond counsel and Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, headquartered in Chicago, to serve as municipal a advisor for the library.
Gary Lettelleir, MCPL finance manager, told trustees this was the "first step for issuing a bond to pay for the new southwest branch construction."
Click here to view the supporting documents, including a project timeline, provided in the board packet. Marilyn Wood, MCPL director, told trustees that the timeline is "more aggressive than we anticipate."
The board has previously approved hiring Matheu Architects for this project. That firm also designed the Ellettsville branch.
Click here to watch the bond presentation at the MCPL board's Sept. 18, 2019 meeting.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the MCPL board will hold a public hearing on its 2020 budget. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the downtown library, 303 W. Kirkwood Ave., Room 1B.
On the third Thursday of each month, Downtown Bloomington Inc. hosts a breakfast meeting that's open to the public. This month, the event drew about two dozen people who gathered at the Bloomington Cooking School.
These meetings primarily consist of updates from everyone who attends. Here's a sampling from the Sept. 19 session (* = Chamber member):
Monroe County* is replacing its downtown canopy of lights on the square with roughly 4,000 LED bulbs. Cassady Electrical Contractors* will be hanging the new strands during the third week of October. The change is estimated to cut electricity costs from $70/day to $15/day.
Downtown employers will be receiving an online survey soon to distribute to their employees as part of the City of Bloomington* Transportation Demand Management (TDM) initiative. The survey will gather information on how employees get to work, parking needs, and incentives they might use for taking alternative transportation, such as public transit.
Malcolm Abrams, publisher of Bloom Magazine* reported that Nov. 1 is the deadline to submit nominations for the monthly magazine's Community Awards, recognizing local business, charity, the arts and diversity. The awards will be presented at a gala in December.
The city's new Switchyard Park will be opening on Nov. 1. The new clubhouse at the Cascades Golf Course will be opening soon as well. It will include rentable space that's available year-round, according to Mary Catherine Carmichael, the city's director of public engagement. She quipped that the previous structure had been "rode hard and put away wet."
Adam Wason, the city's director of public works, reported that "surgical" demolition of the 4th St. garage will begin soon. The next hearing of the eminent domain lawsuit against the city is scheduled for Oct. 7. The city hopes to reach a settlement with Juan Carlos Carrasquel, Wason said. Site plans for the new 4th St. garage won't be reviewed by the Plan Commission until the situation is resolved.
CFC Properties* has launched a new website for Fountain Square. Two additional event spaces are now available for the public. CFC also is looking for a new tenant in the Wicks Building on the square at 116 W. 6th St.
The Bloomington Cooking School* is offering corporate teambuilding sessions for 8-20 people. Groups can come in a prepare a meal together – then eat it! – while getting to know each other and strengthening their business relationships.
The city's tree inventory has been released and "the general impression is not good," according to Julie Roberts, gallery director for the Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center*, who also serves as president of the city's Utilities Service Board. She urged everyone to be observant of the condition of Bloomington's trees. (Read a report about the tree inventory here.)
The DBI's next breakfast meeting is on Thursday, Oct. 17. Sign up for the group's e-newsletter here.
Director of Advocacy & Public Policy