NOTE: This article with Chamber President and CEO, Eric Spoonmore, was originally published on May 13, 2022 in Limestone Post Magazine by Steve Hinnefeld.
Monroe Convention Center opened in 1991 in the Graham Auto Sales building (built in 1923) at the corner of West 3rd Street and South College Avenue. Even then, local tourism officials argued it needed to be larger to attract even medium-size conventions. Now, though, some officials wonder if this is the right time to expand. | Photo by Limestone Post
For a time, it looked like the long-discussed expansion of the Monroe Convention Center was about to come to pass. Bloomington and Monroe County officials were talking about how to make it happen. They didn’t always agree, but they were talking. Hopes for progress were high.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything shut down: tourism, travel, and talk of expanding the center.
Now business leaders and some local government officials want to reboot the process, but they may face an uphill fight. Key decision makers in county government aren’t convinced that now is the time to expand the convention center. Or even that expanding is a good idea.
“I just feel we’re in such a time of flux and uncertainty, it doesn’t make sense to move forward with a huge project without knowing what’s coming,” says Julie Thomas, president of the Monroe County board of commissioners.
The Monroe Convention Center opened in 1991 in a former car dealership at 302 S. College Ave. Almost from the start, local tourism officials argued it needed to be larger. A 2003 Herald-Times column lamented that the center was “considered too small to attract even medium-sized conventions.”
It took years of lobbying, but finally local leaders got the Indiana General Assembly to authorize a 1 percent food and beverage tax to fund the convention center expansion or “related tourism or economic development projects.” That was in 2009. Then it took until December 2017 for the Monroe County Council to vote, 4-3, to impose the tax, despite vocal opposition.
“That was the hard part, the big, heavy lift,” says Eric Spoonmore, president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. “But there’s been no progress since.”
PRESS RELEASE: The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Community Conversation on Justice Reform to be held on Tuesday, November 15th
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce is inviting interested parties for lunch and conversation on Justice Reform on Tuesday, November 15th at the Elks Lodge located at 400 N. Walnut St. in Bloomington.
“This important discussion will inform the public on the many complexities of our local system of criminal justice including the need for a new jail facility in Monroe County,” said Eric Spoonmore, the Chamber’s President & CEO.
What Justice Reform Entails. There will need to be a new justice center to replace the one built in 1985. According to the 2020 Criminal Justice & Incarceration Study conducted by the RJS Justice Services, “The jail facility is failing and cannot ensure consistent and sustainable provision of constitutional rights of incarcerated persons. The report goes on to declare, “daily inmate population exceeded the jail’s functional capacity on most days since 2004 and all days per year consecutively since 2015.” Beyond the new justice center, the study reveals that 75-80% of the daily 250-320 inmates have some sort of mental illness or substance abuse issue. The current facility does not have the space nor the staff of mental health professionals to address this issue.
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