Board maintains momentum for Monroe Convention Center expansion, but interlocal accord still unsigned
NOTE: This article that features The Chamber's President & CEO, Eric Spoonmore, was published on January 18, 2024 in the B Square Bulletin by Dave Askins. Photos are provided by B Square Bulletin.
At its Wednesday afternoon meeting, Monroe County’s capital improvement board of managers (CIB) took the actions recommended by a three-member committee for moving ahead with the Monroe Convention Center expansion project.
One step was to authorize the issuance of an RFQ (request for qualifications) for a “construction manager as contractor” for the project. Interested firms will have three weeks to respond to the RFQ. The idea is for the three-member committee to winnow the respondents to a short-list by the next meeting of the CIB, which is now set for Feb. 14 at 3 p.m.
The full board won’t be picking from the short list at that meeting, but could ratify the committee’s shortlisters.
Also approved by the CIB at Wednesday’s meeting was the issuance of an RFQ for an owner’s representative. The idea is that none of the CIB members will have sufficient time to staff the project, and that role should be assigned to an owner’s rep.
In other action, the CIB headed towards retaining Schmidt Associates as the architect for the project, to build on the planning work that Schmidt did in 2019. The CIB voted to direct its legal counsel, Jim Whitlach, to contact Schmidt to confirm that the CIB wants Schmidt to be the main architect for the project.
Whitlach is also supposed to ask Schmidt for a planning proposal that would allow the firm’s previous Phase 1 work to be updated to current 2024 standards.
At Wednesday’s meeting, CIB member Adam Thies made a point not to call the work that Schmidt Associates will be asked to do now “Phase 2,” but rather an extension of Phase 1 work.
That’s because in the industry, Phase 2 would mean “signing a contract to construct,” Thies said, which would mean there’s a defined budget and a defined scope of work. That’s something the CIB does not yet have for the expansion project.
Locking in the budget is something that was a point of emphasis for Thies, at the meeting of the three-member committee on Jan. 5 and at Wednesday’s meeting of the full CIB.
Thies serves as Indiana University’s associate vice president for capital planning, which means he oversees architectural design for all IU campuses. CIB member Eric Spoonmore asked Thies, “My question is, at what point, based on your experience of doing this work, do we need to have an accurate budget in place?” Thies’s response: “My kind of guy!”
Thies continued by saying the RFQ has some very general parameters, like doing some renovations to the existing building and the hope to construct a new building. Asking firms to respond to that kind of request would not be a “burden” to the responders, Thies said, because if they compete routinely in the open marketplace, they would be able to pull together qualifications quickly.
But the CIB will want to have a budget by the time it asks the short-listed RFQ respondents to respond to an RFP (request for proposals). To issue the RFP, Thies said, “It’s incumbent on this board to know what they’re proposing on.” Thies added that there is a “moment of truth” when the budget is determined.
Thies also pointed out that having a construction budget is essential, before the CIB signs a contract for Phase 2 work with Schmidt Associates. That’s because such a contract would typically pay the architect a percentage of fee on the construction budget.
In order to dial in the budget, Thies noted that the scope and location of the project needs to become more fine-grained. He tied that to the question of why the expansion is needed. Presenting the case at Wednesday’s meeting that a bigger convention center facility is needed were Talisha Coppock, executive director of Downtown Bloomington, Inc. and Mike McAfee, executive director of Visit Bloomington.
Thies told Coppock and McAfee that the CIB needs “a little more data to actually guide our work forward.” While they had presented the outlines, Thies wanted them to provide more details about what is missing from the current facility—a ballroom, 20-person meeting rooms, 40-person meeting rooms, or other elements.
About the clear statement of need, Thies told Affee and Coppock that “We’re close. But I’m not feeling we’re totally there.”
The three-member committee is supposed to winnow down the respondents to the construction manager RFQ in preparation for the Feb. 14 meeting of the full seven-member CIB. But the committee composition has changed—because the composition of the CIB has changed.
The CIB terms of the two mayoral appointees and the two appointees of the county commissioners expired on Jan. 15.
The three-member committee that met on Jan. 5 was made up of Adam Thies, Mick Renneisen and Doug Bruce. Thies and Renneisen served on the CIB through mayoral appointments—so their initial turn on the CIB came when they were tapped by John Hamilton, who was mayor in early fall 2023, when the initial appointments were made.
Thies was reappointed by new mayor Kerry Thomson, but Renneisen was not. Renneisen had served as the deputy mayor under Hamilton through early 2021.
Replacing Renneisen on the committee will be Eric Spoonmore, who is president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
In Renneisen’s place on the CIB, Thomson put Jay Baer, who is founder of Convince & Convert, which is a marketing consulting firm specializing in providing advice on digital marketing and customer experience strategies for businesses.
Baer’s wife, Allyson Baer, handled scheduling and correspondence for Thomson during her campaign, and is now working in the mayor’s office as an administrative coordinator.
Baer joined Wednesday’s meeting through the Zoom video conference platform, but was not recognized until towards the end of the meeting. Presiding over the meeting as CIB president was John Whikehart. He told other CIB members that Thomson had texted him during the meeting advising him that she is, in fact, appointing Baer as a member of the CIB. Whikehart then acknowledged Baer: “Mr. Baer, welcome! We’ll see you at the next meeting!”
Whikehart told his colleagues on the CIB that he’d responded to Thomson’s text by saying that they awaited her letter appointing Baer and re-appointing Thies. Later on Wednesday, Whikehart confirmed to The B Square that he had since received copies of the mayoral appointment letters.
Whikehart and Joyce Poling were re-appointed to the CIB by Monroe County commissioners at their first meeting of the year on Jan. 3.
The political angle to the CIB extends beyond the appointments to the board.
It was a rift between former Bloomington mayor John Hamilton and the three county commissioners—over the convention center’s project governance—that delayed the creation of the CIB until July of last year. That was after the CIB appeared to be close to being formed in late 2019.
After her remarks at a Tuesday meeting of the Democrats Club at the DeAngelo’s restaurant, Thomson was asked by an attendee to say something about the convention center expansion.
Thomson responded by saying she had spoken with the county commissioners about the convention center expansion project and reported: “I think we’re on the same page, or at least a very similar page.” Thomson added, “We’re rolling!”
To keep the ball rolling will require the ratification of a four-way interlocal agreement that provides the framework for financial contributions to the project by the city and county governments.
The interlocal agreement includes the Bloomington city council and the mayor, which have already signed off on it.
But the county’s side is taking a minute to review the interlocal agreement.
The interlocal agreement appeared on the county council’s first meeting of the year on Jan. 9, but the council decided to put off discussion until its next meeting, on Jan. 23.
It’s not clear if county councilors, or eventually the county commissioners, will insist on amendments that would require re-approval by the city council and the mayor.
One of two areas of possible friction are the way the county council is required, for one of its appointments to the convention and visitors commission (CVC), to choose from a list of four nominees provided by Bloomngton’s city council.
The other area of possible friction is the creation of a non-CIB entity to be called the City Building Corporation, which would own the expanded convention center and lease it to the city. The idea spelled out in the current draft of the interlocal agreement is that the ownership would eventually transfer to the CIB.
The interlocal agreement also spells out the framework for the city and the county and the CIB to negotiate their respective financial contributions to the project. The outcome of those negotiations could have a big impact on the project budget.
Determining the budget could depend in part on whether the project costs will include reimbursement to the city of Bloomington for the total of close to $7 million that the city paid for the former Bunger & Robertson property, at 4th Street and College Avenue. That parcel is envisioned as a likely location for part of the expansion.
The biggest part of the property was purchased in summer 2019 for about $5 million. The northeast corner of the parking lot of that property was purchased for $1.9 million in March of 2023.
It is the countywide 1-percent food and beverage tax, which has been collected since 2017, that is supposed to pay for the convention center expansion. The 2023 year-end fund balance of Bloomington’s food and beverage tax share has not yet been filed with the state, but will be around $17.5 million. If $7 million has to be peeled off the top of that sum, to reimburse Bloomington for the Bunger & Robertson property, that would mean a significant reduction of the convention center project budget.
The $7 million was drawn from TIF (tax increment finance) money and authorized by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC).
The other big project in the works for the RDC, which will tap TIF funds, is the redevelopment of the Hopewell neighborhood.
During Bloomington mayor Kerry Thomson’s remarks, given on Tuesday to the Dems at DeAngelo’s, she indicated that more money could be needed for Hopewell than previously thought.
Thomson put it like this: “I think we may have to look at some of the requirements [for Hopewell], which either are going to need heavier subsidy, or we’re going to need to adjust our expectations for what we’re going to get there.”
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