NOTE: This "It's Your Business" column by Chamber CEO Eric Spoonmore was published in the December 30, 2022 Bloomington Herald-Times.
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce continues to support the expansion of the Monroe Convention Center. The expansion will be paid for by revenue from the 1% food and beverage tax that was passed in 2017 by the Monroe County Council. Disappointingly, there has been no tangible progress on the expansion despite nearly $15 million in food and beverage tax revenue collected over the past five years.
However, a glimmer of hope came in November when meaningful steps were taken by county government to move forward with expansion plans. All three county commissioners unanimously agreed to create a Capital Improvement Board (CIB) that would give the city of Bloomington equal representation on the CIB. In the following weeks, all seven county council representatives unanimously supported the county commissioners’ CIB plan. Two weeks later, a supermajority of city council members voted 8-1 to support the plan for a CIB. For the first time in six years, strong momentum was building for the long-awaited convention center expansion project. Elected officials across the city and county were working together to achieve progress on this shared community goal.
And then, on Dec. 23, Mayor John Hamilton — with a year left in his term — issued a veto of the city council’s 8-1 vote. In an extensive explanation, he stated that his preference is not a CIB, but to instead create a city-controlled 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to manage the expansion. The mayor’s proposed nonprofit organization would give the county no representation on its board of directors.
The Chamber fundamentally disagrees with the city administration’s concept of establishing a city-controlled 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to manage the convention center and expansion project. It is important to note that Monroe County government enacted the food and beverage tax that will fund the entirety of the estimated $70 million expansion project. In addition, Monroe County government has committed millions of dollars in land assets to the project. The significant contributions by the county to this project are crucial to achieving the signature, world-class convention center facility that was promised to the community by city and county leaders in 2017. As such, the county is more than deserving of a seat at the table, and that is best achieved through creation of a CIB, which gives city and county government equal partnership in the project.
The Chamber further supports the creation of a CIB because it is a proven and highly effective model for undertaking and managing complex, public projects in Indiana. Other communities in Indiana utilize CIBs and have thriving convention centers. To name a few, Fort Wayne/Allen County, Terre Haute/Vigo County, and Indianapolis/ Marion County all have created successful CIBs. The CIB framework is codified in state statute providing important protections to our taxpayers. A 501(c)3, however, is not a proven model and does not have protections guaranteed to the public by Indiana state law. In our view, the CIB is the most prudent choice for representing and protecting the best interest of the Bloomington/Monroe County community.
The Chamber urges the 18 of 20 elected leaders who formally voted to support the CIB to stay the course and remain committed to a CIB as the best option to manage our convention center expansion. This is a wonderful opportunity for our elected leaders across the city and county to work together as a team to deliver on the promises made to the community. This important economic development project will have a lasting impact on our community for generations to come — let’s make 2023 the year we get it done.
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