A 1-percent tax on prepared food and beverages may be levied in Monroe County to help fund the expansion of the Monroe Convention Center in downtown Bloomington.
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce will support the tax, and the Monroe County council will vote Dec. 13 on whether it will be adopted.
THE CONVENTION CENTER ARGUMENT
Proponents of the new convention center expansion say it will enrich the local economy by creating space for larger events to take place in Bloomington, indirectly drawing business into Monroe County.
“Tourism is the perfect clean industry for our community,” said Talisha Coppock, executive director of the Monroe Convention Center.
She said the current convention center has lost business because it isn’t large enough to accommodate big groups.
The center hopes to expand to house events like concerts and medical conferences.
“This will not change,” said Mike McAffee, executive director of Visit Bloomington, pointing to a photo of the Indiana Memorial Union. “We do not care where people hold their meetings.”
McAffee emphasized that the goal of the expansion is to create more space, not to compete with University-owned conference spaces.
Coppock said the expansion will create good relationships with local small businesses, generating revenue for them.
“They are florists, DJs, graphics people," Coppock said.
“Convention centers are not profit-making entities,” said Thomas Hazinski, a consultant for Hospitality Valuation Services. “That’s why public entities own them. The reason convention centers exist is what goes on inside them.”
Evidenced by an active Facebook page called ‘Kill the Zombie Tax of Monroe County,’ the Food and Beverage Tax faces a vocal opposition.
The Monroe County Citizens Against the Food and Beverage Tax are calling it the Zombie tax because it’s been proposed and "killed" twice before.
The tax would apply to all of Monroe County, but the convention center will remain located in downtown Bloomington.
“You’re going to be hard-pressed to tell me how someone out in the country in Washington Township — or towards the county line of Morgan County and Monroe County — how they’re going to benefit from a bigger convention center,” said William Ellis, head of the Monroe County Citizens Against the Food and Beverage Tax.
Ellis said he thinks students at Indiana University would be disproportionately affected by the tax since they consume a lot of prepared foods and beverages.
He predicted customers will start to spend less as a result of the 1 percent tax, forcing companies to cut costs and potentially downsize the number of employees they hire.
Ellis took specific issue with the idea raised by Bloomington City Council members that this tax is voluntary, and said many residents do not have the option to avoid prepared food.
“If it’s feasible to expand, I think the private individual will do it,” Ellis said. “We don’t necessarily need the public on the hook to fund this.”