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Monroe Convention Center expansion reaches new agreements


A hallway is lined with gathering spaces Dec. 9 in the Monroe Convention Center. The center is hoping to expand in the future. Anna Brown

Officials from Monroe County and the City of Bloomington government reached new agreements this week about the Monroe Convention Center, Mick Renneisen, city deputy mayor, said.

The city and county have a better idea of the time this project will take and how it will come together, Renneisen said. He estimates the expansion could be finished in as soon as three years.

“We’re happy because there’s finally a suggested end point for this,” Renneisen said.

The expansion would increase the convention center’s size by 60,000 square feet, according to a proposal by the mayor’s office. The estimated cost of the project is $44 million.

According to the proposal, the project also includes a downtown garage near the convention center costing at least an additional $15 million.

Renneisen said county council members, county commissioners and a city council representative met at a county council work session last Friday to determine who would be a part of a new governance body that will make major decisions moving forward in the project.

The decision was previously delayed due to issues about getting equal representation by the county and city governments on the new seven-person governance body. As of Friday, Renneisen said the new body will be made of three city government representatives, three county government representatives and one additional person either from the city or the county who will be voted into the position.

Renneisen said the governance body’s first goal is to determine whether the city and county will create a new Capital Improvement Board or a new nonprofit organization to handle overseeing and designing the new addition to the convention center. That decision will come by the end of December, Renneisen said.

The designing process would begin after that, Renneisen said, and the public would be invited to comment about design plans. This includes the decision of whether to expand north or east of the existing convention center, a topic that has been debated for months.

“We don’t want to delay this process any more,” Renneisen said.

City council member Susan Sandberg said she believes the expansion is a good move for the city but that the decision-making process has gone on for too long.

“The longer drawn out the arguments are, the less you get out of it,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg said it’s the city and the county’s job to move forward on the project quickly for the sake of the public.

The Monroe Convention Center project was first announced to the public in October 2017, when the mayor’s office published a press release asking the public to accept a 1% food and beverage tax to fund the expansion. The tax was approved in December 2017.

In July 2018, a press release by the City of Bloomington announced the convention center expansion was advancing and would continue to progress forward. The expansion has been a frequent topic of discussion at city and county council meetings since.

Mike Fisher, owner of The Briar and The Burley on West Kirkwood Avenue, said he is most excited about the parking garage proposed for the plan. He said he looks forward to having more parking options for people at his store.

Brandon Hudson, retail sales associate at JL Waters and Company on North College Avenue, said he thinks the new convention center expansion will help promote business. A longtime employee at the store, he said he looks forward to seeing more foot traffic from people out of town.

“It’ll put Bloomington on the radar more now than ever,” Hudson said.

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