Discussions surrounding the future use of the John Waldron Arts Center will begin next week in preparation for the building’s change in ownership in 2021.
The city will retake ownership of the building next January after it was previously maintained and owned by Ivy Tech Bloomington for the past 10 years. The task force will have its first meeting next week to evaluate some of the early proposals. Since the transfer was announced over the summer, the city has conducted an appraisal and physical inspection of the building. These findings will also be presented to the task force during the meeting.
A recommendation is expected around April of next year, which will be taken into consideration by Mayor John Hamilton and other city officials and stakeholders.
“The Waldron has been an anchor of Bloomington’s downtown for over a century, and we look forward to working with a broad swath of residents to determine the best use for this property as we continue to foster our vibrant community,” Hamilton said in a press release from the city.
There are 17 members on the task force and two co-chairs, Miah Michaelsen and Valerie Peña. Michaelsen is the deputy director of the Indiana Arts Commission and Peña is the assistant vice president and chief of staff for the IU Office of Government Relations & Economic Engagement. The expertise of the task force members ranges from the arts to real estate and economic development as well as other various topics.
Michaelsen worked at the building as the gallery director before becoming the executive director for the Bloomington Area Arts Council. Since she was a city employee at the time, Michaelsen was a part of the last change in ownership of the building before it was purchased by Ivy Tech.
“Depending on who you are in Bloomington, it probably means something different to you,” Michaelsen said. “It touches a lot of facets of who Bloomington is as a community.”
Michaelsen said the task force will focus both on the structural aspects of the building and needs of the community. She also said existing tenants of the building, such as WFHB community radio, are waiting for the city’s decision.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the decision-making process. Michaelsen explained there is a lack of clarity surrounding where the building is located, as it is uncertain when downtown foot traffic will fully recover.
“There is the question of, not just what performing arts looks like beyond the pandemic, but what is downtown going to look like beyond the pandemic?” Michaelsen said.
Since its construction in 1915, the building has held several roles in Bloomington’s downtown area. It was originally built as the City Hall and later transformed to accommodate the Bloomington police and fire departments.
Bloomington Communications Director Yaël Ksander said since the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the appearance of the building will not be changed significantly.
“I don’t think anyone should be nervous about that,” Ksander said. “The outside of it is always going to look pretty much just as it does.”
While there is no formal process for public comment at this time, Michaelsen expects that process to be planned out after the initial meeting so residents can provide input on the transition to the task force.