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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Convention Center Expansion, UDO

Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Officials met to discuss the financial footing of the convention center expansion project, the city's UDO is still under review with the plan commission, and a sewer rate increase is coming.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Monday night's convention center meeting focused on funding, but most of what we heard, we talked about on this show - that there is money to cover the costs of the expansion, can you break that down for us a bit?

Hamilton: I think it was a good evening not only for the 20 elected officials that was there and also the public to hear that the food and beverage tax that was created to help support the convention center, in fact, looks like that financing will be sufficient essentially to fund the expansion and most if not all of the rehab of the current center. 

It looks like the tax will support a bond of over $40 million. I think we're in a place now where we identified the resources to do this really important downtown project.

Stakeholders fill the meeting room for the convention center expansion
The expansion meeting was open to the public. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: There's still the funding for the 500 space parking garage for the center, but that could come from that tax district.

Hamilton: Each of the pieces of the convention center expansion does have a different component. The city identified garage funding by a tax increment finance money or other sources we have including parking fees help pay. And the third piece is a hotel, but that typically too would involve some public land, perhaps some abatement. 

Hren: So next up is a joint meeting with city and county council who will set their own agenda, is that more discussion?

Hamilton: I'm not sure what it is. We'll see what happens. We're ready to go to phase three which is the design and build. And that will take three years. One of the questions is this governance issue, I think the steering committee we have created was ready to say, let's take it to the next level. The county has pulled back and wants to revisit certain things, I hope we'll work through that quickly.

A preferred siteplan of the Monroe Convention Center expansion

Hren: We've been covering the UDO, Unified Development Ordinance, the past couple years and now is in the hands of the plan commission who is amending the document, then will get send to city council. There've been packed chambers for these meetings because this really defines density for downtown?

Hamilton: This is classic Bloomington, we get involved. It doesn't just deal with downtown, it deals with the whole city and the uses of land. 

Hren: The issue I've heard about the most is residents upset with plexes coming into their neighborhood, biplex, duplex, triplex... is the process moving forward in a way that the city can get the density it needs and residents are still happy?

Hamilton: I don't know everyone will be happy with it. Bloomington like every city in the country is dealing with the pressures of affordability and how do you create a more sustainable community and protect the quality of life for folks. 

One of the core issues is what we call the missing middle. Many communities find you have single family housing and you have larger apartment buildings, but duplexes and triplexes, how do you encourage that to happen. Most of our vibrant cities have a mix of housing and offer that middle, missing housing. 

The people that want to live in our city, don't show up to our meetings. We need to be sure we hear the voices of people saying I'd like to live in Bloomington, Indiana, but I can't afford it or you don't have the kind of housing I need.

Plan Commission UDO meeting
Residents line up to speak during an August plan commission meeting on the UDO. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU)

Hren: Sewer rate increases are coming, 3 percent inside city limits, 15 percent outside. Ellettsville has their own sewer system. Why the drastic difference in rates?

Hamilton: We know we have a plant on the south side that is near capacity for sewer. We've been notified by the state and we have to expand that plant. That's what the rates are about. We've never had an inside and outside rate. It reflects the inside customers have already paid for the plant that is there and the expansion is because of the new areas that are being expanded.

Also, outside the city the need for pipes and lift stations in less dense area is more expensive.

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