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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Convention Center

MLK award

The mayor's 2017 objectives, Night Moves purchase, Graduate Hotel construction and government transparency.

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: A year ago you were in temporary offices and getting your feet wet, now as you head into 2017 what are those first three big objectives you’re looking to tackle?

Hamilton: Really the main focus is jobs, economic health, sustainable growth are key factors for us in Bloomington. We need to invest in and continue to support a strong economy which makes everything else possible here. So we'll be working on that with facilities, Trades District and the park. Looking at new convention center possibly. We've been looking at that. The hospital investment... jobs is really number one. Affordable housing continues to be a key focus. We have an innovation director starting within a week and that post will help us continue to be a better government.

Hren: You mention the convention center, something that didn't get support a couple years ago and has been quiet since. Do you think the proposal will come back this year?

Hamilton: We have a very attractive community for conventions, but we have a very small convention center. We lose a lot of business to other places and I-69 is kind of a new threat. If we don't enhance and don't have the top quality convention center in downtown Bloomington, my concern is someone is going to build one out on I-69 with a big parking lot in a new green field. So I'm going to continue to be an advocate in expanding the downtown center in a Bloomington way.

Hren: The last time funding was an issue with talk of a food and beverage tax. Would some sort of tax need to be added to fund the convention center expansion?

Hamilton: That what a lot of counties do, there's about a dozen counties in the state that are approved to have one. I do think there's a natural fit between a food and beverage tax and a convention center because they're both about people eating out, we've got a lot of people who come to town for a night or a few years and spend their money and capturing some of that in a food and beverage tax in order to create this economic anchor could be a smart thing to do.

Hren: I hear the Graduate Hotel on Kirkwood Ave. begins construction in March. There was concern by nearby businesses about parking and planning, is the city getting involved with any of that or have you heard anything?

Hamilton: I don't know yet on timing on that hotel. I was not in favor and think it was a mistake to permit a much higher building there. But the plan commission voted on that before I got into office. We certainly work very closely with the downtown businesses and churches and other organizations that are there. Of course, we're in the middle of a community wide master plan to look at all the built environment and that's a great engagement with the community.

Hren: How about a quick I-69 update? Are you getting the information you want from INDOT?

Hamilton: It's frustrating, I know big projects are complicated. 17th street overpass just opened up, that's a good step, but it's been very frustrating the lack of transparency. We still do not have the schedule to show us how it gets done by October 2017. The schedule is way overdue to see which bridges close when, which paving needs to be done when. I'm nervous, I'm worried.

Hren: Stephen writes in, "While increasing and improving alternative modes of transportation is laudable, do you agree or disagree that roads still need to be improved and upgraded to for increasing traffic throughout the city? The last draft of the city's comprehensive plan I saw didn't appear to give much, if any, consideration to upgrading the city's streets to meet traffic volume."

Hamilton: The phrase I hear a lot, mobility management. Of course, what we really want is a whole range of options. We're developing a thorough-fare plan, one of the things I'll be pushing for is to think about, yes, walking, biking, public transit and cars, but remember the shared economy is really changing transportation. The ability to have private vehicles that can be shared. I think we're going to start seeing autonomous vehicles, they're showing up - they're in Pittsburgh right now. How does that change our infrastructure and our need for streets? Bloomington is a progressive, forward thinking city, a high quality of life which means we don't want to be stuck either in or behind single passenger cars that jam up all of our roads, but how do we manage all that?

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