Bloomington is one of the most popular destinations in the state, but it has one of the smallest convention centers.
The Monroe County commissioners are hoping to change that by issuing a request for qualifications to gauge interest from private developers in expanding the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center as well as the construction of a full-service hotel with a minimum of 200 rooms near the existing downtown location.
“Why expansion?” Commissioner Patrick Stoffers asked during a Wednesday news conference. “Not to be flip, but because it is time.”
The Monroe Convention Center is the second most sought out destination for groups — bested only by Indianapolis — Executive Director of Visit Bloomington Mike McAfee said. While it is encouraging to hear the number of groups interested in visiting the community, Stoffers said, due to the center’s size, the county has had to turn away interested parties. McAfee said in 2016 they had to turn away more than 40 groups.
Stoffers said it is time to have a convention center that meets both current and future demands.
And people who come to the downtown center for traditional conventions, concerts or seminars also spend money at nearby restaurants and shops.
County council member Geoff McKim said the center’s economic impact on the community over its 25-year history is around $256 million.
McKim said he sees the building at the corner of College Avenue and Third Street as much a civic center as a convention center, with several local groups using it for a number of events.