Bloomington wants new tax to boost tourism-WEB ONLY

The cost of a night on the town in Bloomington could go up if state lawmakers approve a bill calling for a 1-percent food and beverage tax to help expand the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center.

State Rep. Peggy Welch filed the measure late last week. If it passes, local officials also would have to approve the tax.

An analysis by the state’s Legislative Services Agency estimated a 1-percent tax in Monroe County would generate about $1.8 million in revenue next year and $2.5 million in 2011 if the increase takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Bloomington would get the bulk of that, since the state analysis said about 88 percent of Monroe County’s food and beverage establishments are in the city.

The bill would authorize the city and county to use the money for tourism and economic development projects. It also would establish a local advisory commission to coordinate such efforts.

On the wish list: a $27 million convention center expansion that has been discussed since 2004.

Expanding the center to 100,000 square feet from its current 42,000 could result in a $17.6 million increase in annual visitor spending, according to Downtown Bloomington Inc. – light years ahead of the $4 million or so it generates now.

“Bloomington already has such a vibrant downtown, we want to continue highlighting what we have to offer groups,” said Talisha Coppock, executive director of the downtown group.

If the expansion goes through, at least two hotels are expected to pull the trigger on new locations nearby, Coppock said.

Monroe County already has an innkeeper’s tax, which generates about $600,000 per year, but its two previous efforts to authorize a countywide food and beverage tax did not make it out of the General Assembly.

About a dozen Indiana cities and counties collect food and beverage taxes, according to the Indiana Restaurant Association. Many of them are in central Indiana, where a 2005 tax increase helped to fund construction of Lucas Oil Stadium and expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

Lake County officials also are considering a food and beverage tax – to fund public busing in the northwest Indiana community.

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