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Bloomington Looks To Accelerate Cannabis Task Force

Lynn Cannon speaking at Bloomington City Council
Eric Stock
VenuWorks Executive Director Lynn Cannon presented the annual report for Grossinger Motors Arena to the Bloomington City Council on Monday.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner told city council members on Monday he plans to have a list of members he’s seeking to appoint to a cannabis task forcefor approval next week.
Several council members suggested the city move quickly to assist interested developers who might be seeking to apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana when it becomes legal in January.

City Manager Tim Gleason told the council while many of the details about the 600-page legislation aren’t clear, the council’s primary points of focus would be zoning and taxes if the city wishes to allow dispensaries in the city.

Cities can tax recreational marijuana sales up to 3%.

Council member Kim Bray said the council must first discuss whether the city should consider a retail sales ban.

“I think we are vaulting over some important decision points,” Bray said. “The most important one in my mind is whether or not we will be a community that will opt out.”

Bray said she’s still hearing feedback from many residents who have questions and concerns about legal pot, though she said she hasn't decided whether the city should opt out.

“I think there’s a real struggle about how introducing another potentially addictive substance, an impairing substance into the community will help us achieve our goals,” she said.

Council member Jamie Mathy said that’s all the more reason to get the task force in place as soon as possible.

“I want to hear from all of those people sooner than later to hear what all of those perspectives are as part of the process of the task force to hear from all of those people now to help make those decisions faster than wait,” Mathy said.

Renner hasn’t announced the entire list of task force members, but indicated he plans to appoint council members Jenn Carrillo and Julie Emig, Police Chief Dan Donath, another member of the police department, business owners, a drug treatment counselor and other community members to the 10-member panel.

The state plans to start by issuing 75 recreational marijuana licenses and had already approved some of them. Plus, those who already have a license to grow medical marijuana will be allowed to open a second location.

Renner said while the city has talked with interested parties, it’s too early to say if the city will even be able to land a marijuana business.

“In theory we could have two in Bloomington, if the facility in Normal decided to open another one and they open one up in Bloomington, and we could have another one theoretically in Bloomington,” Renner said. “Or we could have none.”

The application period opens Oct. 1. Licenses will be awarded by May 1.

Arena Losses Reduced

City council members had mostly praise for Grossinger Motors Arena manager Lynn Cannon on Monday as she provided a report to the council which shows the venue cut its operating losses by more than half over the last year.

Cannon, the executive director with arena manager VenuWorks, presented its annual report to the council during the Committee of the Whole meeting.

As WGLT reported in July, the arena lost close to $271,000 during the budget year that ended April 30. The venue lost $665,000 in the previous year, at which time Cannonsaid the arena will likely never turn a profit.

Bray calculated that loss as a $3.46-per-resident annual subsidy, which she said is worthwhile for a venue that provides a “broad array” of entertainment and other uses for the community.

“I think the talk and the naysayers about the albatross of the arena, I think those days are over,” Bray declared.

Council member Donna Boelen pointed out the operating losses don’t factor in debt the city is paying on the building.

“That is not your job necessarily, but that is something that needs to be kept in mind and if at all possible, we can move to at least breaking even, rather than just a loss,” Boelen told Cannon.

Gleason added the city still owes about $20 million on the arena’s building debt over the next 20 years.

The arena hosted 113 events during the city fiscal year, while close to half of those events (54) were ticketed.

The Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau projects a $13.9 million annual economic impact from the arena, based on its 61,400 visitors. The study calculates visitors outside McLean County spend an average of $226.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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