The Bloomington Port Authority is expanding its scope from the area around the Mall of America to the entire city — and its budget request has expanded to match.
For 2024, the port's budget request to the City Council has expanded to $2.3 million to fund more staff members for what has become the city's all-purpose economic development agency. The budget request is almost triple the port's $880,000 budget for 2022.
"People know us for development and redevelopment services," authority administrator Holly Masek said. "Now, expanding, we'll be able to offer those types of services citywide."
By the end of 2024, Masek said, she hopes the Port Authority will have up to 10 people on staff to tackle a slate of new responsibilities — up from just two staffers for most of its existence.
The Bloomington Port Authority was started in 1981 to help redevelop vacant land left after the demolition of Metropolitan Stadium, and helped shepherd the redevelopment that became the Mall of America. More recent port efforts have led to the development of mixed-use buildings around the Bloomington Central light-rail station, and buying land as Bloomington tried earlier this year to win a World's Fair Expo bid.
The Port Authority started working citywide this year and is getting more involved with multifamily housing, business development and business retention. The agency has a $2.1 million budget in 2023, funded with money from the Bloomington Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Now, as city leaders craft the 2024 budget, the Port Authority is seeking a larger budget to fund its larger portfolio. The budget has until now been funded with grants from other parts of city government and revenue from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, but for the first time in 2024 the budget request includes $1.5 million in property taxes.
Part of the port's new portfolio has until now been the purview of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The port will take over the city's interventions meant to develop larger apartment and mixed-use buildings, including TIF districts outside the South Loop.
The Housing and Redevelopment Authority will focus on smaller housing, incentivizing projects such as duplexes and accessory dwelling units in Bloomington.
The Port Authority will also expand its "business assistance group" to connect smaller businesses with existing resources, and will work with the Small Business Center that the city aims to open by the end of 2024 to support startups.
The port is also looking to make grants to existing small businesses for improvements to their façades, patios and landscapes, and aims to get more active in planning public arts and events in Bloomington's other neighborhoods.
the port is also planning to ramp up its engagement with Bloomington's largest employers to make sure they are happy in the city.