Convention hotel will help downtown thrive

Zane Clodfelter

As someone born and raised in Evansville, it didn’t surprise me that there was another political battle taking over local media outlets, with politicians on each side lobbying to citizens and other political leaders about their cause.

The latest political uproar? Dealing with the large piece of land that sits to the south of the newly-built Ford Center, and the hotel that was planned to be built on the land that was once occupied by another hotel, the Executive Inn, was demolished in 2010 during construction of the Ford Center. If you couldn’t figure it out by looking at the space surrounded by a “no trespassing” fence next to the Ford Center, the city has yet to build that hotel.

I was against the demolition of Roberts Stadium, but the planned hotel and convention center connected to the new downtown arena seemed like a great consolation. Yes, the city of Evansville would lose an iconic sporting venue in Roberts, but the city would have a new convention center and hotel within steps of a brand-new arena in the heart of downtown.

Nearby, Owensboro was planning a downtown convention center and hotel at the same time, and this was Evansville’s opportunity to trump their neighbor on the other side of the Ohio River. It was also a chance to attract events that Owensboro may have been trying to attract.

As I’ve learned though in my 23 years in Evansville, plans and ideas are often delayed, and solvable solutions are often ignored. While Owensboro approved every measure to build a hotel and convention center, city leaders here in Evansville held countless meanings with developers, only to ask for more time to do ‘studies,’ delaying any impact of economic growth that would help revitalize downtown.

Owensboro started construction and development of its site, while rock and concrete on the site downtown provided the perfect illustration of chaos within the Evansville city government and their inability to make difficult decisions to move forward with development possibilities.

I was thrilled, and somewhat shocked, when I read last week that the city council, who had a major hand in the delay of building a hotel, would vote in favor of the hotel project unanimously at their meeting on Monday night. It took Evansville’s mayor, Lloyd Winnecke, reaching out to local business leaders and creating partnerships to lower the public’s cost in funding the project. While city council leaders did everything to prevent this moment, the mayor didn’t cave and delivered solutions that had been promised by the previous mayoral administration. City council members never offered solutions, just disapproval.

Without the hotel, downtown would be a wasted space. Large gatherings and conventions would avoid Evansville due to the lack of hotel lodging in close proximity, and the city would continue to lose money with the Centre being unable to host enough events to keep their budget out of red figures.

Downtown Evansville has a lot of potential, and the first two years of the Ford Center has shown that downtown can be a go-to destination for travelers. This hotel will provide more economic opportunities, with conventions and other events providing a financial boost to the city. Not to mention, the economic factor and the creation of jobs with the building of a hotel, and then jobs relating to its operation will also help Evansville grow and prosper.

Mayor Winnecke went out of his way to make this hotel project happen, and as someone who wants to see this city as an example for other Midwest cities to follow, I am truly grateful.