Smiling City, Community Leaders Break Ground on Downtown Hotel

The lot at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Walnut Street has long stood as a symbol of what could be. Now, it's a symbol of what will be. Armed with giant, ceremonial shovels, Evansville city leaders break ground on the city's new $71 million downtown convention hotel.

The lot at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Walnut Street has long stood as a symbol of what could be. Now, it's a symbol of what will be. Armed with giant, ceremonial shovels, Evansville city leaders break ground on the city's new $71 million downtown convention hotel.

Under clear blue skies, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, Rick Huffman, the President and CEO of HCW and scores of other city and community leaders turned the dirt Monday afternoon. The ceremonial groundbreaking has been a long time coming, Mayor Winnecke said.

The Hilton Double Tree hotel will have 257 rooms and more than 70 apartment units. An attached parking garage and a skybar will also be part of the structure which will be connected to the Centre, Winnecke said.

Bob Warren, the director of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau said the hotel will bring in $13 million annually in direct, tourism expenditures. The hotel will lure in the convention business that was lost when the Executive Inn met the wrecking ball years ago, Mayor Winnecke said.

But there was a point last September where it appeared the deal might not come together. In fact, it was once considered dead on arrival.

That was until a group of private investors headlined by Old National Bank CEO Bob Jones stepped in with an investment of $11.5 million which brought the public subsidy down to $20 million.

"Few things worth doing are easily done in this life," Mayor Winnecke said. "Some people pronounced this project would be dead, it would never get done. But the fact is that we were able to keep enough people engaged. At the end of the day, all of us came together and made it happen."

Monday afternoon provided a moment to pause and celebrate but the months leading up to this day were stressful and, at times, controversial. All in all, Mayor Winnecke said his administration never waivered. Ultimately, the City of Evansville got a great deal thanks to the work of the City Council, community leaders, business leaders and labor leaders.

"I think I kept an optimistic attitude because so many people kept talking about it," Mayor Winnecke said. "No one ever stopped talking. No one ever said we're done and walked away from the table. Everyone kept talking and that's the key to progress and collaboration."

Officials say the financing plan is already in place and construction could begin in the coming months. Furthermore, the hotel will be compliant with minority and women-owned businesses. The project is expected to be complete by fall of 2015.

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