It's a decision months in the making. The embattled proposal for a downtown convention hotel was in the middle of an intense tug-of-war battle just one week ago. "A week ago we were on life support," said Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, R-Evansville, following a 9-0 affirmative vote from council. "I think it's clear that the infusion of private sector funding is the key that got us across the goal line."
Last week six of the nine council members were expected to vote against the hotel. Winnecke and HCW offered major concessions, ultimately causing a change of heart.
"Everyone had separate issues but the universal issue was that we weren't willing to bond that amount of money and put that burden on the taxpayer," said Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley, D-3rd Ward. "When we were able to negotiate a much lower subsidy for the public then we had to compromise too."
That compromise leaves a total of $20 million in public investment: $16.5 million from the city, $3.5 million from the county.
Many council members say the game changer was the $11.5 million pledged by a group of local private business investors. "When a CEO of Old National bank calls you and tells you they're gonna contribute this kind of money -- you know it's gotta be a win-win situation," said Council President Connie Robinson, D-4th Ward.
"It makes the decision a lot easier," echoed John Friend, D-5th Ward.
HCW, the hotel's Branson, Missouri-based developer, will fund the remaining $38.8 million of the project.
"Do I still have concerns about the size and the sustainability of the hotel? I do. But what is really a $16.5 million subsidy by the City of Evansville -- I'm willing to take the risk," said Brinkerhoff-Riley.
The crowd erupted in cheers as Robinson's ninth vote made the decision unanimous. Those who crammed into room 301 of the Civic Center to see the final vote gave council members a standing ovation as the ordinance became official.
"Tonight we can finally say we're getting a hotel," said Missy Mosby, D-2nd Ward. "I can't wait to start digging."
After years of failed attempts -- it appears this hotel is the dream that will turn into a reality. "You can't always make people happy but I think tonight we made everyone happy," said Robinson.