The planned vote on a downtown convention hotel in Evansville is delayed and some city councilmembers say it's for the best.
The plan to build the 273 room, Hilton Double Tree hotel includes a public private partnership includes the city's contribution of $37.5 million of the total $74 million project.
Now, the developer of the possible hotel project is being reviewed by an independent auditor. This comes at the request of City Council Finance Chairman John Friend and council leadership who requested the developer's financial records as a way to determine the developer's credibility and financial health.
Some councilmembers had lingering questions about HCW of Branson, Missouri as Monday's City Council meeting loomed large. After a lengthy conference call between the newly hired third-party accounting consultant, Crowe Horwath, LLP, and council leadership, it became apparent that more time was needed, according to Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. However, some city councilmembers say this delay, albiet a short delay, could have huge implications as it could tilt the scales of whether the $74 million project passes or fails.
It was the decision before the decision and one delayed the other.
"We have agreed that the City Council will not consider the second and third reading of the hotel vote this Monday," said Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke at Thursday's press briefing.
The foundation for the hotel hasn't been poured. All the while, city councilmembers pour over the financial documents that will help them decide if the hotel should even be built.
After hiring a third-party accounting firm to examine the finances of the hotel's developer, HCW, officials decided it was best to delay the vote on the convention hotel project.
"If we had been forced to vote on Monday, some would have voted primarily on the fact that they felt they didn't have everything they wanted," said Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley (D-3rd Ward).
Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley says by delaying the vote, every question can be answered and every risk can be analyzed, weighed and measured.
"It's pretty much a standard vetting that would be done by any CPA firm if you were asking them to give you an opinion as to whether you should give somebody $20 million," Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley said.
"To say there's no frustrations would not exactly be accurate," Mayor Winnecke said. "But on the other hand, we certainly appreciate the fact that the City Council still has outstanding questions. I truly believe in [the City Council's] heart of hearts, the better informed they are, the more comfortable they will be to be able to cast what I believe to be an affirmative vote."
"We'll be able to verify the credit worthiness of the developer which is one less thing to worry about with this kind of project," Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley said. "We'll also take a look at their projected performance versus their actual performance."
In the City Council's crosshairs will be one of the developer's projects in Branson, Missouri. It's similar to what could come to Downtown Evansville.
The vetting process of HCW has already begun, according to Mayor Winnecke. The process should take less than two weeks, according to Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley.
Crowe Horwath's assessment of HCW's finances has already impacted when a vote on the downtown hotel could happen. It could also impact how that vote may go.
"I think it's probably a fairly short delay," Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley said. "I think it increases the odds of the hotel passing tremendously."
Second Ward City Councilwoman Missy Mosby, who has expressed her support for the hotel project, says the delay of the hotel vote will also help free up the logjam of things on Monday's agenda.
"I'll be honest, Monday night, there are a lot of other things going on the agenda," Councilwoman Mosby said. "The main focus was on the hotel so this will also give the other things on the agenda their time and due diligence as well."
City Councilman At Large Jonathan Weaver also expressed his support for the hotel project but also expressed his frustrations with how time consuming the process has become.
"It is taking a long time but as long as [other city councilmembers] are getting the information, let's read it as soon as we can and let's get a yes vote going," Councilman Weaver said. "Let's build the damn thing."
Councilwoman Brinkerhoff-Riley expects the special session to be called on a day before the City Council's regularly scheduled session on September 23rd.