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Mayor Wants Quick Hotel Approval Process; Councilman Wants Time to Review

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke announces the city has reached a final development agreement to build the new hotel downtown. It's taken more than two years to get to this point but one city council member says leaders need more time to review the plans before approving the financing of the $74 million project.

 Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke announces the city has reached a final development agreement to build the new hotel downtown.  It's taken more than two years to get to this point but one city council member says leaders need more time to review the plans before approving the financing of the $74 million project.

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At the end of The Centre's long hallway on the second floor and behind the black curtains is a bridge to nowhere.

But down below, Evansville mayor Lloyd Winnecke announces the plans to turn it into a bridge to somewhere.

"I am pleased and excited to announce a major milestone in the process to build a new convention hotel in downtown Evansville," Mayor Winnecke said. "It's not over and, in many ways, it's just beginning."

Standing on the cracked concrete slab of where the former Executive Inn once stood, city leaders smile. They smile because the city and the developer reached a final development agreement for a new hotel more than two years after the old hotel came down.

"It looks like a beautiful structure," Councilman Jonathan Weaver said. "It will compliment everything already here. Yea, it's been a long time but in the long run it will be worth it."

"There's a corner of the city that thinks that we don't deserve this," Mayor Winnecke said. "I would argue that we do deserve it. We do deserve to be recognized by the rest of the state and the region."

The city would contribute $37.5 million toward the $74 million total cost of the project. The developer, HCW out of Branson, MO., will pay the rest. The project includes a Hilton Double Tree branded hotel featuring 253 rooms. Plans also call for 70 luxury hotels, a parking garage, improvements in infrastructure and plenty of retail space.


But Mayor Winnecke says a rise in property taxes and tax abatements for the developer are not part of the plan. The construction of a new hotel, officials say, will help the city to re-capture the convention and tourism revenue that's disappeared after the Executive Inn was torn down.

If the project receives approval and funding, officials could break ground later this year.

Here's a timeline of where things go from here. The final development agreement must be approved by the Redevelopment Commission. That could happen at a special session scheduled for this Thursday. The plan will be presented to the city council next Monday, August 12th. The city council could approve the hotel's financing at it's meeting on August 26th. But the quick schedule isn't sitting well with one city councilmember and he says for good reason.

Councilman John Friend, the finance chair of the Evansville City Council, says he needs more time to review the extensive and expensive plans.

And he says he's not the only one.

While Friend is in full support of a downtown hotel, he wants up to 30 days to review the plans so he, as a certified accountant and finance chair, can review and properly examine the potential financing for the project. Friend says he merely wants to do his due diligence.

The timeline for approval comes at a bad time, Friend says, because he's in the middle of preparing for budget hearings later this month.

"I'm supporting the administration going forward on this," Councilman Friend said. "I'm not going to be a buzz kill. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to look at it from a financial standpoint and we need that time. It seems like the reasonable thing to do."

Friend says he's prepared to hold the hotel financing plans in committees before the August 26th meeting. Friend also added the city hasn't had it's most recent audit from the Indiana State Board of Accounts which he says is important in determining the amount of money available.

Mayor Winnecke says he's disappointed in Councilman Friend's sentiments but Winnecke hopes to reconcile their differences in the coming days and weeks.


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