"They've been bickering with this thing, been bickering with it, and it's time to build it." The final public hearing over a proposed convention hotel for downtown Evansville wraps up tonight. The room, packed, with more than a hundred people, all from numerous groups ready to voice their opinions. Area hotels, City Council members, downtown business owners, and several others filled the C.K. Newsome Center. It was the last time the public would get it's chance to speak, causing both sides of this controversial project to not hold back.
"This hotel will pay for itself," says a speaker. "It would be great for attraction," says another speaker. Hundreds showed up. Close to thirty use this final chance to voice their opinion on the proposed downtown convention hotel in Evansville. The majority say yes to this project. "We have a dynamic region, a dynamic inner-core, which is downtown Evansville, but we are under performing. We can be better," says Christy Gillenwalter, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for South West Indiana. Gillenwalter makes her way to the podium saying that a convention-hotel would be the final piece of a downtown puzzle. "The data speaks for itself. The time is now."
Next up to bat, the other side of the debate. "For every ten jobs created in the new hotel, seven of them will lose their job and not be able to feed their family and make ends meet," says Tommy Smith who represents area hotel workers. Smith says a publicly subsidized hotel would only generate thirty percent of it's own business. He says seventy percent of jobs would be lost in the private sector. "Hotels don't generate demand, they thrive on it. They use it. Maybe what we need to do is, as a city, look at what can bring people to downtown. What would cause local people to come downtown? Can that space be used as an entertainment district possibly?"
For some it's a debate that hits close to home. "It tugs at my heartstrings to see it fade," says George Flowers, in favor of the hotel. Flowers says Evansville has been his one and only home. He says he sees downtown slipping away without a convention center. "People have to be bold, they have to dream, that's how other cities start making it. You have to step out on that hope that this city will come back. It will come back if we support it."
As part of this development deal, the city would kick in 37.5 million dollars in innkeeper tax and downtown tax district revenue. The City Council has the final say on the deal and will vote on September ninth. Both sides have promised rallies the night of the meeting to urge the Council to join their cause.