The change in priorities for the Evansville City Council is catching the attention of people outside the city. It's been on the back burner in the public eye for a while, after State Legislature agreed to consider helping to fund an IU Medical Center when the 2015 fiscal year rolls around. Since then a convention-hotel has been the talk of the town, until today. For months a proposed downtown convention-hotel has taken center stage as Evansville's priority project. Now, the hotel debate is asked to take a back seat. City Council members say they want to switch the focus to the proposed IU Medical Center instead.
"The challenge you have in any community is, you have to take on multiple tasks, multiple initiatives at the same time," says Greg Wathen, CEO and President of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. Cities don't always have the luxury of focusing on one project at a time. The city of Evansville has a lot on it's plate from the hotel and medical center projects, to sewer and waste issues. "You cant just say OK, we are going to focus on this one for a period of time, and we are only going to focus on this one. That would be ideal if you could," says Wathen. He says the coalition considers themselves a third party in decisions like this, but knows the impact a medical center would have is more reliable than the hotel project. "The real economic impact will be, over time, is just having a large campus that will drive a lot of this economic activity."
One argument is, what many call a 'shovel ready project,' verses a medical center that is not a guarantee for Downtown. Indiana University will decide where the medical center goes between four areas in the Tri-State. "On one end you have the hotel, it's a very specific initiative. The IU Medical Center, that is competitive." Wathen says the way the city handles development, is starting to catch some attention. "It's being viewed by many more people than just our community. When I was in Japan this issue came up." Wathen says some have said they are beginning to consider re-evaluating Indiana as an investment place for clients. "They are going to look at how we resolve these issues. They look at how we manage the process. It could very well have implications on our ability to attract new investment into the market place."
The four areas considered for the IU medical center are USI, Downtown Evansville, Evansville's East side, and Warrick County.