Lloyd Winnecke is the 34th mayor of Evansville. He is now well into his second term on the third floord of the Civic Center and is seeking a third term in office. If Mayor Winnecke would win a third term, he would be in select company as far as longevity.
Brad Byrd sits down with Mayor Winnecke to discuss a variety of topics and some of his biggest challenges going forward. Mayor Winnecke discusses the future I-69 bridge, his “Build 4 Evansville” initiative, and the future of Mead Johnson.
Transcript of interview:
BB: Welcome back. He is the 34th mayor of Evansville. Lloyd Winnecke is well into his second term on the third floor of the civic center. If Mayor Winnecke would win a third term, he would be in select company as far as longevity on the job goes.
Today, a candid discussion with the mayor on a variety of talking points.
This was kind of – it wasn’t a big secret– it kind of got my attention.
Why a third term?
LW: Well, we enjoy the work still. I’m invigorated every morning when I get up to make the city a better place. There’s a lot of work we’d like to do, that I’d like to see through. And candidly, we get very good response. We get support from all corners of the city so we have every intention to seek a third term.
BB: Do you see yourself in any other capacity as far aas public service other than mayor of Evansville. I’m looking long term here.
LW: I don’t. I enjoy this job immensely. It gives me great personal satisfaction. It’s nice to be mentioned when other opportunities come up across the state, but my heart is here. I don’t see myself in terms of public service being anything else.
BB: And there sounds like there will be a political fight. The reaction to the new Democratic chair’s comments was swift… The Evansville Courier & Press quoted Scott Danks – who’s the new Democratic chair. I’m going to read you just this one quote, Mayor. “If we have someone who refuses to denounce the Pence-Trump team then in my opinion they should be bounced from office.”
His opinion was it starts at the bottom and goes up. What do you think about that?
LW: Listen, I have immense respect for Mr. Danks. I got to know him very well during our first term in office. He was legal counsel to the city council. At the end of the day, we’re not going to run a campaign based on what an opposing party chair says or thinks. We’re going to take our record to the people. We think we’re running the city in a really vibrant way. We think we’re creating positive progress each and every week. We think our record is quite strong and that’s what we’ll run on.
BB: There’s obviously a local connection now in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence. But I’m just going to ask for your take. Your initial reaction. What the heck is going on in Washington?
LW: I watch the news everyday like you do. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian – there’s division in the country. People have opposing thoughts and not everyone agrees with the new administration. Obviously a lot of people do agree. I look, my role as mayor, I need to work constructively and in the most positive fashion possible with every form of government. Every day we deal with multiple federal agencies. So I see my task as maintaining positive relationships and working in the most constructive way possible.
BB: You were under that tent: Mike Pence was there. Gov. Bevin was there. Concerning the I-69 bridge. Now that’s a major infrastructure project. Donald Trump says he’s gonna rebuild infrastructure. Are we in an advantage now, with Mike Pence in Washington, to possibly move that time table up? Because we’re looking at maybe 10 years before that’s built.
LW: Well, I’d like to think so but that’s certainly not a guarantee. Mike Pence is personally aware of the project. We met multiple times on this project when he was governor. He has intimate knowledge on this project. The fact that he and Gov. Bevin signed the memorandum of understanding in late June tells me he understands the importance of this project not only for Evansville but for the region. So as the Environmental Impact study work continues, we’ll continue to make a point to legislators and government about funding. There’s certainly no guarantee connections will play a role but they can’t hurt us.
BB: Obviously the first four years – very contentious between the mayor’s office and Evansville City Council. It seems that things have cooled down with this new city council. With that said, what do you see as the biggest challenge going forward in this second term?
LW: Well, I’ve said this in many settings: I think the biggest challenge is dealing with our water and sewer infrastructure. We’ve come a long way. We entered into an agreement with the US EPA into a long term control plan that calls for investment greater than 700 million dollars. Frankly, we’ll have to raise sewer rates for a long time. We’re under a federal mandate to do so. The water side has some challenges. We have aging infrastructure. While we’re not under a mandate, there certainly are practical requirements that we make changes there too. And our ongoing fight against blight. We’ve identified 1800 blighted properties. Since the start of the land bank, we’ve been able to acquire and raze about 200 homes. We hope to get another 75-100 down this year. Those would be my two greatest areas of concern.
BB: And that’s shared by many cities.
LW: We’re not alone.
BB: With that said, money is obviously an issue on anything. There’s a visionary project called Build 4 Evansville. . It encompasses Mesker Amphitheater, construction of Roberts Park, a new Lloyd Pool, and a new penguin exhibit at Mesker Park Zoo. Realistically, mayor, do you see any of those projects coming to fruition by the end of your second term?
LW: I do. I would think it’s very likely we have a replacement for Lloyd Pool. The parks board recently approved a contract to hire a consultant to see what kind of facility we need and see where it could potentially go. Your assessment earlier is correct. It’s unlikely to go in the current location but we need one and it’s a high priority for us.
I believe portions of Roberts Park will be under construction by the end of our second term. We are, this year, we’ll start planning design for the penguin exhibit.
The fourth one frankly is one that needs lots of Money. Mesker Amphitheater. And we don’t have a specific plan on yet. We continue to take ideas from the public but that’s the status of those.
BB: And some of this is going to take private investment? Do you feel?
LW: Absolutely. We already have 100 thousand dollars for a water feature at Roberts Park by the Rotary Club of Evansville. We’ve been very successful at the zoo with the Engelbrecht Family Carousel Project. That’s been almost entirely funded with private contributions. We expect about half of the penguin exhibit will be funded with private contributions as well.
BB: Let’s talk about the skyline. Now this is not a city taxpayer project but the tallest building in downtown Evansville. That is sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s a beautiful building. The city tower project – a private development –what do you think about that?
LW: We’re rooting for the developers to succeed in this. They brought this idea to us probably a year or so ago. They spent the last many months working on their capital stack making sure they have all the money they need. They’re estimating a budget of approximately 25 million dollars. We are told they would like to start work to repair elevators this year and repair the roof this year. Serious demolition and interior work would begin next year. The building is only about a quarter occupied now. So you’re right. It’s the most prominent building in the city. So we want these developers who’ve worked very diligently to succeed in this.
BB: I’m going to cheat on time just a little bit here Chris. Just a brief update on the Mead Johnson situation.
LW: Sure we’ve had nice discussions with representatives of the two companies. They are focused at this point at getting approval from the shareholders at this time. They are working on regulatory approval and possible integration plans. They don’t have a lot to share with the city at this time but we have very open lines of communication. And I’m confident when they have more to share, they’ll be sharing that. We’ve made it very clear that we want to get in front of the new company to tell the Evansville story. And to reiterate the importance of the heritage that Mead Johnson has in Evansville.
BB: A lot on your plate and a lot of exciting things happening in Evansville. It’s going to be a great story to tell during the next two to three years – maybe even beyond that.
LW: We hope so.
BB: Thank you for joining us Mayor Winnecke. We’ll be keeping in touch.