InDEPTH with Brad Byrd: New hope for an old tower

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The Old National Bank building could be getting restored after becoming an eyesore in downtown Evansville.

Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks with the President of the Downtown Evansville Community Development Corporation, Joshua Armstrong about the development of the building and the renovations to come.

FULL TRANSCRIPTION:

Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth: It’s the tallest building in the Tri-State. It stands in the very heart of downtown Evansville at Fifth and Main. In recent years, major construction projects have encircled it. They are part of the Renaissance of the center city. But the former Old National Bank building has been withering on the vine. In many ways it has become an eyesore reaching for the clouds. That could change. Joining me tonight is Joshua Armstrong, the President of the Downtown Evansville Community Development Corporation. Josh you announced today a project that could finally bring the tower back to its glory days. We’ve been down this road before about 3 years ago, with an LLC that proposed a city tower project that didn’t happen. But city leaders are saying this is different, why?

Joshua Armstrong: First, it’s a different time in downtown Evansville. I think that’s a key factor that will make this project a go. Secondly, this project has a different focus – it’s on rental apartments, which are easier to finance and create a simpler project for the developer. Third, the market demand is there to fill those apartments so, without a doubt these apartments will be filled, and the building will be generating revenue. And I think lastly, there’s a time for something – this time is now for this building.

Brad Byrd: Let’s take a look at some renderings of the building that you released today. This looks a lot different than the tower we’re familiar with for the past 50 years. I do not see Neil Chapman up there on top of this building in those commercials that he does. But this looks like it is going to be quite an undertaking and construction could start when?

Joshua Armstrong: The developer anticipates construction beginning in the spring. The next step will be for the building to be completely empty – the skin of the building will be removed, and a new skin will be applied. And then interior work will be done, building up the apartments and then finishing the apartments.

Brad Byrd: It’s almost as though it’s going to be skeletonized to get this done. Just looking at this and looking at the current building, and I think we have another picture here from a different angle. Ok, that’s where the elevator shaft is right now. And the $30M will get this done?

Joshua Armstrong: I’ve been in the room with the contractor with the architectural firm and with the developer. And that seems like a number that’s going to work.

Brad Byrd: And when is a target opening for this?

Joshua Armstrong: It’s my understanding the apartments will be available in the summer of 2021.

Brad Byrd: With that being said, it’s like usually a wall flower is on the wall and all the action is in the center. It’s almost like the tower is in the middle of the dance floor in this situation all alone wanting someone to dance with. With that being said, are you confident that the money will be available to get this done within two years.

Joshua Armstrong: I have no doubt in the capacity of DoMo. And their financial sources to get this accomplished.

Brad Byrd: The impact that this is going to have, seeing as it is in the middle of downtown Evansville – tell me about that.

Joshua Armstrong: What’s the change that it’s going to generate? Is it 5 times? Is it 10 times? And I think we’re going to see a big number like that for this building. There are already real estate transactions happening around it, with people who had some idea that this was underway. We’re going to see more small businesses, but we’re also going to see some other building be restored. And re-imagined in that immediate area. That 400 block of Main is kind of a quiet place. 300 block kind of active, 200 block very active. 500, 600 block. I think that we’re going to see a great deal of activity right there and people will see a lot of announcements soon.

Brad Byrd: Price scales on these apartments haven’t been released yet, but do you feel that the people of the city have the resources to live there someday. Will these be high end or middle end?

Joshua Armstrong: These will be high-end/middle-high end. We had a firm execute a market study for downtown Evansville earlier in the year and there’s about 5,500 households that currently rent that could afford the proposed rents for this building. There are 68 units in there – there won’t be a problem filling those units.

Brad Byrd: And with the city center population growing so much, no grocery store downtown, no pharmacy downtown – some of the essentials for a populated core of a city need those. Where do those fit into the timeline?

Joshua Armstrong: Retail follows roofs. A family who moves into a suburban area is still driving somewhere and we’re at that stage where they’re top of mind and they are a little harder to get done because the margins in those businesses are so tight. But there’s pressure on the real estate costs to put this together VS. a restaurant or a high-end store that may have a bit more room to play with. I think we’re going to get there, but it’s just going to take a little bit longer.

Brad Byrd: Thank you very much Joshua Armstrong for being with us tonight.

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(This story was originally published on September 26, 2019)

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