Council Still Not Sold on Hotel Plan ; Size, Scope of Project Cited

By Martin, John | Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current), August 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Council Still Not Sold on Hotel Plan ; Size, Scope of Project Cited


Martin, John, Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)


Less than a month before they are scheduled to vote on a bond ordinance funding a major Downtown hotel development, some Evansville City Council members said they are still grappling with how large the project should be. Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke is pushing for the council's approval of a joint venture between the city and developer HCW of Branson, Mo., under which the public subsidy would be $37.5 million and the company's share $38.8 million.

The project's centerpiece, a Hilton Double-Tree, would have 253 rooms. It also would have an apartment complex, retail, a parking garage and other infrastructure improvements.

"I'm trying to get as much information as I can. I haven't made up my mind one way or the other," said Council Vice President Dan Adams, D-At-large. "It's pretty high risk (financially). That's what worries me."

Three City Council members - Dan Mc-Ginn, R-1st Ward, Missy Mosby, D-2nd Ward, and Jonathan Weaver, D-Atlarge - sounded certain, or almost certain, to support Winnecke's proposal.

"We've been going through this process almost three years now," Mosby said. "I've been doing my due diligence, checking with other cities to see how they fund these hotel projects. I feel we have a very good proposal before us, and it's time to move the city forward."

McGinn said he's "reading tons of stuff," but as yet, he hasn't run across any information to dissuade him from voting for the plan currently before council.

McGinn sees little difference in the cost of 180 rooms and 253 rooms.

"The soft costs, the upfront costs are pretty much the same," he said.

Other council members, though, share Adams' hesitation.

The council's leadership said more information will be formally requested from HCW on Friday, such as additional details about financing a smaller property and the developer's construction and business plans.

HCW's assumptions are based on an occupancy rate of about 60 percent.

Winnecke has said permanent employment at the Hilton DoubleTree would be in the 250 range. During Monday's City Council meeting, President Connie Robinson, D-4th Ward, pushed CEO Rick Huffman of HCW on the question of full-time versus part-time employment. Huffman did not answer directly, but Robinson said she had received a follow-up message from Huffman.

"I just got a long email from him, and I need to read it," Robinson said. "I guess I caught him off guard (during Monday's meeting).

"There's still some questions," Robinson continued. "I looked at this in the beginning as a stimulus - it's going to help put people to work, and it will help local companies. We need to make sure it continues (in future years). We have to depend on this company and the Convention & Visitors Bureau selling this city. …

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