- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—EVANSVILLE — Although his Evansville City Council colleagues still had questions Monday about specifics, President Dan Adams said Monday there should be no doubt the Downtown convention hotel needs to be built, and soon.

Adams said scrutiny surrounding the project, which is costing around $61 million, is due to the fact that construction still has not started.

City administration officials have placed the onset of construction in August or September.

“There’s been a delay for a year, and this body did not cause that delay,” the At-Large Democrat said, referring to the City Council. ” … I’m a fish-or-cut-bait guy, and I think it’s time to fish. I’d like to see dirt fly.”

“Once it gets going, once we see steel in the sky, then it’s a done deal,” Adams added. “But as long as it’s out there, in ethereal vapor, we’re still having questions.”

The previous version of the hotel project — a glassy, 10-story tower than also included an apartment complex that was to cost more than $70 million — appeared on the verge of construction in late 2014, but Mayor Lloyd Winnecke announced it could not move forward because of a shortfall in its private financing.

The project was redrawn, and city officials told the City Council Monday that the new plan of a wider, five-story structure with no attached apartments is almost ready to be built. Developer HCW has reapplied to Hilton for a DoubleTree franchise, and City Attorney Nick Cirignano said he anticipates the financing being closed in about five weeks.

City government’s investment in the current version of the project is identical to what it was in the prior one — $20 million. Vanderburgh County and the Convention & Visitors Bureau are combining to contribute $3.6 million.

City Council members on Monday quizzed Sarah Schuler of VPS Architecture, the city’s representative in the construction process, about various parts of the design, such as the number of elevators in the hotel to the number of stalls and urinals in restrooms in the hotel’s conference space.

The design has three elevators — two for public use and one service elevator — and the restrooms will be adequate, Schuler said. She told the City Council that an outdoor pool “still meets the standards of Hilton.” The prior version of the hotel had an indoor pool.

The fact that taxpayer funding is part of the hotel project “is what drives a lot of the scrutiny,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley, D-3rd Ward.

Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Bob Warren said the 240-room convention hotel will produce millions of dollars for Evansville’s economy, and he and his staff can’t sell something that isn’t built.

Citywide hotel occupancy rates this summer have topped 90 percent on several summer weekends, driven by baseball tournaments at the new Goebel Sports Complex, the two-weekend Jehovah’s Witness regional convention and ShrinersFest, Warren said, adding that the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who meet at the Ford Center, have requested more rooms.

Warren noted the recent closing of a 200-room hotel property, a former Clarion Inn at U.S. 41 and Lynch Road, further squeezed the local hotel room market and makes the need for Downtown hotel rooms even clearer.

Evansville has lost an estimated 59 conferences of various sizes since the former Executive Inn closed in 2009, Warren said.

Also Monday, the City Council voted 8-0 (Connie Robinson, D-4th Ward, was absent) to make the practice of trapping, neutering and releasing free-roaming cats legal in Evansville.

The Vanderburgh Humane Society has about 200 cats, and Animal Control and other organizations combined have about 200 more cats, Humane Society Director Kendall Paul said.

Freely roaming cats that have not been fixed contribute to a skyrocketing shelter population, Paul said.

When cats are trapped, they are taken to a veterinarian, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped, which is known as a symbol that a cat has been fixed. Paul said advantages of trap, neuter and release include lower shelter rates and less risk of the spread of rabies.

Local animal rights advocates filled several seats in the City Council chamber Monday and applauded with the decision to officially make trap, neuter and release legal.

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(c)2015 the Evansville Courier & Press (Evansville, Ind.)

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