Six years of planning may not have been enough to get a Convention Center built in Downtown Terre Haute.
The Vigo County Council raised the Innkeepers tax to 8% in Aug. 2018. The City of Terre Haute and Vigo County promised $10 million each out of local income taxes. A food and beverage tax was started in Vigo County to fund the operations in July 2018.
Property was purchased from Hulman and Co. 8th street was closed from Wabash to Cherry, and the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) bought the parking lot east of the downtown Hilton Garden Inn, but promised to give them a parking garage in exchange.
The parking garage was to be tucked neatly on the corner of 7th and Cherry, directly north of the Hilton and west of NEW Marriott Courtyard.
The plan sounds great, the City Council, County Council, CIB, Chamber of Commerce, all agreed it was the best thing for Terre Haute since ‘Larry Bird. In fact, a Larry Bird museum is planned for the lobby of the convention center.
Friday Sept. 6th, 2019 the culmination of years of research, planning, taxes, tax hikes, geebs, the cooperation of public and private partners in the community paid off with the official ground breaking of the Terre Haute Convention Center.
United States Congressman Larry Bucshon called the moment “Transformational” and added that “Terre Haute has a bright future”.
Clyde Kersey, former Indiana Assemblyman, said this was the “last piece of that puzzle to bring people downtown”.
Mayor Duke Bennett proclaimed that having a convention center “puts us on playing field with many other Indiana communities”.
Then, something went wrong. Unexpected. Unplanned and according to project leaders unavoidable and unpreventable.
The plans are no good.
The parking garage at 7th and Cherry is going to cost in excess of DOUBLE the amount they anticipated.
It’s a smaller parking garage so according to Steve Witt the Executive Director of the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment, they assumed it would cost less. They also were not aware of drainage issues that would need addressed.
This was all discovered after an engineering review was done for the hotel.
Witt says there is a very easy, cost effective way to solve this problem and stay on track with construction of the convention center.
Buy a building that is not for sale, but may be soon, and tear it down to make a parking lot.
The building Witt wants to buy is the Vigo County School Corporation Administration Building. It is located on the northwest corner of 7th and Wabash.
As luck or fate or Terre Haute back door deals would have it, the new Superintendent of the Vigo County School Corporation, Dr. Robert Haworth put forth in his plans last Oct. 2019 that he would like to sell the Administration Building and move the school corporation headquarters to another school property currently under utilized. Dr. Haworth’s plan to cut school corporation spending by $5.5 million dollars over three years was presented as necessary to keep the school system from going bankrupt.
The Vigo County School Board has not acted on Dr. Haworth’s proposed spending cuts and therefore the VCSC building is not for sale.
What’s next for the convention center?
The School Board could vote to place the Admin Building up for sale. This would allow the CIB to purchase the property. The CIB and Department of Redevelopment would also have to change the Terre Haute City Code Chapter 10, Article 2, Section 10-207. City Code declares property located from 3rd to 9th Streets and Popular to Cherry and a C-9 district (pedestrian core). Part of the code pertains to Wabash and 7th Street Street and says:
“Any off-street parking or loading area shall be located behind the building that it
serves. Under no circumstances shall surface parking be a primary use on a lot located along
Wabash Avenue or 7th Street”
So the way the Terre Haute City Code is currently written, it specifically bans a surface parking were the CIB and Mr. Witt would like to put one.
The City Council could vote to change the City Code and allow a parking lot in violation of it’s previously established code. It would seem that this would open a Pandora’s Box for the Council as many other property owners along those streets would benefit from the same treatment, but are highly unlikely to receive it.
The final option would be for business mogul Greg Gibson to sell the Cooper Bar and Terminal Bar buildings and move the convention center project east along Wabash.
This option would be beneficial to Gibson in that his hotel investment, the Marriott Courtyard, would be the only hotel directly connected to convention center. Gibson would be losing the potential for the Cooper Bar to reopen or be sold, but it is currently in a dilapidated state and needs significant investment dollars.
The only thing certain is that the Convention Center will be built. Mistakes have been made, but they will be corrected along the way. Soon Terre Haute will have its very own Convention Center and the money will flow like the clear, cool, refreshing waters of Wabash River. Jump In