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Evansville conventions hinge on hotel: Official

– Evansville’s convention center might have to be shut down unless the city’s financial backing of a proposed 12-story downtown hotel and apartment complex wins approval, a county official says.

The Centre convention complex has an operating deficit of more than $160,000, Vanderburgh County commissioners’ President Marsha Abell wrote in a letter Thursday to the president of the City Council, adding that the planned adjoining hotel is needed to help attract more events.

“Without a convention hotel, we will be looking at securing and closing The Centre,” Abell wrote. “No company, public or private, can continue to operate a facility at losses the size of which we have been experiencing at The Centre.”

Abell’s comments come as a majority of City Council members have come out against Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s proposal for $37.5 million in city subsidies toward the estimated $74 million hotel project, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

The city’s money would go toward building the 253-room hotel, a parking garage and bridges to link it to the convention center and the $127 million Ford Center arena that opened in 2011.

The developer would pay the cost for a planned apartment tower.

City Council members have said they’re concerned about the size of the subsidy and wonder whether it would hurt Evansville’s ability to offer future incentives to help get a proposed Indiana University Medical School facility built downtown.

City Council President Connie Robinson, a Democrat, said she opposed Winnecke’s proposal, though she understands the need for a new downtown hotel.

“I am concerned we have not developed a master plan that would become a referral source for current and future developments,” she said.

Abell and Winnecke, both Republicans, point to the decline in convention business since the former Executive Inn shut down four years ago and was later demolished.

The new hotel would be built on that site.

Indiana University officials have announced plans to expand its current medical school operation in Evansville, currently housed at the University of Southern Indiana, but the state legislature isn’t likely to consider funding for it until 2015.

Winnecke said he would continue lobbying City Council members over the weekend to support the hotel incentives ahead of a possible vote Monday.

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