An earlier rendering of a proposed event center
in downtown Lawrenceburg. The project maybe
downsized from the rendering seen here due to
budget constraints said Mayor Bill Cunningham.
City of Lawrenceburg
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – Talks continue to progress toward a possible new event center in downtown Lawrenceburg, but not without some resistance from a person who could soon be part of City Council.
The $49 million project would include a 120-room hotel, concert venue, and restaurant at the corner of High and Walnut streets.
Lawrenceburg City Council continued their weekly meetings on the project Tuesday. American Structurepoint is the engineering firm hired by the city to guide the event center planning. Project Manager Tim Jensen said an agreement with Hollywood Casino owner Penn National Gaming is still being negotiated, but only the “tiny details.”
City Council candidate Mike Lawrence attended the session and raised questions about the event center during Tuesday’s meeting, asking whether it was good for Lawrenceburg. On Monday, Lawrence had distributed a letter to city officials and various media outlets laying out his concerns.
“I am writing on behalf of myself as both a citizen on Lawrenceburg and a candidate for City Council as well as many other concerned citizens I’ve spoke to over the last several months to request that the City not more forward at this time with the proposed event center project,” wrote Lawrence, who is running as a Democrat for Council District 4 in November.
Mayor Bill Cunningham and Councilman Mario Todd took the opportunity to address Lawrence’s letter, in which he accused city officials of refusing to share the terms of the agreement between the city and casino.
When Cunningham asked if anybody had ever been denied access to the document, Todd said “nobody has asked.”
Cunningham said the documents are available for public review anytime from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. weekdays at his office.
Lawrence continued his questioning. He wanted to know why the money wasn’t being spent to benefit the citizens, he felt. In his letter, Lawrence pointed out that Penn National Gaming, with its millions of dollars in revenue, would not fund the event center itself.
“The money came from that boat. That’s part of our investment, too,” Todd said.
“We need to do something to help offset the loss of revenue from gaming in Cincinnati,” Cunningham added. “Hopefully businesses can take advantage of a 120-room hotel, conventions, and entertainment.”
Two separate studies in the past year have speculated that a the Horseshoe Casino to be completed in 2013 in downtown Cincinnati could impact southeast Indiana riverboat revenues by 20 to 30 percent.
Todd said there were also naysayers when he was first elected to council 1992 when talk of bringing a casino to town began.
Lawrence replied he felt the casino has not improved the quality of life in Lawrenceburg.
“Unless you go around town with blinders on, it looks like it’s improved the quality of life,” Cunningham said.
Todd said the event center has two main purposes: to attract some people off of the riverboat and into downtown to patronize those businesses and to help keep Hollywood Casino competitive as a new Cincinnati casino prepares to open.
“I think it will work,” said Cunningham.
Lawrence also brought up his frustration that the event center would not go to a ballot issue.
Cunningham said citizens could petition, but probably not in time to put the issue before voters in November. He pointed out city officials have been working 16 months on the project with many public meetings that have been lightly attended.
Weekly public meetings about the event center will continue each Tuesday in August at 4:30 p.m. at Lawrenceburg City Hall.
At a cost of $49 million, the city would contribute $25 million in grants towards the project and Hollywood Casino parent company Penn National Gaming would receive a $14 million, 20 year loan at four percent interest, according to what Lawrenceburg Mayor Bill Cunningham told the Cincinnati Enquirer in July.
The city and Penn National have only agreed to terms on a contract, but one has not been signed yet. Cunningham said ownership of the event center would belong to Penn National.