About 120 people attended a Lawrenceburg
City Council public hearing Tuesday on a
proposed event center and hotel to be built in
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(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – Most public meetings about a proposed event center in downtown Lawrenceburg have been lightly attended over recent months, but citizens made their presence and feelings known during a Tuesday hearing.
About 120 people showed up to hear about the possibility of a new $49 million convention center to be built at the corner of High and Walnut streets. It could create up to 200 permanent jobs and have a positive economic ripple effect through the downtown business district.
City and Hollywood Casino officials and developer American Structurepoint presented plans for the center which would include a 180 room hotel, restaurant, meeting rooms, a 7,500 square foot ballroom, and an 18,000 square foot exhibition room capable of holding concerts and other events such as proms and conventions.
Attorneys hired by the city say the project will be financed in a way that the city will see nearly $42 million of the project costs returned to the city, not to mention the economic benefits. The city has capped construction costs at $50 million.
Scott Saunders, assistant general manager with the casino, said the event center is imperative in keeping the riverboat competitive with casinos soon opening in Ohio.
“We’re excited about getting this moving forward. It gives us the opportunity to offer something we don’t currently have, an entertainment venue,” Saunders said. “We obviously have hotel rooms currently, but they are fairly dated and need upgrading. This will give us the opportunity to add a more modern product and better market what we have.”
Mike Perleberg-Eagle 99.3
Hollywood Casino owner Penn National Gaming would own the facility upon completion.
That hasn’t sat well with Lawrenceburg City Council candidate Mike Lawrence. He wrote a critical letter to council earlier this month, arguing that Penn National should fund the project themselves.
Lisa Lee, attorney with Indianapolis-based Ice Miller LLP hired by the city, said because Penn National will own the event center they will foot the operating costs, saving the city from any expenses down the road.
Lawrence was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, but did not speak.
Nine other from the audience did take to the podium. Eight of them voiced strong support, including Lawrenceburg Main Street Director Pat Krider.
“The businesses we have down there, so many of them whether they are new or existing for a long time, they are just hanging on. The problem is we don’t have a large enough base of retail activity down there. As a result, we don’t have foot traffic. Because we don’t have foot traffic it’s hard to attract new businesses,” Krider said in pointing out the event center is a possible solution.
A conceptual sketch of what a future downtown
Lawrenceburg convention center could look
Mike Perleberg-Eagle 99.3
Case in point, Sharon Fox-Hirsch, owner of antique shop Interiors Embellished on Walnut Street. She said she’s done everything – advertising, word of mouth, open houses – in unsuccessfully attempting to attract customers.
“The facts are I can’t afford a land line phone for my shop. I can’t afford a credit card machine,” Fox-Hirsch said. “The event center and hotel located in the downtown area just blocks from potential businesses would be a catalyst for small businesses that exist by providing basic ingredients for successful business.”
Krider said the agreement has not been rushed. She has attended most meetings regarding it with the city and the casino hashing out details of an agreement.
David Lorey implored the audience to read the text of the potential agreement, saying it is not a good deal for the citizens.
“I’m not opposed to any development downtown, but I am opposed to this deal,” he said.
Lorey said Hollywood Casino could “cook the books” and sell the facility for a profit in two to three years.
Lee said as a publically traded company, Penn National must follow federally-required General Acceptable Accounting Principals, which would prevent the owner from altering numbers to exhibit a deficit on running the center.
Penn would have to show a loss on the hotel for four consecutive quarters in order to be able to sell it after the first three years, Lee said. Penn would still owe the city $14 million borrowed to build it, plus interest. A new owner would still have to pay taxes to the city.
Lorey also voiced concerns about whether downtown has sufficient parking to handle the hotel.
Tim Jensen with American Structurepoint said the city has approached property owners about making parking available.
Aurora resident Judy Howard raised questions about how the event center would affect an already bad traffic situation on U.S. 50 through the Lawrenceburg corridor during rush hour.
“A lot of traffic coming into downtown Lawrenceburg may be a good problem to have,” Jensen said.
Howard also wondered what would happen to events such as Lawrenceburg Fall Fest and Music on the River, which currently take place at the empty lot where the event center would be built.
Mayor Bill Cunningham said the city and the committees responsible for those events are investigating alternatives. Those events will continue to be funded by the city. Krider said Music on the River will find a new home downtown if needed.
Others at the meeting had asked about what types of events would be held at the concert venue. Saunders said the acts would be similar to those seen at neighboring Belterra Casino in Switzerland County and other Midwest casinos. The casino would not compete with Lawrenceburg’s events and the facility would be open to use by the citizens.
“It’s not in our best interest to do so,” Saunders said.
Cunningham noted an agreement between the city and Penn National Gaming may not be far off.
“It won’t be (signed) until it’s acceptable to all of council,” Cunningham said, imploring citizens to speak with their councilperson.
A vote to accept an agreement won’t be a vote to build, said Cunningham.
“We’re still a long way away from that.”
More public meetings on the project are being planned, but have not yet been announced.