The site of the planned Lawrenceburg Event Center and Hotel.
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - The Lawrenceburg Conservancy District had the fate of the downtown Lawrenceburg Event Center in its hands Thursday.
The conservancy district oversees flood protection in Lawrenceburg and the levee system holding back the Ohio River.
Plans for the $49 million event center, restaurant, and hotel include a small portion of the southern section of the nine-story hotel being dug into the levee toe, or foundation. The City of Lawrenceburg is paying for the construction of the facility which will then be transferred to Hollywood Casino parent company Penn National Gaming.
In May, the conservancy district voted to deny sponsoring the Lawrenceburg Redevelopment Commission’s application to the Army Corps of Engineers over concerns about the foundation impact on the levee and who would care for it.
Event center project manager Tim Jensen with Veridus Group addressed the conservancy district Board of Directors’ concerns during a Thursday evening meeting crowded with Lawrenceburg city officials and representatives from Hollywood Casino and the Army Corps.
Jensen presented an interlocal agreement written by the Lawrenceburg Redevelopment Commission spelling out who would be responsible for maintaining that portion of the levee.
“What we have here is a situation where there is a gap in liability coverage. So, we have Penn National Gaming who is willing to go to here, and we have the LCD which is willing to go to here,” Jensen said, adding Penn National is not comfortable with levee maintenance.
Earlier in the meeting, the conservancy board had heard from Lawrenceburg Distillery owner MGP Ingredients executives about an aging distillery warehouse wall built into the levee. The building was built in 1936, ten years before the levee along Tanners Creek was constructed around it.
A $2 million project is underway to place a new monolith wall and fix the issue. The conservancy is spending $1.2 million on the repair, plus another $800,000 grant.
Board member Dave Lorey voiced his worries that the event center foundation and walls dug into the levee could turn into a similar situation.
“The (redevelopment commission) has decided to step up tonight and say ‘Hey, we’re willing to take on this risk,’” Jensen said.
Lorey wondered why the portion of the hotel intersecting with the levee could not simply be moved back.
“Because the design at this point would be way too expensive to move and to change this,” Jensen replied.
Jensen raised the issue that some conservancy board directors may be trying to stop the project from happening.
“This (interlocal) agreement I think kind of lays out the idea that we all want to resolve this issue. I think some of you may not want to resolve it and that’s my concern. Some of you may be positioning to stop the project,” Jensen said.
Conservancy director Dr. Dennis Richter interrupted and said the district only wants to be sure that the job is done right.
Lawrenceburg City Councilman Mike Lawrence addressed the board wanting to see Hollywood Casino take the responsibility.
“My concern is the citizens of Lawrenceburg,” Lawrence said. “The casino is going to own this building and I can’t understand why they’re not responsible if anything ever does happen.”
Conservancy board chairman E.B. Seitz agreed with the Army Corp of Engineers’ analysis that the event center will actually strengthen the levee. Current construction plans call for a gap between the wall of the hotel and the levee to be filled to create a plaza area overlooking the river.
“It’s not our job to develop anything. We maintain a levee system. Is that structure going to inhibit our ability to maintain a levee system? Frankly, I think it improves out levee system,” Seitz said based on when he has heard from the Corps.
After further discussion, the board ultimately voted 4-2 to sponsor the Redevelopment Commission’s application to the Army Corps. There was no timeline given on how long it may take the Corps to give the project its stamp of approval.
The also voted 6-0 to approve the redevelopment commission’s interlocal agreement, contingent on it including the City of Lawrenceburg as a safety net in the event the redevelopment commission did not address problems that arise with the levee there.
Construction of the event center is primed to begin. Security fence has been erected around the site at the corner of High and Walnut streets. Messer Construction, the construction manager hired by the city, said phase one contractors have begun preparing to get to work.