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FOCUS: Going Up in Downtown.

Evansville's city center sees new development.

Downtown Evansville has been undergoing some dramatic changes over the past five years, with much more to come.

Dress Plaza, the city's gateway to the Ohio River, is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar facelift. Plans are being made for a new library on the site of the former Green Convention Center, a building that has been shuttered for several years.

Casino Aztar has invested more than $130 million in its riverfront operation, which includes the "City of Evansville" riverboat, a passenger pavilion, a 250-room hotel with adjacent parking garage and a public park. The casino has had more than 10 million admissions in its first five years of operation, the majority from outside the Evansville area.

Integra Bank Corp. opened a 100,000-square-foot addition to its downtown banking center in 1999. The $13 million construction and renovation project incorporated materials and architectural details from the bank's original 1914 structure; the two buildings are connected by an elevated walkway. Old National Bancorp announced plans in October for a new $47 million headquarters building on the riverfront, with construction to begin later this summer.

"We really only considered downtown for our offices," says Kristen Tucker, whose Tucker Publishing launched Evansville Living magazine in March 2000. "We believed really strongly right from the start that we wanted to project the same image in our offices as we did in the magazine, and the Old Post Office is perfect. It's an absolute joy coming to work there every day."

Even one bad-news story seems to be on the way toward a happy ending. Earlier this year Vectren disconnected utilities at the Executive Inn, the city's largest hotel. But the property has been purchased by John Bays, an Illinois-based real-estate developer who has successfully renovated several hotel properties.

"I plan to turn the Executive Inn into a first-class hotel," Bays says. He plans to complete the project in six months at a price of $8 million, with the city providing $2.3 million and Vanderburgh County contributing an additional $1 million.

The Executive Inn is adjacent to what used to be called Vanderburgh Auditorium. Following a $40 million renovation project, the building has been renamed The Centre. The multipurpose facility can host conventions and trade shows, as well as musical and theatrical performances.

At the corner of Fifth and Main Streets sits the Victory Theatre, a former turn-of-the-century movie palace that has been reborn as a concert hall and home of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, Next door, the old Sontag has been transformed into the Signature School Downtown Learning Center, a cooperative partnership between the city's public and private schools, two universities, vocational-technical college and the business community.

Scott Anderson's company, Old Jail Management Corp., has transformed several old downtown structures--including the former Lockyear Business College, the General Cigar building and the Old Vanderburgh County Jail and Sheriffs Residence, built in 1890--into unusual office spaces. The old Evansville Municipal Market, which was facing the wrecking ball, now houses retail space and an outdoor market where farmers sell produce during the spring and summer months.

Mayor Russ Lloyd Jr. sees hopeful signs for downtown's future, but cautions that the area still faces a difficult situation. "There has been a tremendous amount of public and private investment in downtown," says Lloyd. "At one end of downtown, you have Casino Aztar. At the other end, you have the Victory and The Centre. But the middle is empty."

The city recently hired the firm of Kinzelman Kline Gossman of Cincinnati to help develop a downtown master plan, which should be completed by September. Mayor Lloyd finds it encouraging that more than 300 residents attended a recent public meeting to voice their opinions on redevelopment. Among the ideas discussed were improving the gateway streets into the central city, opening the Main Street Walkway to traffic and increasing housing options in the downtown area.

"I want to see downtown become a 24-hour place," says Lloyd, "an entertainment venue as well as a place where people live and work. We have a lot of good pieces available in downtown that need to be integrated into a whole."
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Title Annotation:Evansville getting many new developments
Comment:FOCUS: Going Up in Downtown.(Evansville getting many new developments)
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Previous Article:Southwest Indiana Update.
Next Article:Santa Claus.

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