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10/8/2017 5:10:00 PM
Evansville hotel developers banking on promised growth
Scaffolding covers the old Riverhouse, which is being redeveloped into a new hotel.  Staff photo by John Martin
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Scaffolding covers the old Riverhouse, which is being redeveloped into a new hotel.  Staff photo by John Martin

John Martin, Evansville Courier & Press

Developers of two new hotel projects in Downtown Evansville are banking on the area's visitation and business continuing to grow.

This year’s opening of the Hilton DoubleTree, next to Old National Events Plaza and the Ford Center, returned Evansville to the convention-recruiting business. The city has had some hits, including this week’s convention of Accelerate Indiana Municipalities (AIM), formerly known as the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.

In a year from now, it’s anticipated that a Hyatt Place (139 rooms) and a boutique hotel called The Mediterranean (70 rooms) will join the Downtown mix.

Evansville hotelier George Yerolemou is redeveloping the former Riverhouse, at Walnut Street and Riverside Drive, into The Mediterranean. The property will be part of the Choice Hotels company.

The Riverhouse was empty and delipidated for several years. There is recent progress on the building’s exterior.

“I’m committed to finishing the project,” Yerolemou said.

Hyatt Place developer Hemang Shah told a local government board this month that he anticipates breaking ground this year and opening in late 2018. The project is at Southeast Second and Walnut streets.

Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Bob Warren said aggressive recruitment of conventions and next year’s opening of the Multi-Institutional Academic Health Science and Research Center will boost the new hotels.

The health center is expected to have about 500 students upon opening, IU Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison said in an email.

For local tourism, the medical campus “ will create small meetings, and in some cases it will create large meetings,” Warren said. “It will be an important part of this mix.”

Warren said Evansville’s hotel occupancy rates often were down in the first half of this year, but signs of improvement have him optimistic about the future, and the new hotels’ prospects.

The Evansville area two weeks ago saw overall hotel occupancy up 10.4 percent from the same week in 2016. Warren said the DoubleTree has fared well, and Tropicana Evansville’s two hotels have seen overflow from Downtown events.

“I’m comfortable in saying that as many years I’ve done this, very typically you see adjustments in the markets following these types of developments,” Warren said. “We’ve only had a month of this trend, but we’re finally seeing the demand exceed the new supply … There is a recovery we are seeing. It may not necessarily be a trend at this point, but it’s more positive than earlier this year.”

The Evansville area is being actively marketed to convention planners for the first time in several years, Warren said, and those planners often want to visit a community before booking an event. The city seeing some of those “feeling out” tours.

Evansville is bidding on a 2019 meeting of the Indiana Society of Association Executives. Warren said that’s not a large meeting, but it’s an influential one, attended by representatives of about 250 statewide groups that conduct their own annual conventions.

Warren said Evansville wants to fill its hotel inventory, but the infusion of a few hundred new rooms will foster some rate competition across the area, benefiting travelers.

“Ultimately the market will adjust, and we’re seeing some of that right now,” he said.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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