While a renovated Hulman Center on the campus of Indiana State University will continue to be a prime asset to Terre Haute, members of the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board say a plan for a new freestanding convention center would energize the city’s downtown.
The CIB last month voted to work toward a new center not attached to ISU’s Hulman Center.
Now, members say the focus is “forward” with the next step to seek proposals from architectural/construction firms for a design and estimated costs for a new civic center, but one smaller than originally planned.
“The community members of the CIB have always been focused on the convention center aspect of this project, which is what excites everyone, and
“A convention center project, even if it is not attached to Hulman Center, will still be a great asset to the community and bring great things to Terre Haute,” he said.
The best avenue, Gibson said, is for a convention center to be attached to hotels.
“If we can do something attached to hotels, something like we now see in Indianapolis, it would make us a more unique and special location for conventions and meetings,” he said.
The concept for a convention center, when attached to Hulman Center, was to have a banquet area for 1,000 to 1,250 people. Now, Gibson said a standalone center would more likely seat between 500 and 1,000 people.
“That will be right in our wheelhouse as far as the kind of events that Terre Haute has the ability to attract,”
Gibson said. “We would still get 95 percent of what we would have been able to go after with a bigger facility.” Gibson said he hopes private investment can reduce some of the $25 million committed from Terre Haute and Vigo County officials.
“Some interest has been shown in a project like this, and that private investment would probably come in the form of new hotel rooms,” Gibson said. “We think that a convention center with additional hotel component could bring other business downtown as well.”
A study from Chicago- based Market & Feasibility Advisors for the CIB, when it was considering a project attached to Hulman Center, said 2,094 hotel rooms in 30 hotels are currently available within 25 miles of Hulman Center.
Of that, 415 rooms in five hotels are located within 1 mile of Hulman Center. The study stated that “in order to ensure room block commitments for events at the new meeting facilities, another downtown hotel and/or very seamless shuttle service to other area hotels will be needed.”
Additionally, the study had projected that ISU would pay $1.5 million annually which would have gone toward operating revenue for a renovated sports center/ convention center. The study projected operating revenues of about $2.5 million and operating expenses of $2.4 million in the first year of operation in 2018. However, revenues and expenses would increase to more than $2.7 million by 2022, with revenues just slightly higher than expenses, according to the study.
“We anticipate a small annual loss/gain around $50,000 year after year [likely rising with inflation],” the study states.
Gibson said he realizes there will be operational costs for a convention center. Additionally, he said more downtown parking has to be addressed, which would likely include a new parking garage. That, he said, will mean the CIB will once again pursue a local food and beverage tax from the Indiana General Assembly next year.
The tax was removed from consideration in the ending days of the legislature in the 2017 session. The tax was viewed as a way to bridge a then-existing $12.5 million funding gap in the Hulman Center/convention center project. A food and beverage tax, Gibson said, “can help shore up those [convention center] operations. We want to be sure there are no loses, no additional money coming from the city or the county to operate such a facility. That is our goal,” he said.
Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. and a CIB member, said the downtown’s uptick began with the 1988 dedication of First Financial Bank’s then new downtown corporate headquarters. Other projects in the 1990s and into this decade, including a second parking garage, have transformed the downtown, he said.
Several of those projects were aided through a downtown tax increment finance district, combined with private development. “It has been a cooperative effort with hundreds of people and dozens of companies and groups, with public and private money, so this [proposed convention center] will be a continuation of that,” Witt said.
“Transforming the downtown has been a marathon, not a sprint. The next step we need to take, as the CIB, is to make this convention center possible,” Witt said.
The CIB, Witt said, views a convention center as an “opportunity to draw smaller conventions and functions that may be looking for a venue other than in a larger city like Indianapolis. Terre Haute is the economic center of west-central Indiana and east-central Illinois. A convention center is another step in our ongoing to goal to revitalize the downtown,” he said.