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Conference center ‘will stir’ economy

Conference center ‘will stir’ economy
Conference center ‘will stir’ economy
Ruben Rodriguez, vice president of Journeyman Austin Holdings, which is the design group hired for the proposed hotel and conference center project in Corydon, passes out a depiction of the property Thursday evening at the town hall-style meeting in Corydon. The property, owned by Main Street Corydon, is the former Keller Manufacturing Co. site in Corydon. Photo by Ross Schulz (click for larger version)

At least one person believes the proposed conference center and hotel for downtown Corydon will stir economic growth in the community.
That’s what Michael Wiseman, president of the Harrison County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s tourism commission, told the approximate 60 people who attended a town hall-style meeting Thursday evening at the Wright Interpretive Center in downtown Corydon.
And while the CVB and tourism commission aren’t in the hotel business, Wiseman said that they are in the business ‘of doing something good for the county.’
The meeting was designed to give people the opportunity to learn more about the proposed project and to let them express their opinion about it. The project would be built on the former Keller Manufacturing Co. site.
Jim Epperson, executive director of the county’s Convention & Visitors Bureau, led the town hall-style meeting by detailing the history of the project, why they’re pursuing it and what the next step will be.
The project is a joint venture with CVB and Main Street Corydon, a nonprofit group that owns the property.
Epperson said the project ‘ a 23,000-square-foot conference center and 150-room hotel ‘ will be a demand generator for the downtown area. He said the meetings market will bring new visitors and their money into the community.
The hotel will be along the lines of a Sheraton, Hilton or Hyatt Regency, Epperson and Ruben Rodriguez, vice president of design group Journeyman Austin Holdings, said.
Epperson and Rodriguez addressed the three most prominent issues about the center: If it’s such a good idea, why don’t private companies do it; why is the county getting into the hotel business; and conference center officials have to answer to the local hotel owners.
Epperson said private investors need to see about a 25-to-30-percent return on investment and, while this project won’t produce those kind of numbers, it will make a profit strong enough to satisfy county government and any potential bond issues.
As for the county getting into the hotel business, Epperson said that’s not really the case. An operator will run the day-to-day business at the hotel/conference center and the county may at some point down the road sell the complex to a private entity.
Local hotel owners have little to fear from the project, according to Epperson, because studies show overflow from the hotel will actually increase business for existing hotels in the area.
Epperson also addressed the reasoning behind not building a conference center only, as many have suggested. He said the meetings market would not be attracted to a conference center only without an adjacent hotel and the center alone would not be successful.
Linda McKim, manger of Hampton Inn in Corydon and also a member of the tourism commission, said she’s heard from customers for 13 years that Corydon needs some sort of events center. She said visitors don’t like to fight the traffic and the hustle and bustle of Louisville.
‘We need to stand behind progress in this county,’ she said.
McKim said the market of competition is the path to growth and the addition of jobs. She said community leaders need to look at the bigger picture.
‘There is a market for it,’ she said. ‘I’d love to be a part of seeing it happen.’
As a manager of a hotel, McKim said she was skeptical of the project at first, but, once she studied it further, it was a no-brainer.
Tracy Webber, manager at Magdalena’s Restaurant and Caf’ on the Square in Corydon, said the small-town feel, beauty and uniqueness of the downtown square is what attracted her to raise a family in the area.
Webber also said she was disappointed in the turnout for the town hall meeting.
‘It should have been standing-room only in here,’ she said.
Not everyone in attendance supported the project. Questions were raised from Marion Wallace of Byrneville, the county’s veterans’ services officer, Mauckport resident Norman Dennison and Susan McGuffey of Corydon.
Dennison said the county shouldn’t spend money on an approximately $27 million project when the country is in a recession. He also said a county voter referendum should be held to see if residents want such a project.
Other issues raised included the railroad line on the property, traffic and distance from an airport, and some folks questioned whether the project would do better behind Walmart in the readily available land along Pacer Court and Federal Drive.
Late in the meeting, Epperson expressed his view that riverboat gaming funds will better serve the county being spent on economic enhancement projects rather than sitting in the county’s fund at the Harrison County Community Foundation.
‘Absent a few decent projects, we’ve failed,’ Epperson said of using riverboat funds for economic development. ‘In 13 years, we’ve had great opportunity to enhance the community and make it competitive.’
The project will again be presented to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners in the near future to ask for $14 million, while the remaining $13 million will be financed. Epperson said the Foundation has also expressed interest in helping with funding.
‘What happens if you don’t do it (project)?’ Rodriguez asked. ‘If you don’t do it, I don’t know that you would come up with another project that would do this.’

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