The Terre Haute City Council discussed, but did not act, Thursday on a request to vacate, or permanently close, a block of Eighth Street to accommodate construction of a convention center and new Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Steve Bauer, vice president of construction services with Nations Group, which is overseeing the project for the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board, asked the council to act immediately on the request.

“We have a necessity of moving this forward as quickly as possible,” Bauer said.

Two members of the public and Councilman Todd Nation, D-4th, raised concerns about a traffic study that found the closure would have little impact. Councilman George Azar, D-at large, cautioned that, while he supports the move, the request might not have had the required two-thirds vote to pass on first reading.

The 167-page traffic study conducted for Nations Group by A & F Engineering of Indianapolis found “the public will not be unduly burdened” by the street closing.

Jimmie Jeffers, who works in the regional state office building at Eighth and Cherry streets, raised concern the closure would jeopardize pedestrian safety along Seventh Street through the Indiana State University campus and lead to traffic back-ups at Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue.

“This is major change in traffic flow and I think it should be considered,” Jeffers said.

“There’s 10,000 people driving their car up and down that street and that street belongs to everybody in Terre Haute.

Bauer responded that streets and intersections affected by the closure would retain letter grades of A, B or C under traffic engineering standards.

Matt Brown, vice president of A & F’s traffic division, said, “We looked at what I would think is a worst case scenario … and we still get excellent levels of service.”

Nation said he was disappointed the study did not take into account a major event at Hulman Center at the same as a large convention center event. He also said he plans to introduce a measure to make Eighth, Ninth and Cherry streets two-way, a move designed to bring more traffic downtown.

Addressing parking concerns, Bauer said both the convention center and an adjacent Courtyard by Marriott hotel would have parking garages.

Asked by Nation whether a pedestrian overpass had been considered instead of a street closing, Bauer said, “We have considered all options for these two blocks ... and none of those could be done with Eighth Street remaining.”

After about 50 minutes of discussion, Bauer said the delay in action would not kill the convention center project but denying the street closure would.

The council is expected to vote on the matter at its next meeting on February 7.

Action items

In action Thursday, the council unanimously rejected a request from Indiana Rail Road to close South Fourth Street between Greenwood and Preston streets out of safety concerns related to a nearby rail spur.

Two nearby businesses had concerns about the extended driving time to reach their locations. Attorney Richard Shagley, representing the businesses, noted the only known accident involving the railroad occurred on Preston Street, not Fourth.

The council unanimously approved a series of appropriations bringing the Terre Haute Redevelopment Department under the city’s budget for this year. The State Board of Accounts requested the move.

Councilman Nation noted the department plans to undertake $12.6 million in projects this year and shows administrative costs of just 4 percent of that amount.

In response to a question from Councilman Karrum Nasser, D-3rd, Steve Witt, redevelopment director, said it is his understanding the state is requiring all cities to take such action, not just Terre Haute.

The council also passed an ordinance allowing the issuance of $3.5 million in tax anticipation warrants, borrowing against future tax receipts. The vote was 7-2 with Nation and Council President Martha Crossen, D-6th, opposed. The amount of such borrowing is $500,000 less than last year and Mayor Duke Bennett’s administration plans to further reduce it later this year.

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.