Convention center opens door to 'endless possibilities'

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaLet’s turn some dirt: Members of the community turn the first shovelful of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new convention center on North Eighth Street in early September in downtown Terre Haute.

While its construction is slated to take 18 to 21 months, a new downtown Terre Haute Convention Center has “endless possibilities” to attract people to the city, said David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We are only limited by our collective creativity,” Patterson said.

“There are so many meetings and conferences,” for events ranging from government conferences such as the Indiana Conference of Mayors to little know events “such as the National Graniteware Society Convention, which came to Terre Haute for over 10 years,” Patterson said.

“The Graniteware Society came to the former Holiday Inn conference room because of our central location,” Patterson said. Additionally, Patterson said there is “no logical progression between events. You could have a political event, or business event or something with pets, all on the same day. It is all over the board.

“It is not a small offering out there of events we can go after; there is a lot.”

Additionally, many groups like to move events annually throughout the state to expose themselves to different geographic areas and people in the state, Patterson said.

“We are lower costs than bigger cities and a little easier access,” he said. “And, the difference between driving in downtown Indianapolis and driving through Terre Haute, that is one of the few advantages we have” over the state’s capital city, he said.

The limitation, Patterson said, is that the facility can accommodate 1,000 people in a single room.

“We looked at about 10 convention centers around the region. This configuration and this size seemed to be a good fit for our community. If we went much bigger, we don’t have the hotels to accommodate it,” he said. “This sized venue was picked strategically.”

There were 12 convention centers in Indiana in 2018 that could host various rotating conventions, conferences, banquets, meetings, trade shows and other events, according to a July 9, 2018 report from Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL) in a feasibility analysis report for a potential convention center in Lake County.

Those facilities are in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Evansville, Bloomington, Muncie, Michigan City, Florence and French Lick.

Excluding the massive Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, the average sellable square footage was 55,900 and the average largest continuous square footage space was 24,900, according to the CSL study.

Terre Haute’s new downtown convention center with 42,800-square feet will be smaller than the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Fort Wayne that has 50,000 square feet plus a 10,000-square foot ballroom. However, it will be larger than the nearly 21,000 square feet Monroe County Convention Center. Monroe County, though, is considering a $30 million expansion/renovation of its convention center.

Terre Haute’s overall convention center project budget is about $32.1 million. However that does not include property acquisition costs for land east of the Hilton Garden Inn, which is owned by Terre Haute Hotel Partners LLC.

The maximum construction cost for the convention center is $24.63 million. A new food and beverage tax is to pay for annual costs and maintenance of the facility.

The city of Terre Haute and Vigo County have committed $20 million ($10 million each from Economic Development Income Taxes); with the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau to pay $5 million from an increase in the county’s innkeeper tax to 8 percent from 5 percent; and $3 million from the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission. Additionally, the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission is to seek to issue a $4.5 million TIF bond to help with construction of a parking garage.

The new convention center is largely a single-story facility, with a full-service kitchen. That kitchen will be able to serve meals to 900 people in a formal sitting configuration in the main ballroom area, which can also be configured to hold up to 1,000 people in a theater seating configuration. The facility will have up to six different configurations and the building has additional meeting and breakout meeting rooms on the first floor.

The exterior has a 1950s look combined with a modern glass exterior, especially on the southeast corner which will house the state’s only authorized Larry Bird Museum, with Bird loaning many of his sports memorabilia for the unique museum.

That section of the building will be two stories, housing offices and a board room on the second floor, with that space open into the museum on the first floor, providing a large open-air view. The museum space could be considered an auxiliary space for additional events.

Bird already has a presence at nearby Indiana State University’s Hulman Center, which is currently undergoing a $50 million overhaul.

There, a 15-foot tall bronze statue, that with its base looms 17 feet, 11/8 inch tall, depicts Bird’s likeness taking a jump shot on the south side of Hulman Center. Bird played basketball at Indiana State from 1976 to 1979 and averaged 30.3 points per game.

The statue itself is somewhat of a downtown attraction, especially those who reflect on ISU’s historic season leading to a NCAA championship game.

In 1979, the Sycamores lost their only game of the season to Michigan State 75-64 in Salt Lake City during the NCAA Championship. Bird was named the National Player of the Year, as the Sycamores finished 33-1.

After ISU, Bird became an all-star NBA player for the Boston Celtics, a U.S. Olympian and the only person to win the NBA Player of the Year, NBA Coach of the Year and NBA Executive of the Year awards. The Larry Legend Foundation, a student organization, began fundraising for the statue in 2007, setting a goal of $135,000 for a 13-foot tall statue. With the taller 1,900 pound statue, the final cost was $153,000.

In a groundbreaking event in early September, officials marked the importance of having a downtown convention center.

Brian Kooistra, chief operating officer at Garmong Construction Services, pointed to the local workforce that will perform much of the construction work.

Garmong’s construction management team all reside in Vigo County and are graduates of either Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Indiana State University, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College or Ivy Tech Community College.

“And when I looked at the over 100 trade men and women from our community who will labor on this site for the next 21 months, it became apparent that they represent every one of the building trade unions within our area,” Kooistra said during the groundbreaking event. “When I consider the countless materials and equipment necessary to accommodate the construction process, I noticed that they will largely be provided by Terre Haute suppliers.

“When I looked at what subcontractors will be involved in this project, I saw that over 60 percent of them are businesses located in Vigo County,” Kooistra said, adding it “is the people and businesses that call Terre Haute home” who will build the new convention center.

The project represents a public/private undertaking.

A new Courtyard by Marriott is to be built on the site. An existing building, which now serves as a state government office building, is to be remodeled and an addition expanded into Eighth Street to create the new 150-room hotel, owned by Terminal Hotel Partners LLC.

A second parking garage is being constructed for the Hilton Garden Inn.

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, at the groundbreaking event called the convention center project “transformational” for the city.

“Terre Haute has a bright future. With a new community plan, the opening of the new historical museum and a freshly renovated Hulman Center to go along with a new convention tie everything together,” Bucshon said.

“Communities cannot thrive by government action alone,” the congressman said. “It takes private investors to believe in their community and invest right here at home,” he said.

Clyde Kersey, a former state representative who voted in the Indiana General Assembly to adopt a Vigo County food and beverage tax to support operation of the convention center, called the project “the last piece in the puzzle. Downtown is such a great place compared to what it used to be, with new hotels, with arts and the renovation of the Hulman Center. This to me is the last piece of that puzzle to bring people downtown.”

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, during the groundbreaking event, said that “having a convention center, kind of puts us on a playing field with many other Indiana communities and all across the Midwest that have facilities that are functioning very, very well and this one will do just the same.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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