Community can be proud as transformative project begins

The fanfare will be well-deserved in downtown Terre Haute today when the Capital Improvement Board conducts a formal groundbreaking for a convention center. Every Vigo County resident has a stake in this long-awaited project, and we hope the community can look on it with pride and anticipation.

The groundbreaking ceremony takes place at 11 a.m. at the site of the convention center between Seventh and Ninth streets on the north side of Wabash Avenue. The public is welcome. Eighth Street is closed for much of the day to accommodate the festivities.

A downtown convention center has been a dream of the business-development and tourism community for years. Maybe even decades. There are many good reasons why a facility such as this can be a successful venture. There are already two downtown hotels next to the site, and a third one is planned. Hulman Center, Indiana State University's athletic facility and special events venue, is on the next block north. There is plenty of room for the convention space and a new parking structure.

Downtown Terre Haute was a booming commercial and retail center for most of the 20th century. It was bustling and thriving in its heyday — the place to go and the place to be. But the dynamics of change sent downtown into a tailspin in the last three decades of the century. Retail companies closed down. Many iconic buildings were torn down.

But almost as soon as the death knell sounded for the old-time retail district, a spark of resurgence was lit. First Financial Bank led the way with an impressive new downtown headquarters at Wabash Avenue and Sixth Street. Optimism simmered. Others began to invest. Leaders emerged. The people took notice.

It's been a long and painstaking process, but progress continues. The groundbreaking for a convention center is another in what should be considered a major landmark in time for the revitalization of downtown.

Actual construction will begin soon, and the structure is expected to be complete in the spring 2021. The overall budget for the entire project is estimated at a little more than $32 million.

Funding for the project is fueled by a $22 million bond issue from Vigo County, as well as $5 million in cash from the county's Economic Development Income Tax. Other funds are coming from the city of Terre Haute, the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau.

A 1 percent food and beverage tax in Vigo County went into effect last year and will support the center's operations with $1.2 million to $2.1 million each year.

Planners and community leaders are hoping the presence of the convention center will draw mid-level conventions to the community and boost activity in downtown Terre Haute. Such a strategy has proven successful in other places around Indiana and the Midwest.

The project is the result of business, government and community leaders daring to dream. It shows that Terre Haute and Vigo County is embracing a vision of itself as a thriving area that has confidence in itself and its people.

This is an important day. It delivers a message, far and wide, that the future here is bright and vibrant. Once again, Terre Haute can be a place to go and a place to be.

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