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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Casino, Cultural Designation

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Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett gives his 2018 year in review. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

The long-awaited Margaret Avenue overpass is open, city council votes on the proposed jail location this week, the city names a new police chief, and talk of a Terre Haute casino is back on the table.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: How about a quick update on the proposed location of the jail at the paper mill site? Last we reported, the county plan commission approved the rezoning and now it's up to city council, some are still concerned that location will be an impediment to developing the riverfront, are you concerned?

Bennett: This Thursday, they'll be taking it to a vote so we'll find out. We just gotta keep figuring out ways to develop the riverfront. My focus will be doing just that. If that property does happen, and once again, that property is not on the river, but it's next to a parcel that's on the river. And we should all be mindful, if we can't get this to happen, how can we make sure down the road there are other things we are able to be succesful with. 

Hren: Big news, Margaret Avenue is open to traffic.

Bennett: We worked really hard this year to push the contractor to get it done, they didn't have to get it done until next July, that's when the INDOT had given them to finish it. Yes, there's still some work to be done in the spring, but yes it's open and I've had a ton of positive feedback from it.

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The Margaret Avenue overpass is now open in Terre Haute. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

We have a north/south CSX line that runs where Margaret Avenue runs parallel to I-70, and there's a switchyard there. We have about 40 trains that come through that crossing and about eight to ten stop and switch, so there's times that crossing is blocked an hour at a time. Now there's a place you can always get over the trains.

Hren: Terre Haute is receiving an Indiana Cultural District designation… what are the requirements to apply and what are the benefits?

Bennett: The biggest part of the requirements that changed for us, we didn't meet all of the qualifications and one of them is the city making a commitment to this. I'm going to provide a part-time staff person, that's already on staff, but part of their time will be spent working directly with the arts community One of the first projects we want to do is related to way-finding to get people to destinations downtown. 

So things like way-finding, additional museums like the Larry Bird Museum coming downtown, the new historical society museum coming downtown. We keep adding to our portfolio. Now we'll see what we can do to seek other grant opportunities. The designation puts us in an elite club in Indiana, I think there were 7 before the announcement made this weekand we really want to use it as a springboard in the future.

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Plans for the new Vigo Co. Historical Society Museum on display before renovations began. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: New report on another attempt to bring a casino to Terre Haute next year, but has to pass a legislative committe which it didn't in 2017. You were in favor then, are you of this current proposal?

Bennett: Well, we'll have to see what the legislature does with this. I think there's going to be several gaming bills. There's two things, what Full House Resorts wants to do is bring excess licenses from Rising Sun (on state border near Cincinnati) to Terre Haute. They recognize it's going to have to be an open process where people will have to bid on that, but then on the other side of that, one of the Gary licenses is going to move. So this is two different activities that could happen, and one of those would be great for Terre Haute, I don't know which one is the best one, probably the license, but it's going to be up to the gaming commission and legislature, what are they going to allow to happen.

Hren: So why Terre Haute?

Bennett: Originally when the casinos first came to Indiana, Terre Haute was on the list to get one, for a variety of reasons it didn't happen. The only expansion was with French Lick and nothing else. It's a great location here in west central Indiana, we're two hours from the nearest casino, people in Illinois have no where to gamble so the idea is bringing those Illinois dollars to Indiana, serve this underserved marketfrom the gaming perspective and everybody benefits. The state of Indiana gets more revenue, locally we get more revenue and it provides another quality of life kind of thing.

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