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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Convention Center Delay, Casino Vote

Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett at City Hall Tuesday (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

The city Eva Kor called home is grieving over the loss of the Indiana legend, city officials are preparing for the casino referendum this fall, and the construction of the convention center is slightly delayed.

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: I'm sure the passing of Eva Kor was quite a shock this past week?

Bennett: It did, I know she had a lot of health issues over the years, but she was a very resilient person as we know from her entire life. I knew she was on the trip, never thought something like that would happen while she was gone, of course. It was a shock when I got the first text about that, it was like, oh wow, I hate to hear that, really sad.

But then you think of the irony, of her being out there and doing what she loved to do, lead tours and show people and tell that story, she was doing exactly what she loved to do. She's got such a global impact, we're just fortunate to be able to have her as a part of our community and have the museum here.

Kor flowers
The museum had been closed since her death Thursday. People are leaving flowers in Kor's parking spot out front. (Seth Tacket, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: The casino referendum will be on the fall ballot, do you feel like the sooner the better?

Bennett: It's probably a good move that we did that. We were afraid if we moved it to the spring, it would lose some energy, it gives the legislature another session to maybe make changes to the bill. We need to go, Terre Haute has to help itself by getting the referendum done. So now we go campaign mode will begin, it'll be run like a political campaign, we want to educate people and explain what the benefits are. 

Hren: Some still say this casino in Terre Haute is a money grab at the hands of the less fortunate.

Bennett: We've already fixed our budget, so anybody that would say that, that's just incorrect. We're going to take the money from this and it's not a grab, I mean, the state gets the majority of the money. Gambling is legal, it's legal in a lot of states and continues to grow. The county is going to get some money, the school is going to get some money, we're going to get some money ... we're going to take that and do quality life projects that everybody in this community can benefit from.

Hren: There's competition knowing Danville, Illinois is also in the hunt for a casino, does this change the game for Terre Haute?

Bennett: We still feel like our market will be the same, maybe we lose some people. The casino operator is going to have to put a good product out there that's going to draw people in. It's competitive nature, we're not going to have any influence on that, we just see the regional effect, so yeah, there's going to be an impact, but how much will probably depend on who has the better place to go and enjoy to gamble or visit the bars, restaurants, or entertainment.

possible rendering of a Vigo County casino
Early proposal of what a Terre Haute casino could look like. (City of Terre Haute)

Hren: I hear the construction of the new downtown convention center is delayed, but not sure what that meant?

Bennett: We were probably ahead of ourselves probably a tiny bit, so I don't really see it as much of a delay, it sounded like that through the media. We want to slow down here a little, we got the bids back. One of the parking garages came in a little bit higher than we thought it should, even though it all came in under budget. So we want to look at that model of particular parking garage, there's just a few pieces to shake out before they go to the county council to close the bond.

Terre Haute Convention Center site
The site of the downtown convention center in Terre Haute. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: We're half way through the year, how is the budget running? 

Bennett: It's looking good, so just looked at some numbers the other day because we're already building next year's budget looking, we've been working on that the last several weeks. We seem to be right on target, once again we've had four straight years of a balanced budgets and we're trying to find a way to put a little bit of money into our reserves. So that's a great place to be, we still have to spend some money, but we're able to put some back.

Hulman Center renovation construction
Renovations are underway at Indiana State's Hulman Center. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

 

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