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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Vaccination Progress, Another Casino Delay

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Unknown Speaker
on this computer

Unknown Speaker
recording

Unknown Speaker
all right.

Unknown Speaker
Hello again, everybody. It's the second week of the month. We're joined by Terre Haute, Mayor Duke Bennett from his office via zoom. Hello and welcome.

Unknown Speaker
It's always good to be here. Joe, appreciate you continuing to do this.

Unknown Speaker
Well, quick two quick weather update. I know this will air on Wednesday morning, but there's talk of ice and maybe some freezing rain. I know you didn't get the six inches of snow, some God in our listening area. But Is everything okay over there and plows ready to go with needed?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we're ready. It's just you know, the other day, we had some freezing some rain, and then it turned into frozen slush. And, you know, a lot of times that has to do with the timing of when that actually freezes. And when we can get the streets, you know, taken care of. And so I think, once again, if you get a lot of freezing precipitation, not snow, but freezing rain, sleet, or a slush that freezes. That's the toughest thing to deal with. So we've evaded these storms pretty good. So far, they seem to have gone just north of us or just south of us. So that's fine with me. I love little snow as well, but I would just not have it hit the roads and, and stay there. I mean, any Mayor will tell you that it's it looks great. But it's a pain.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. Well, this, let's let's just get into an update on the vaccination process state is now allowing, as you know, a week or so ago, age 65. And up to register to be vaccinated. What's the process like going there in Vigo County? Are and are people able to register or get help? If they're not able to?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I've heard all positives about that, you know, the first few days is always kind of chaotic, because everybody tries to hit it at the same time. But I know that union hospital just passed their 10,000 vaccination that they had given out there with the new expanded clinic that the county is doing kind of a drive through the old Sears store at the mall. So you drive and get your shot, pull off outside, wait a few minutes before you leave. And it's been going very, very well. And so I don't have numbers today. I think last time we talked that the numbers change, you know, obviously every day, but things are picking up and people are getting their shots I know that many of our policemen and firemen have, we're well into the probably getting into the 70% range now at least with their first shot. And so I feel really good about accessibility. And whether the supplies last, that's always the part I don't hear about until a little bit when it gets more of a crunch time because they want to keep everybody in a positive frame of mind. Get on to one, one, make your appointment and then show up for it. And everything works just like everybody would have hoped it would work. And so the key will just be having plenty of vaccinations.

Unknown Speaker
It's interesting hearing all the different ways the vaccination is being administered in different counties. You talked about the drive thru and other places. What about those who are homebound and can't leave their their house?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And so, you know, there's efforts underway to do more and more of that. You know, I think some people are a little reluctant to call and ask for help, because maybe they're kind of homebound and they think well, I'm okay, for now, my time will come. But you know, your family and friends that check on you could obviously, you know, there could be a COVID interaction. So we need to get all these folks, you know, to get their vaccinations, I would just call 211. Ask about that. Call the Vigo County Health Department, they'll be happy to do that. And so whether it's getting you a ride to the clinic, or getting somebody to help you at home, we'll figure out a way to make that happen as a as a community.

Unknown Speaker
You mentioned this a little earlier in last month to about, you know, will they'll be enough vaccine? Are you still getting any more information about the amount that's coming through?

Unknown Speaker
Now really, you know, every once in a while the state will say there's more on the way? You know, they've ordered more? I believe that, but I don't know what happens once it gets to the state how that distribution works. And if there are areas of the state that have a bigger demand than others is are they shifting those resources? That part? I don't know. But my guess is, the goal is to get as many people as vaccinated as fast as you can, even if it's the first shot only. And so that's a logistical nightmare when you think about having to coordinate that with 92 counties and and getting them where they need to be as quickly as you can. I just worry about the supply chain here of getting enough to Indiana. I think they'll get it to where it needs to go reasonably well. But are we getting enough to cover our citizens? That's I guess that's the question of the day that everybody He's asking, though,

Unknown Speaker
do you agree with?

Unknown Speaker
I would speculate that more is on the way. But if I don't have direct access to the numbers,

Unknown Speaker
do you agree with the way the state is administering the vaccine through age? I know a lot of people are upset that some who are younger, who are more ill or even professions, like teachers are not getting it first?

Unknown Speaker
You know, that's a great question. I hear that argument. You know, across the United States, some states are giving it to teachers, some states are giving it to other groups of people. You know, I guess that's what we count on our local, you know, in Indiana, the governor and his staff to make those kind of decisions. The more people who interact with people having the shots, obviously, is the best scenario. You know, I don't want to second guess anybody. But my thinking is, we just don't have enough vaccines yet. And they want to give it to the people who are most prone to, you know, face a reaction to COVID versus somebody who's healthy. And the sooner we can get it, you know, to teachers and others. That's what that's what our target has to be. And so I get why they're doing what they're doing. But it's all about that volume. It's all about expanding that, who can get the shot. So the sooner we get them to the teachers and others, you know, the better for all of us.

Unknown Speaker
We've been reporting on COVID-19 in prisons, almost 50% tested positive in a jail and in the jail in Columbus. I'm not sure if you you saw we reported two of our reporters tested positive after covering the executions there at the penitentiary in Terre Haute. Of course, that's federal, which is not under your jurisdiction. But but we can take this to the city jail there. I mean, and county jail. Is this being managed correctly there?

Unknown Speaker
It seems to be you know, I think there was a little bit of an issue a little while back that made some headlines, an inmate passed away that apparently had COVID here, you know, and I've kind of followed that story. But I don't know all the technical details. And, and I think that, you know, it's just a matter of time till it gets into a situation like that. And with everybody being in such close, close quarters to each other. It's impossible to keep it from spreading. You just have to find ways to mitigate that spread and try to not let it go totally rampant. And I think they've done that over here. The numbers are way down. The numbers are way down at the federal penitentiary now. You know, they just went through that big deal where it was hard to contain it no matter what exercise, you go through, separate people wear masks, wash your hands, all the stuff you can do. prison and jail settings are pretty tough to keep people constantly away from each other. It's just, it's a tough environment. And, you know, it's I don't really think there's an answer to that, you know, some say let everybody you know, out of jail or whatever. But in some cases, you just can't do that. And so it seems to have settled down here locally, both in our county jail and the prison. The numbers I think yesterday, the number I saw at the federal penitentiary was one new one. I didn't see any for the jail. So it seems like we're on the backside of that now.

Unknown Speaker
Last week, Columbus Mayor Jim Lynn mentioned he wasn't sure he would sign to support COVID relief bill from the president. But he said he'd have to see it. He hasn't seen it, but that they haven't been affected like many cities because they're based on manufacturing. What about there in Terre Haute, would you welcome a COVID relief?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, but just really for revenue loss? I mean, I think if Congress does it right, they should look at actual impacts on communities. And so if there was something out there, I can easily show and justify how much revenue we've lost that we'll never get back. You know, we've got some reimbursement, the original COVID monies that came to Terre Haute and all the other communities in Indiana, but there's an ongoing loss of some revenue. And so if there is money to come, let's make sure it's targeted to actual loss of revenue and not just budget shortfalls.

Unknown Speaker
I want to get to a few other things too. Before we we leave I saw where you'll be serving as president is at the Vigo county Solid Waste Management District. So this is from an I gather, it's part of a reorganization. So what prompted that and got you in that position?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I've been on the board now for 13 years and it's evolved from a multi county activity to a single county Vigo. Judy Anderson, her past Commissioner, recently retired at the end of December and she has served as the president for quite a few years and And the board selected me to lead it as we move forward. We do a lot of work to the solid waste district when it comes to recycling, and community cleanups and providing materials and equipment to people who want to clean up our environment, all the revenues from that come from the tipping fees at the landfill that we have here in Vigo County. And so money comes back in to be able to help us to make Vigo county and Terra hota, a cleaner and more eco friendly community. And so a lot of activity there. It's a continuous effort for us to make things better. And I'm just thankful that the group thought that both it would be good for me to delete it for this next year. Well, I'm excited about that, you know, I get to lead a lot of groups. But that's one that I've had a lot of input in and help build it to where it is today. So it's kind of nice to be able to look at it from all different perspective as the president and see what else can we do? What can we tackle now?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I guess that's the question. I know, we've covered a lot of that the past. Oh, gosh, so many years doing the show, I even took a tour there after meeting with you years ago at the the solid waste district over there. And there were a lot of unfunded, unfunded mandates that you had to figure out to continue working on what's the next project?

Unknown Speaker
Well, in the biggest thing that's really hit us most recently is ISU closing down the recycling center. And because the COVID that whether it reopens or not that remains to be seen that was a huge It was a great opportunity for people to recycle right in the center of the city. And when that goes away, there's a big void to fill. And so we've got that, you know, brand new office building on the north side, we're looking at a potential South location. Next, we're going to have to build that out because we're going to have to do things to keep items from going into the landfill or ending up on the side of the road. So that's what it's all about.

Unknown Speaker
There's been more news, with the gaming industry, just to kind of quickly and you can correct me if I'm wrong. But it all started with spectacle entertainment, became in the news for funneling money to different accounts and proper job offers to government lobbyists that broke off though from the Terre Haute casino part last year that it became spectacle jack with a casino opening September of this year with the Hard Rock international theme. But now I believe it's known as Lucy luck gaming with still the rocksino. What's next?

Unknown Speaker
What's going on? Now? You've got that you got that? Exactly right, Joe. Okay. So it's been kind of a moving target, you know, I really feel for Greg Gibson who, you know, put himself in this position to bring a casino to Terre Haute. And some of that stuff that happened before he even knew most of these people. Several years ago, before we even had the concept of a Terre Haute casino is kind of haunting the situation today. And so that's got to be cleaned up and dealt with here locally, he renamed it because it was still connected to you know, the old guard, if you will, by name and by people that were involved a little bit. So he had to clean that up. And so now His focus is on getting this casino under construction. So waiting on the Gaming Commission, but it's getting there. And then he'll have some more work to do up at the Gary casino. So, you know, it's these things are complicated when you put them together, and they're just as complicated to take apart. And so it's gonna happen. I'm not worried about that. There's just more legal cleanup work to be done in order to totally separate Greg and all his interest from those folks from the previous partnership. Let's put it that

Unknown Speaker
way. So so that's what's going on now. Is that what the Indiana Gaming Commission is waiting on?

Unknown Speaker
I think they're waiting on figuring out what's going to happen with Gary, you know how that's going to shake out, you know, they talk about taking the license away from Rod rackleff. And there's just so many pieces to that, that you don't just go fix one thing, there's probably 10 things that have to be fixed. And they're working through all that. So I'm still very, very optimistic. I'm not concerned about it. It's just, you know, it's got to be taken care of before things can move forward,

Unknown Speaker
as there's no date now in terms of breaking ground or anything

Unknown Speaker
other than the last I heard it's still coming up soon. So it'll be in the coming weeks. It's just, you know, it obviously could get delayed again, it's been delayed for several months. Now, but things I think the fog is beginning to lift a little bit and the tasks are at hand that will get resolved and it'll get moving forward.

Unknown Speaker
give an update to the chamber there, I believe you can see it on the city webpage or on the chamber website. Can you just briefly tell us what you talked about?

Unknown Speaker
You know, every year, I try to give an update to the business community, and then we share it with everybody else. That's kind of my city update. We talked about some 2020 things that happened, we had a really good year outside of the COVID. You know, when you think about the COVID impacts, our economy sustain things very well, because of our diverse economy. So that was good small businesses, you know, definitely struggling yet today. And we focused on talking about that a bit that we got to support our local small businesses, because you know, they're living on the edge. And then when you kind of look at this year, some of the projects and plans that we have, this could shape up to be one of the biggest years we've had in a long time. How long COVID continues to impact us, I don't know. But it was probably one of the more positive reports that I've given in a while that didn't have, you know, a lot of unknowns about it other than COVID. And I feel like with the vaccinations, the way they're happening and our numbers going down over here that we're on the right path, that maybe in the next few months, we'll kind of see that, you know, the real light at the end of the tunnel. And I think this stands to be a good year for us from an infrastructure perspective, from an economic development investment perspective. I it's just shaping up to be an exciting year for our community.

Unknown Speaker
And I believe but Terre Haute got some of the money from the community crossings fund, that's from the state, right.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, that's a 5050 match for us. Since we're class to city, we got about a million dollars, we're going to work on four projects this year that I talked about and rolled out for the media. So now we're looking at what's leftover that we need to do this year. So we're kind of working on our final plans for paving besides the four big projects with community crossings. We're kind of in that mode, where you get into that late January, early February to start gearing up for the construction season. So that's kind of what we're doing right now modeling some things, we just completed our road inventory. So we'll be rolling out some more details on that in the coming weeks.

Unknown Speaker
Is the new I saw on the trip star about a new overpass at 13th. And Eighth Avenue is that something that is tied to that

Unknown Speaker
a little bit. I mean, it's tied to our infrastructure plan, but it's funded through the local tracks grant that we received. And in our match. Some of the media has been a little misleading on that it talked about redesigning it, we didn't redesign it, they came to us with two scenarios, one with two bridges, and one with one bridge. And the two bridge design is just too expensive. It's just, you know, getting to that $30 million range for a project that simply doesn't make any fiscal sense. So we're leaning towards the other one that's a little less expensive that accomplishes the same goal. And so we hope to start construction on that in 2023. That's where we're at right now. And we'll have another public meeting in a few weeks.

Unknown Speaker
All right, well, that's about all I had. Was there anything else you wanted to tell me I didn't make any announcements or any updates. I know, we didn't talk about

Unknown Speaker
things. So I'm still got COVID on my mind, just like everybody else does. And so I'm feeling better about things, but watching very cautiously. As I said, I think we're gonna have a very exciting here around here in Terre Haute Vigo County. So, you know, hey, things can be worse. And we're gonna get through this. And we're going to finish it off. And we're going to come out of it better than we were before. And so that's I guess that's what I'll leave you with is just my positive outlook. I really feel that way. I'm not just saying it. And I think that by the time we get to the end of this year, we'll look back and we will learn a lot. And we will have accomplished a lot.

Unknown Speaker
And you have to say to when you see these numbers now coming from the state every day when they were up over 8000 cases a day. And today, I think I don't have it in front of me, but maybe it was 1200 cats to give you a little bit of aside doesn't

Unknown Speaker
mean at least it's not just looking at Terre Haute, you know, in a vacuum. But I think we had 20 you know, so in our latest count, that's really good and testing is still going on. So, you know, I wouldn't say testing is ramping up by any means. But, you know, a lot of people are still getting tested. So hopefully we're through the worst of it.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, thank you very much. We'll see you in March.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett on the Zoom interview Tuesday afternoon. (Zoom)

COVID-19 vaccinations are moving along smoothly, prison cases are declining, the new casino groundbreaking could still be in a couple weeks, and the city laid out four Community Crossings projects.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more on a Zoom conference call. 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: Let's just get an update on the vaccination process. The state is now allowing age 65 and up to register to be vaccinated. What's the process like going there in Vigo County?

Bennett: Yeah, I've heard all positives about that. The first few days is always kind of chaotic, because everybody tries to hit it at the same time. But I know that Union Hospital just passed their 10,000 vaccination that they had given out there with the new expanded clinic. The county is doing kind of a drive through the old Sears store at the mall. So you drive and get your shot, pull off outside, wait a few minutes before you leave. And it's been going very, very well.

READ MORE: IU Health Official: Vaccine 'Amazing' At Stopping Virus Hospitalizations, Deaths

I know that many of our policemen and firemen have, we're well into getting into the 70% range now at least with their first shot. And so I feel really good about accessibility. And whether the supplies last, that's always the part I don't hear about until it gets more of a crunch time because they want to keep everybody in a positive frame of mind. And so the key will just be having plenty of vaccinations.

Hoosiers age 70 and older are currently eligible to schedule appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hoosiers age 65 and older are currently eligible to schedule appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hren: Do you agree with the way the state is administering the vaccine through age? I know a lot of people are upset that some who are younger, who are more ill, or even professions, like teachers are not getting it first?

Bennett: You know, that's a great question. I hear that argument. Across the United States, some states are giving it to teachers, some states are giving it to other groups of people. I guess that's what we count on our governor and his staff to make those kind of decisions. The more people who interact with people having the shots, obviously, is the best scenario. I don't want to second guess anybody. But my thinking is, we just don't have enough vaccines yet. And they want to give it to the people who are most prone to face a reaction to COVID versus somebody who's healthy.

And the sooner we can get it to teachers and others, that's what our target has to be. And so I get why they're doing what they're doing. But it's all about that volume. It's all about expanding that.

Hren: We've been reporting on COVID-19 in prisons, almost 50% tested positive in the jail in Columbus. I'm not sure if you saw, we reported two of our reporters tested positive after covering the executions there at the penitentiary in Terre Haute. Of course, that's federal, which is not under your jurisdiction. But but we can take this to the city/county jail there. Is this being managed correctly?

Bennett: It seems to be. I think there was a little bit of an issue a little while back that made some headlines, an inmate passed away that apparently had COVID here. But I don't know all the technical details. And, and I think that, it's just a matter of time till it gets into a situation like that. And with everybody being in such close, close quarters to each other. It's impossible to keep it from spreading. You just have to find ways to mitigate that spread and try to not let it go totally rampant. And I think they've done that over here. The numbers are way down.

READ MORE: 82 Advocacy Groups Call On Biden To End Federal Executions

The numbers are way down at the federal penitentiary now. You know, they just went through that big deal where it was hard to contain it no matter what exercise you go through. I don't really think there's an answer to that. Some say let everybody out of jail or whatever. But in some cases, you just can't do that.

Hren: Last week, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop mentioned he wasn't sure he would sign to support the COVID relief bill from the president. But he said he'd have to see it and they haven't been affected like many cities because they're based on manufacturing. What about there in Terre Haute, would you welcome COVID relief?

Bennett: Yeah, but just really for revenue loss. I think if Congress does it right, they should look at actual impacts on communities. And so if there was something out there, I can easily show and justify how much revenue we've lost that we'll never get back. We've got some reimbursement, the original COVID monies that came to Terre Haute and all the other communities in Indiana, but there's an ongoing loss of some revenue. And so if there is money to come, let's make sure it's targeted to actual loss of revenue and not just budget shortfalls.

Rocksino Terre Haute exterior
Early rendering of the Rocksino Terre Haute exterior. (Courtesy Photo)

Hren: There's been more news with the gaming industry, just to kind of quickly recap, but it all started with Spectacle Entertainment making news for funneling money to different accounts and improper job offers to government lobbyists. That broke off though from the Terre Haute casino part last year and became Spectacle Jack with a casino opening September of this year with Hard Rock International. But now I believe it's known as Lucy Luck Gaming with still the Rocksino. What's next?

Bennett: You've got that exactly right, Joe. Okay. So it's been kind of a moving target. I really feel for Greg Gibson who put himself in this position to bring a casino to Terre Haute. And some of that stuff that happened before he even knew most of these people. And so that's got to be cleaned up and dealt with here locally, he renamed it because it was still connected to the old guard, if you will, by name and by people that were involved a little bit.

Hard Rock Casino
The casino site south of the Walmart Super Center along U.S. 40 / Indiana 46 on Terre Haute's east side. (WFIU/WTIU News)

So now his focus is on getting this casino under construction. So just waiting on the Gaming Commission, but it's getting there. And then he'll have some more work to do up at the Gary casino. These things are complicated when you put them together, and they're just as complicated to take apart. And so it's gonna happen. I'm not worried about that. There's just more legal cleanup work to be done in order to totally separate Greg and all his interest from those folks from the previous partnership. 

A groundbreaking could be in the coming weeks. It obviously could get delayed again, it's been delayed for several months. But things I think the fog is beginning to lift a little bit and the tasks are at hand that will get resolved.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

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