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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Vaccine Hesitancy, Convention Center Progress

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Unknown Speaker
All right. Welcome. Hello. It's asked the mayor on Wi Fi you second week of the month already of May. Tara hautes. Duke Bennett is here. Hello. Thank you for being here.

Unknown Speaker
It's always good to be here, Joe. And yes, it's may or this year is flying by.

Unknown Speaker
And there's nothing like the passage of time with commencements. I know St. Mary of the woods, Indiana State, I'm sure there are many more in Bloomington, we had IU commencement. But you know, still different. We're still in a pandemic, what kinds of coordination was there between City County and these colleges, universities for holding commencement?

Unknown Speaker
Well, it's pretty much carried over from what they did for the Winter Commencement and had a little bit more open on a few things. But their ideal long was to progressively open back up and let some folks in. So there were some smaller groups, you know, some, they divided some things up, so they wouldn't have as many people at one time virtual component. So it was a variety of things. And so I think they were very prudent and one getting it done and been able to have the public access, you know, parts of what they were trying to accomplish. And yeah, keep everybody as safe as you possibly can. So what I see it is is a major transition from what they did to the winner.

Unknown Speaker
So were their guests allowed families. And so there were some

Unknown Speaker
and I don't quote me on exactly how they broke that down. But there were some people allowed on campus. And because I saw and I saw a lot of families here taking pictures of their students and things, they weren't necessarily in one big space together. Yeah, they were on campus being able to do parts of the graduation that they were unable to do last time around. Well, this

Unknown Speaker
we're recording this on a Monday, this week. So these numbers will change. But the seven day positivity rate there in Vigo county is falling 3.62%, it's in the blue state metric. So what's the next step? Now, in your mind?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I think it's just continuing to remind people about vaccinating, you know, I think there's, I'm sure there's some anti vaxxers out there that people are just uncomfortable with getting a vaccination. You know, you hear people say things like, oh, it went too fast, and I'm waiting to see what happens, then I think there's some other people that just felt like, oh, wait till the crowds died down, I'm fine. You know, I'm dealing with it on my own. I'm staying away from people. So now's the time to really begin to push that, okay, you can go get that same day appointments. Now you can get in and get your site if you're going to do that. And the more people that we can get to finish that process will kind of bring us to the end of this. From my perspective. I don't know of anything else we can really do, I think what the governor has done and the process he's going through, and we're following that here, and City Hall is fine. I think it's just all about more time to pass with more people getting vaccinated and just that simple.

Unknown Speaker
Well, and I didn't want to address that. More reports are saying us may not hit the herd immunity, you know, the vaccine is open to everybody. Many don't want to get it NPR did a report and said one in four. Don't want to get the vaccine. It's the highest for republican men and residents of rural areas. So what's the strategy?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I don't know if I really have one. I think if everything would calm down and the media overall, you know, you hear a lot of drama every day, with their point now people who won't get vaccinated or they're talking to people about vaccine passports or all those kinds of things in different states. Then everybody gets confused here, right? And even in Terre Haute, Indiana about what is how will this roll out the rest of the way. And so my thing is, you need to talk to your own doctor. Don't worry about what the media says or a politician says. Talk to your doctor and find out what they feel about you getting a shot. That's your source to get that taken care of. And I would encourage everybody to get a hold of your family doctor and talk to him about it. You know and come to a plan have your own personal plan for your family and and print out the noise of everything else out there. Some people are just not going to do it. I mean, I, I get it, there's a lot of people don't get flu shots, you know, so you're not gonna make people do it. And I don't think that helps to make them feel bad because they don't feel comfortable getting a shot. Let's get them to feel comfortable.

Unknown Speaker
I yeah. And, boy, it's there's no answer.

Unknown Speaker
I mean, there just isn't one.

Unknown Speaker
Well, and I mean is so, you know, if people don't, don't get I mean, obviously you can't force people to get vaccinated if the numbers start to soar new variants come out, you know, and it kind of goes back to kind of square one. That does sound like a lot of drama, but it's also a reality.

Unknown Speaker
Right? It is, then I think, once again, and I say the drama thing, because I've watched, you know, I listen to the news and look at some stuff on social media, just what people are saying and thinking. And it's like, it only takes a little thing to get people to throw a wall, I want to just stay, I want to be even keeled here, let's be common sense about it. Let's get more information out about how many people are getting their sauce and the fact that, you know, there have been a few extreme examples of people that have reactions, but it's no worse than other things. And so let's just keep educating and let people make their own decision. And hopefully, they'll reach that right decision up to to your point. If the numbers start going crazy with a bunch of variants, then obviously, nobody wants to lock down again. So maybe, you know, I hope we don't get to that. But I would think that would be a trigger point to get people to say, Man, I need to go do it, you know, but what ever gets you there is probably the best dance.

Unknown Speaker
Now is City Hall government buildings open to public again,

Unknown Speaker
yes, we're open to the public, but you got to wear a mask when you're in the building. We haven't had any problem with anybody cooperating with that.

Unknown Speaker
Have you been keeping tally or tabs on positive COVID cases within the city?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we usually get notified when we have a positive one. And I haven't had any in a few weeks. But that's been great.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and of course, I'm sorry, when I met, you answered it correctly. But when I said city, I meant city

Unknown Speaker
workers. Just I assumed you meant that since your city hall. Yeah, we haven't had any in a few weeks. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker
We talked last month about the American rescue plan act. You talked about possibly first deposit in May. Any word on that? And how much so far?

Unknown Speaker
No, we've not received it yet. But I was told that we're supposed to get it by May 11. Or sooner. That means immediately, I would expect that this week. Last week, the City Council created our funds. So we have the official place to put to place those dollars. And then the next step in the process for us will be to develop a budget for 2021. And so we're putting a committee together of city council members and administration. And we'll begin meeting probably in June to develop that initial budget. That's kind of where we're at. So I expect to get a little over $19 million any day now.

Unknown Speaker
I assume conversations but like you said still going on, on how to spend it, but

Unknown Speaker
so we'll just sit on the money, you know, we'll put it in that friend, and just sit on those funds and not spend a penny of it until we get that additional guidance. Once we get the guidance, we'll do the budget and then we'll be able to spend it.

Unknown Speaker
Now I also heard wobba, Wabash Valley in the hunt for ready. Is that right? Ready or read I

Unknown Speaker
really is what I'm told.

Unknown Speaker
That's what I thought too. I I kind of remember the regional Cities Initiative A while back. It's kind of like that version of funding. So how much is at stake there for the Terre Haute area? And what's that pinpointed to?

Unknown Speaker
So what basically what I've been told, and I'm still waiting on the governor to roll out more details, which I know they put a little bit out last week. But there's 500 million for the whole state. And I'm kind of told that 50 millions kind of the cap for an area but we'll see if that's the case. And so from our perspective, we're looking at several things, quality of life projects that would affect a multi County area here. workforce readiness and workforce development are big on their list. I think there's some higher education partnership opportunities in there. And so when we convene, to be able, you know, we got a multi month process now they're supposed to award this I think by December once the process he actually gets formally started. And so we'll present multiple projects on behalf of this region. And hopefully we'll get some of those funded up to the max lumber mill, whatever that might be. But I think workforces a big part of this, I really do, I think we that's a great opportunity for us to make some investments.

Unknown Speaker
And I thought I've heard access to broadband. I mean, there,

Unknown Speaker
there's a lot, there's a lot, you can really, I mean, it's got, it's a little bit more open, but they're going to want to approve things that have the biggest impact. And so until we get some more specific guidelines there also, but I think we're on the right track with what we're thinking about right now until we get that guy. And I'm hoping it will be one of those we almost made it last time and the regional cities, we got some planning money. But I think we've done all the work we've done since that time, we positioned ourselves to be in a great spot to receive funds for this new program.

Unknown Speaker
And what's the timeline again, for

Unknown Speaker
that? If I remember, right, over the next couple of months, you will put together an initial, you let them know you're interested in this are some planning dollars available, and and a decision will be made by December. So it's a pretty quick timeline.

Unknown Speaker
See, it's been a while since we've talked about the building of the downtown Convention Center, just thought we're due for an update.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, on schedule and on budget. So that's good. I say the same thing about the police station, if you ask about that in a minute. I mean, anytime you do a large project like that, there's always change orders, there's always things that happen. But with the price of materials going out, it's a good thing. We timed this out when we did because those prices were locked in. So we haven't been affected by any of that. I just drove by this morning coming to work downtown. And they're hooking up the water line to the building right now, because they're starting to put the plumbing in. So when you look at it, it's starting to take its shape, and the internal walls are going in. I couldn't be any more excited about the progress, the weather has been great. And so they worked very hard. They continue to tell me that it will be ready next Bay one year from now. And it's just, it's great. And a lot of buzz in the community. People talking about it when they drive by and just excited that we're adding that component to our downtown area.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, that'd be one of the many places I'm going to stop that when I get to come back to Terre Haute hopefully soon. And while and of course, the police station, although that building is already done, but the work done inside

Unknown Speaker
the build out is going right on schedule. I just had an update this morning from chief about a couple little change orders we're going to do but minor things we want to add. But we're still way under budget on that one from what we we set a high goal when we started the process. And being able to lock in those prices, as I said, affected us there in a positive way. We reduced some things that we didn't need to do. And I added a few things in at the right deal. We're still under budget. And it's coming along great. I took a peek in the other day. And there were we're going to be in August, I just don't know if it'll be first part or later part of our

Unknown Speaker
one more quick question on the convention center has the design of that changed at all had been alterations now that we are in a pandemic, so you know, new thoughts about maybe air ventilation or room size, you know, things like that,

Unknown Speaker
that was really kind of taken into consideration before because you know, when you have a convention center, you divide spaces up, and then you have a common space, you kind of think about that anyway, you know, three COVID and then reviewing those things, makes it look like we've done all the right things in the design. So I feel really good about the configuration and how it's going to be utilized, that we'll be able to work through hopefully we'll never see another pandemic in our lifetime, but who's to say, being as prepared as we possibly can to be able to deal with those kinds of things and still have some fanfare. You know, if the industry closes down like it then it really doesn't matter. But you hope that you can do the right things to keep that from spreading from our facility anyway.

Unknown Speaker
I've been to meetings for this still pre planning for the Monroe County Convention Center build and you know, a lot of people say is zoom gonna take over conventions. Why are you building a convention center in this day and age, but everything from that meeting still pointed toward that if anything more people are going to want to go to conventions? Is that just leadership kind of tilting the table toward the convention center?

Unknown Speaker
No, I mean, obviously I'm optimistic but You never know what's going to happen. But I'm kind of tired of zoom, zoom works great. But you can't do everything via zoom. You know, you need to sit in a room sometimes with people. And whether you're in a training class, or you're just having a conversation to do planning, that interaction is so important. And so conventions are never going to go away. There's always going to be conventions. And I think that people want to get out now, you're already starting to see numbers go up and bigger events. And I just think we're going to get back to a normal cycle within two or three years here. I really do.

Unknown Speaker
We just have a couple minutes left to thought maybe get any updates on Have you heard anything about the casino or any other announcements? You

Unknown Speaker
have?

Unknown Speaker
No, no update on the casino. They're working on a groundbreaking day. And so I would hope divided unable to tell you that today. That was the plan. But it's not quite set yet. But I still work every day we inch closer, it's not moving away from us. So a date will soon be on the horizon here. It's we're not, it's still coming. Nobody should forget about that. If you're listening in on NASA, it's just getting the details worked out with the Gaming Commission with hard rock the operator and the owners, and get everybody on the same page. And so they're working on that. They're opening up the new casino up in Gary, later this week. And that's taken some of their time recently, but things keep moving. It's just nailing down the final date.

Unknown Speaker
Okay. Did you have any announcements, anything you'd

Unknown Speaker
like to? I don't think so. You know, um, we'll do our paving projects. And that's always a pain. You know, we got a few complaints with some of our road projects that we started, I just asked people again, please be patient. We're doing a lot of planning for some parks projects that are going to be kind of starting to happen very soon. So I think it's gonna be a big year for us. It's just right now we're kind of in that still planning and beginning the implementation phase. And we're working on the new budget for next year, all at the same time. So it's kind of a big blur right now, that everything I see bodes well for what we're going to be able to do and tear out. So I'm extremely excited about the rest of this year. And 2022 23 both look like they're going to be great years for us. So, you know, what can you say? I mean, I it can be a lot worse, it can be a lot more negative. And we're getting out of COVID. And things are lined up for Terre Haute very, very well.

Unknown Speaker
Well, thank you for having us. And for those that are listening right now, if you have a question for Mayor Bennett or any other of our mayor's throughout the month news at Indiana public media.org or you can tweet us at ask the mayor thanks again.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett on the Zoom interview Monday morning. (Zoom)

Bennett says media and politicians should step aside and let non-vaccinated COVID residents consult their doctor. Convention center construction is on time and on budget, and officials are waiting for rescue plan money.

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: Our interview is Monday, so today's seven day positivity rate in Vigo county is falling to now 3.62%, it's in the blue state metric. So what's the next step?

Bennett: From my perspective, I don't know of anything else we can really do, I think what the governor has done and the process he's going through, and we're following that here, and City Hall is fine. I think it's just all about more time to pass with more people getting vaccinated and just that simple.

Hren: I did want to address that. More reports are saying that we may not hit herd immunity. The vaccine is open to everybody, but many still don't want to get it. A report from NPR says one in four don't want to get the vaccine. It's the highest for republican men and residents of rural areas. What's the strategy?

Dr. Lindsey Weaver said opening to walk-in appointments has increased traffic at the state’s mass vaccination clinics in Indianapolis and Gary.
Dr. Lindsey Weaver said opening to walk-in appointments has increased traffic at the state’s mass vaccination clinics in Indianapolis and Gary.

Bennett: I don't know if I really have one. I think if everything would calm down and the media overall, you hear a lot of drama every day with their point of people who won't get vaccinated or they're talking to people about vaccine passports or all those kinds of things in different states. Then everybody gets confused here, right? And even in Terre Haute, Indiana about how will this roll out the rest of the way. And so my thing is, you need to talk to your own doctor. Don't worry about what the media says or a politician says. Talk to your doctor and find out what they feel about you getting a shot. That's your source to get that taken care of.

And I would encourage everybody to get a hold of your family doctor and talk to him about it. And have your own personal plan for your family and turn out the noise of everything else out there. Some people are just not going to do it. I mean, I get it, there's a lot of people who don't get flu shots, so you're not gonna make people do it. And I don't think that helps - to make them feel bad because they don't feel comfortable getting a shot. Let's get them to feel comfortable.

READ MORE: "We've Hit A Wall": Vaccine Hesitancy Worries Health Officials, Especially In Rural Areas

Hren: You can't force people to get vaccinated, but if the numbers start to soar with new variants, and it goes back to square one. that does sound like a lot of drama, but it's also a reality.

Bennett: Right? It is, then I think, once again, and I say the drama thing, because I listen to the news and look at some stuff on social media, just what people are saying and thinking. And it's like, it only takes a little thing to get people to throw a wall, I want to be even keeled here, let's be common sense about it. Let's get more information out about how many people are getting their shots and the fact that there have been a few extreme examples of people that have reactions, but it's no worse than other things. And so let's just keep educating and let people make their own decision. And hopefully, they'll reach that right decision up to to your point. If the numbers start going crazy with a bunch of variants, then obviously, nobody wants to lock down again.

Hren: We talked last month about the American Rescue Plan Act. You talked about possibly a first deposit in May. Any word on that? And how much so far?

Bennett: No, we've not received it yet. But I was told that we're supposed to get it by May 11. Or sooner. That means immediately, I would expect that this week. Last week, the City Council created our funds. So we have the official place to place those dollars. And then the next step in the process for us will be to develop a budget for 2021. And so we're putting a committee together of city council members and administration. And we'll begin meeting probably in June to develop that initial budget. That's kind of where we're at. So I expect to get a little over $19 million any day now.

Terre Haute Convention Center rendering
Courtesy: City of Terre Haute

Hren: it's been a while since we've talked about the building of the downtown Convention Center, just thought we're due for an update.

Bennett: On schedule and on budget. So that's good. I say the same thing about the police station, if you ask about that in a minute. Anytime you do a large project like that, there's always change orders, there's always things that happen. But with the price of materials going up, it's a good thing. We timed this out when we did because those prices were locked in. So we haven't been affected by any of that.

I just drove by this morning coming to work downtown and they're hooking up the water line to the building right now, because they're starting to put the plumbing in. So when you look at it, it's starting to take its shape, and the internal walls are going in. I couldn't be any more excited about the progress, the weather has been great. And so they worked very hard. They continue to tell me that it will be ready next May, one year from now. And it's just, it's great. And a lot of buzz in the community.

READ MORE: Monroe Convention Expansion Project On Hold As Leaders Gather Public Input

Hren: Has the design changed at all or alterations now that we are in a pandemic, so new thoughts about maybe air ventilation or room size?

Bennett: That was really taken into consideration before. When you have a convention center, you divide spaces up, and then you have a common space, you kind of think about that anyway, pre-COVID and then reviewing those things, makes it look like we've done all the right things in the design. So I feel really good about the configuration and how it's going to be utilized, that we'll be able to work through hopefully we'll never see another pandemic in our lifetime, but who's to say, being as prepared as we possibly can to be able to deal with those kinds of things and still have some fanfare.

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