Lawrenceburg leaders break ground on project expected to add jobs and increase tax revenue

LAWRENCEBURG, IN (FOX19) - A plan to breathe new life into downtown Lawrenceburg takes root.

City leaders and managers from Hollywood Casino broke ground on a $49-million event center on Tuesday afternoon. It'll include 18,000 square feet of space, a 180- room hotel, and a 150-seat restaurant at the corners of Walnut and High streets.

City leaders said they're counting on this project to attract new businesses and keep open the ones they currently have in the city. Most business owners are hoping for more customers, but not everyone is excited about the venture.

Lawrenceburg is a small town with a big problem-- how to keep its small business owners in business.

Sue Clark is the branch manager for the United Community Bank. It is located directly across the street from the proposed convention center site.

"We're a bank," said Clark. "People have to have money. We're fine, but the restaurants? We've seen restaurants open and close months after they open. There's no traffic in Lawrenceburg to keep us going."

City leaders believe the new convention complex will do just that-- bring in more people.

"I just think it's a great thing," said Dearborn County native Josh Lusby. "To have something like this in our local community. The jobs. Everything it's going to do. Especially for the local businesses. It's tough times for everyone. I think this is really a big boost for everyone in the town. I'm really excited."

The city is footing the bill for all of the upfront costs: about $49 million, but Hollywood Casino has agreed to repay about $41 million. Upon completion, ownership and operation of the convention center will be conveyed to Hollywood Casino who will be responsible for all operating costs.

Hollywood Casino believes the convention center and hotel will help it maintain its market-leader position as the casino gaming landscape becomes more competitive with the addition of casinos in Ohio.

"We'll grow the business,' said Joe Hasson, General Manager for Hollywood Casino. "It gives us more hotel rooms to work with. We run a hotel that is often more than 90-percent occupied today. This gives us some more inventory to work with, and of course it gives us the convention center and of course the square footage to work within it."

Lawrenceburg Mayor William Cunningham was equally excited about the partnership.

Annual projections for the project anticipate nearly 1,000 event days (multiple events can occur on a single day), 40,000 room nights, 100,000 food and beverage covers and millions of dollars in incremental revenues for the city.

"A big part of this is to be in competition with the casino in {Cincinnati} that'll open in a year and a half or two," said Cunningham. "This is to offset what we hope is not a great loss in revenue so the combination of the city working with the casino is definitely the right mix, and the only way it would work."

But not everyone believes the project will work.

Dick Martin has run his music store, the Trading Post, for 20 years. His storefront faces the proposed site of the convention center.

Martin said he's heard these promises years ago.

"When they built 'Partners in Health,' they said hundreds of people would be walking in the streets; That didn't happen," said Martin. "I think people come down here for that, but they go to the doctor and go home. And they when they built Ivy Tech they told us that hundreds of students would be walking around town. We don't have that either. It'll be interesting to see if this is different. We hope it will be."

The project is expected to be finished in the summer of 2013. The Mayor said it'll add hundreds of construction jobs and about 100 long-term ones.

Lawrenceburg began discussing the potential for a downtown event center as early as 2003. The Mayor and City Council agreed on basic development principles in 2009 and a request for proposals was issued by the City. In 2010, the Council voted to initiate negotiations with Hollywood and a letter of intent was signed in July 2011.

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