News Release: From: Mayors Office, City of Evansville Below is the complete text of Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfels Annual State of the City Address delivered to the Evansville Rotary Club noon luncheon on Tuesday, March 18, 2008: Do you see what I see when you look around Evansville? I don’t think you can miss it- Positive changes are happening all around us. But I would challenge you to look even deeper- What you can’t see may be changing even more. We’re changing the way we think about ourselves and our City. We aren’t afraid to brag about our accomplishments. We want more, we dare to dream of more. We are innovators. We’re setting the standard that other cities and towns aspire to. We aren’t afraid to tackle tough problems. We involve our community in the search for the solutions. And we strive for excellence. Being the best means others look to us for leadership. Communities around the state and nation see Evansville as a model, and they want to imitate our success. Despite our nation’s sagging economy, Evansville continues to see areas of positive growth. That growth’s been attributed to our emphasis on workforce development, and our efforts to attract high-tech industries with the creation of a downtown technology park. We have been innovative in the way we structure economic development. The Certified Technology Park, Downtown Evansville Incorporated, and our small business incubator have come together under the umbrella of the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville, or GAGE. GAGE, through its entrepreneurship division… Innovation Pointe… has attracted nearly 20 knowledge-based businesses as clients. In turn, those businesses have hired more than 50 workers whose average salary is more than $120,000. We have also regionalized and consolidated economic development in southwest Indiana. Vanderburgh, Warrick, Gibson and Posey Counties have combined their resources to form the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. The Coalition is focusing on attracting new business to the region. So far, it has helped bring at least 1,000 new jobs and an investment of more than $41 million into Evansville alone. The reason why many businesses have relocated to Evansville, or expanded here, is the strength of our workforce. We are using innovative ideas to make sure our workers are educated and ready to succeed. Education doesn’t begin in college, high school, or even middle school. The goal of Evansville’s Early Childhood Development Coalition is to ensure that all children are prepared and ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. We are eager to see the results of focused early childhood education, but the ECDC and its member organizations have already experienced success. Just like EVSC took the lead in establishing full-day kindergarten in the state, we envision our collaborative efforts in early childhood education will be adopted as a model in communities throughout the state. In addition, 4C of Southern Indiana has implemented “Paths to QUALITY”… a child care quality rating system that has now been adopted by the state. And by January 2009, every county in Indiana will have the rating system. From early childhood education to high school, if a student is able to earn a diploma, it should be easy for them to navigate the system in order to pursue a post-secondary education. And pursuing education beyond high school is the key to success. The Southwest Indiana College Access Network, or SICAN, is trying to make the system more accessible for a child who is first in his or her family to go to college. SICAN will advise students and parents about financial aid, offer career counseling and provide general guidance through the college application process. It will also work to change expectations and behaviors. We’re in the process right now of hiring an executive director so SICAN can move forward. Some children aren’t thinking about getting an education beyond high school, or even getting a diploma. Instead, their biggest concern is where they will sleep at night. The Homeless Youth Coalition has come up with a plan to address and bring an end to homelessness among young people in our community. And now the Legislature has passed a bill, patterned on the work of the Coalition, which would lift some of the regulatory and legal barriers that prevent homeless youth from receiving services from shelters across the state. Addressing youth homelessness is a part of Destination Home: the ten-year plan to end homelessness in Evansville and Vanderburgh County. Destination Home is another example of how we are leading the way for the rest of the state. We are only the second City in Indiana to have such a plan, and I’m pleased to say that Destination Home marked its third anniversary last December. Evansville is also leading the way when it comes to changing the way we impact our environment. We are the first City in southwestern Indiana to develop a sustainability policy. We’re re-evaluating every aspect of City operations, from the way we design and use buildings… to the way we purchase, operate and maintain vehicles… and more. Energy conservation and energy efficiency measures will protect our health and welfare, save natural resources, and save taxpayers’ money. Sustainability will help enhance the quality of life here in Evansville. So will other innovative ideas, like using the arts to help promote economic development. That’s why the new offices for the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana are in the same building as GAGE on Main Street. Having both organizations in the same location allows us to showcase our growing arts community and culture to potential business clients. And then there’s the Haynie’s Corner Arts District. If you missed it, Evansville was profiled in a national magazine for visual artists as one of the ten great towns for working artists. It specifically points to the restoration of the Alhambra Theatre, calling it, “One of the most exciting neighborhood projects today.” The magazine also highlighted Haynie’s Corner because of the incentives, through our Front Door Pride program, that are available to artists who are interested in living there. These projects are succeeding because talented people have seen the potential in our City, and they’ve sought out new ways to make it even better. Their successes have given us the ability to attract new talent. People like our new executive director of the DMD, Tom Barnett. Tom decided to make the move to Evansville because he knows this is a community that can get things done. Greg Wathen is the new President and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. Greg is excited about the opportunities here because he knows we’re aggressive about economic development. And then there is the new superintendent of the EVSC, Dr. Vince Bertram. Dr. Bertram understands the importance of collaboration to enhance education, and he knows he has that here in Evansville. Our City will continue to be a leader in the state because of people like Vince Bertram, Greg Wathen and Tom Barnett… with their new ideas and vision. And we will continue to look to the innovators who were here before them, who helped set the stage for the changes taking place in Evansville today. Change is happening all around Evansville because we’re tackling the tough problems that no one wanted to touch. And with the community’s help, we are coming up with solutions. Take the flooding problem on the City’s southeast side. It’s been going on for decades, but now we have a plan to fix it. The Storm Water Task Force dedicated many hours to learning about the problem and the potential solutions. They helped us make an informed decision about how to proceed. Now we are in the preliminary design phase of four storm water projects that, when complete, should keep flood water out of people’s homes when we have storms like we did in September 2006. After years of mounting mechanical problems, and health and safety issues, our neighborhood pools have seen their better days. We wanted to make sure the people of Evansville would be involved in the decision to repair or replace them. So we gathered a group together, showed them the data, and now we have a master plan to fix our troubled pools. Construction will begin on two new pools… one on the south side and one on the west side… later this year. One of my priorities upon taking office in 2004 was to find ways to reverse decades of decline and neglect in our City’s oldest neighborhoods. Because of state and federal bureaucratic red tape, progress has not been as quick as we would have liked. Nonetheless, Front Door Pride is moving forward. We have more than 150 requests for funding to help with exterior rehabilitation. More than 40 vacant, uninhabitable homes have been demolished. We’ve dedicated our first new Front Door Pride homes, and have plans to build eight to ten more this spring. Our dying downtown is springing back to life. This rejuvenation has been sparked by the addition of several hundred new lofts and apartments being built in our downtown. When you add in the business expansion of American General and Berry Plastics, and the creation of new entertainment venues like cMoe, the LST, and the District at Casino Aztar, the future of our downtown is a bright one. We’re looking for innovative solutions to keep costs low and streamline City government. We’ve asked the Center for Applied Research and Technology at USI to partner with the City and Vectren to look for ways to reduce the amount of energy used in our street lighting system. We’ve also asked USI to help us find more efficiencies with our bus system, parking enforcement and ambulance service. We’ve contracted with Carver Community Organization to run the C-K Newsome Center. And tomorrow, the Parks Board will vote on an agreement that will allow the Wesselman Nature Society to eventually take over and run Wesselman Woods. We will continue to take on the tough problems, because the results are changing our community for the better. And we must also continue to strive for excellence in order to become the best City we can be. I’m thrilled to see that site preparation has finally begun on the biggest construction project in southwestern Indiana. I-69 has the potential to have a huge impact on Evansville’s economy, so we need to start planning now in order to take full advantage of the opportunities it will bring to our community. Access to I-69, I-64, various rail lines, and the Ohio River make Evansville an ideal location for a still water intermodal facility. We would be able capitalize on the growing market of goods and commodities being shipped via container to and from Asian and Midwestern markets. We already have a marketing study underway, and national firms have expressed an interest in seeing us create a master plan for the development of a still water facility in Evansville. Another way we are growing and changing for the better is through annexation. The City Council is considering an annexation ordinance for the Marina Pointe area, and it should become part of Evansville sometime in July. We are also looking to annex a portion of Knight Township. Annexation can help protect and enhance the City’s tax base. Increased population means more political influence and more leverage to get things done for southwest Indiana, which will in turn help us attract new business and industry. It takes more than a strong workforce and favorable economic conditions to bring new companies to town. We must also have excellent cultural, social and recreational amenities. Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden was actually founded by local businessmen as a way to attract more recognition, travel and trade to Evansville. The Zoo has steadily evolved over the years – but the largest, most exciting venture in its 80-year history is just over the horizon: AMAZONIA. This 10,000 square foot indoor exhibit will house everything from exotic vegetation… to a diverse array of animal species native to the rainforests of South America. The Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage has already improved our community, and it will continue to increase in value as more is constructed. Four miles of trails have been completed, providing a safe place to bicycle, jog, and walk. The Greenway also is an alternative for commuters which can reduce the number of vehicles on our streets, lessen pollution and save natural resources. The desire for excellence, the courage to tackle tough problems, the thirst for innovative ideas— we’ll need to rely on all three to help us make a decision about what to do with Roberts Stadium. Our consultants have told us it could cost at least $12.7 million to simply maintain the status quo, and Roberts still wouldn’t be able to compete. In order to renovate Roberts and make it competitive, Gateway Consultants Group says the floor size must be increased and permanent lighting has to be added. To renovate without raising the roof could cost up to $42.6 million. If the roof was raised, the price could go as high as $59.5 million— and that may not even be possible because of the unique roof structure at Roberts. So, what are the costs associated with building a new arena? Our consultants say the price tag would be about $75 million to build a new arena with a capacity of 10,000. Construction of a facility with a capacity of 14,000 would cost about $140 million. There are several sources available for funding a downtown arena that we wouldn’t be able to tap into at the current Roberts site. We already have a downtown TIF that could generate a substantial amount of revenue, but a TIF district isn’t practical at Roberts because there has been little economic spinoff there in 50 years. New Markets Tax Credits are federal tax credits based upon investment in a highly distressed area. In order to have a successful application, the City must commit that 75% of its New Markets Tax Credit allocation would be used in a highly distressed census tract. That condition exists downtown, but Roberts isn’t in such an area. If we combined a new arena with the Centre, we could use the countywide food and beverage tax to help pay off debt service. We could get federal transportation dollars if we built a bus terminal at a new downtown arena. And, Gateway feels we could get more than double the amount for naming rights downtown, because there is a perception that you can’t rename a building like Roberts. In short, our consultants say we can use innovative financing to generate enough funds to build a new 10,000 seat arena downtown and cover our costs. But those same financing options aren’t available at Roberts, so we wouldn’t be able to cover the cost of new construction or renovation there. Therefore, our consultants say the only option that avoids a countywide property tax increase is the construction of a 10,000 seat arena downtown. People are concerned about the availability of parking downtown. Roberts is surrounded by large parking lots, while a downtown location would rely on existing parking facilities. Gateway says a 10,000 seat arena needs 4,200 parking spaces within a six block walk of the entrances. We have more than 8,000 spaces available downtown. Ideally, you would want people to walk to their cars after an event, to create business for surrounding restaurants, clubs and retail. We have a lot of great information to sort through before any decision is made about the future of Roberts Stadium. It’s a decision that’s important to our future, and it will affect all of us in one way or another. That’s why I encourage you to review the information that has been presented by our consultants- it’s all posted on the City’s website- and then attend the public meeting at 5:30 p.m. on April 1st at the Centre. We welcome and would appreciate as much input as possible. Another decision that will impact our future is the passage last Friday of House Bill 1001. During his State of the State Address, Governor Daniels asked for courage from the General Assembly in dealing with his property tax bill. I ask you, what is courageous about the State raising taxes and then telling local governments that they have to cut their budgets? The property tax problem that exists in Indiana was created by the State, yet local government has to bear the brunt of the work to fix it. Just think, when we have serious challenges in our State like a meager 71% high school graduation rate, and job growth that has been flat, the Legislature spent this session focusing on misguided micromanagement of local government. Taking decisions out of your hands and placing them with the State. What people don’t realize is that this bill isn’t a tax cut; it’s simply a reshuffling of the deck. We will pay more in sales taxes and income taxes. There will be winners and losers. For the City it means cutting $3.2 million from its budget in 2010. Vanderburgh County will also be hit hard, losing $1.6 million. Despite what the legislature has done, we will move forward and continue to focus on ways that will make our City and region grow and prosper. We will continue to strive for excellence. We will continue to face our problems head on. And we will continue to be the City that sets the standard for the rest of the state. THANK YOU!