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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A Mesker Revival?

In a wide-ranging State of the City speech, Mayor Stephanie Terry hints that an amphitheatre project is possible

Evansville Mayor Stephanie Terry’s first State of the City address included updates on the planned riverfront makeover and a long-awaited Main Street development, but it was another announcement that caught her audience by surprise.

Terry told the Rotary Club on April 9 at Bally’s Evansville that an unveiling of the city’s new riverfront concept is forthcoming on May 21. The Evansville Regional Economic Partnership has worked with worldwide design firm Sasaki on a new vision for the riverfront in Evansville, as well as in Mount Vernon and Newburgh, Indiana.

Photo of Evansville Mayor Stephanie Terry taking press questions after her first State of the City by John Martin

The first-term mayor added that around the same time, ground will be broken for The Vault, an apartment and retail complex where the former Old National Bank tower was imploded more than two years ago.

Those two projects have long been expected. Terry’s remarks about Mesker Amphitheatre, though, turned heads.

The performance venue next to Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden opened in 1951, and then-Mayor Lloyd Winnecke shut it down in 2012 because of its deteriorating condition.

Terry gave hope to those who have long wished for a restoration and reopening.

“We are in the early stages of conversation with a private developer, discussing the feasibility and extent of what could be done to revitalize Mesker Amphitheatre,” Terry said in her prepared speech. “I know for many, this is a crown jewel of Evansville, and while I don’t want to over-promise, I’m cautiously … and I do mean cautiously … optimistic that we will have news in the coming months.”

The mayor did not elaborate on names, costs, or timelines.

“More than anything what we want people to know is that conversations are underway, and we think we do have an individual that is interested in doing something as Mesker Amphitheatre,” Terry told reporters after her remarks to the Rotary Club.

Asked about her vision for the venue’s future use, Terry said, “We’re exploring all options. We definitely want to make sure the zoo is a part of that conversation, and they will be. But again, we’re still in the early, early stages of that. We’ve seen other amphitheaters like ours restored in other parts of the state, and there’s a possibility we could potentially do that right here.”

While more details about Mesker Amphitheatre’s future will have to wait, Terry says the outlook for Evansville’s Downtown riverfront is coming soon.

Sasaki held public hearings in summer 2023 to hear opinions on what a revamped riverfront in Evansville, Mount Vernon, and Newburgh, should look like. Officials with E-REP and Sasaki had said to expect a reveal in February of this year. That did not happen, but Terry told the Rotary Club the news will drop on May 21.

The riverfront redevelopment plan Sasaki will present later this spring “is going to be transformative,” Terry told reporters. “We’re talking about connectivity to outlying counties, 50 miles across the riverfront … the community wants to be active on the riverfront, and I think this plan is going to help us do that. It has housing and other amenities that will interest folks and give us the life we need in Downtown Evansville.”

The desolate block at Fifth and Main streets, vacant since the November 2021 tower implosion, will soon see construction, Terry said.

The Vault is expected to take two years to build, with 160 residential units and commercial spaces on the ground level ready for occupancy upon completion. CRG Residential is the project’s developer.

“I’m excited to see that filled with residences as well as commercial (spaces),” Terry told reporters after her State of the City speech.

Some other highlights of Terry’s address to the Rotary Club:

  • The mayor reminded the audience that the average Evansville water bill increased $3 this spring, and other increases are coming in the next two years as the city addresses needed utility infrastructure repairs.
  • Hartke and Helfrich swimming pools will not open this summer due to safety concerns, and the city will form an aquatics plan to address the future of those properties.
  • Terry says her administration has set a goal for having 350 new units of affordable housing either rehabilitated or under construction a year from now. She says a new funding source for that will be $250,000 in interest earned from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.
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