When I changed careers and moved into the second floor of the Old Post Office in 2000, our offices overlooked the old Kenny Kent building bounded by Vine, Sycamore, Second, and Third streets. A building often used by the homeless, the structure was in serious decline when torn down in 2006.
The result was a square block in the middle of Downtown — a terrific development opportunity.
A potential retail and townhome development was proposed by well-known St. Louis, Missouri, commercial building owner Ed Curtis. This proposal, and others, were scrapped seemingly because parties could not come to an agreement on how the project would be funded.
At the tail end of his second term, on Dec. 18, 2011, Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel kicked off Evansville’s bicentennial at the Ford Center with an announcement that a bicentennial park would be built on the old Kenny Kent site. Ratio architects provided architectural drawings, showing a park with a sloped semi-circular event lawn. The park was to provide a platform for concerts, movies, a farmer’s market, and festivals.
In the July/August 2012 Evansville Living article “The Park Next Door,” former Department of Metropolitan Development executive director Philip Hooper stated, “Once the project is designed, the Department of Metropolitan Development staff will have the project put out for construction bids, then carry the project all the way through the approvals, construction, and completion.”
Hooper now says, at the time, he felt other economic development projects took precedence over the bicentennial park.
The city intended to fund the park with tax incremental financing (TIF) dollars. A completion date was set for July 4, 2013.
That date has come and gone. Instead of a park, a square plot of dirt and grass now occupies the property, which hosts the Downtown Farmers Markets on Fridays in the warm, summer months.
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke says the bicentennial park project was proposed with a multi-million dollar price tag shortly after he took office. Such a plan would require significant financial investment from the Downtown TIF district, he adds.
“As the proposed convention hotel and the future medical school project would also utilize the TIF, we felt it was in the city’s best long-term interest to seek out a development that encompassed both private and public investment,” says Winnecke.
The city still is interested in the concept of a park on the Greyhound block, he adds, but with the Regional Cities Initiative and the updated Downtown Master Plan, “our vision for green space on that block will most likely take a more linear form.”