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Evansville
Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Onto the Next

Lloyd Winnecke finishes three terms as Evansville’s mayor

On Dec. 31, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke will bid goodbye to more than just 2023. He’s also waving farewell to elected office.

His schedule for the past 12 years has been packed, a mixed bag of ribbon cuttings, crisis meetings, ceremonial first pitches, and closed-door negotiations. Each one is important, whether the people involved are property developers, public safety officials, business leaders, or citizens. And Winnecke knows the best way to make an impact is to show up.

“The biggest misconception in the case of a mayor is that a mayor can fix everything. And frankly, there are a lot of things a mayor cannot do,” he says. “In cases where we can’t do anything, we’re doing things behind the scenes to make connections with the right people that can fix things.”

“One of the things that I feel really good about is that, over the years, we’ve been and we’ve shown a really empathetic ear to everyone who’s called,” he adds. “That’s not to say everyone who’s called has gotten the desired action they’ve wanted, but we’ve listened to people, and we’ve tried to assist and tried to coordinate a response of some kind that would benefit or to address whatever their concern is.”

“Lloyd cares about his city and his community. This is his home,” says retired Old National Bank CEO Bob Jones of the mayor, who is a Central High School and University of Evansville graduate. “Even when he was at Fifth Third Bank and I was at Old National, it wasn’t about Old National versus Fifth Third. It was about what’s best for the community.”

That empathy, Winnecke says, has led to a mutual respect with his constituents.

“There aren’t many things I won’t miss. I enjoy practically every aspect of this job. There are one-offs that get to be a pain in the neck, but they are outweighed by the good things. I’m always grateful for people’s reactions when they see me and Carol,” he says, referencing his wife Carol McClintock, president of Team McClintock at F.C. Tucker Emge. “I can’t really tell you a time when we weren’t received anything but warmly, whether that’s at a Fall Festival parade or walking into Mass on Sunday mornings. People in Evansville have a genuine appreciation for people who put themselves out there to improve the community. And I’m really grateful for that.”

Several projects championed by Winnecke’s administration have succeeded — among the most heralded are the Deaconess Aquatic Center and the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences — but some also have stalled. After years of delays related to developers and the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for the Fifth & Main project have passed a crucial test by securing bonds from Evansville’s City Council. Others, such as the renovation of Mesker Amphitheatre, still face an uphill battle.

“The challenge is it doesn’t sit in a redevelopment district, so there’s no readily available funding stream that can go to it without adversely affecting other projects,” he says. “And it’s expensive. I would love nothing more for that to be an outdoor performance venue but to bring it up to ADA compliance, it’s probably $12 to $15 million, if not more today. READI funds could be used for it, but you can’t just use exclusively READI funds. There has to be private sector investment and public sector investment to leverage to get that. You have to find someone who’s literally going to put their skin in the game to the tune of a lot of money.”

“We don’t want it to not be something in the future, but we just haven’t been able to crack that one,” he continues. “We’ve been able to have a lot of success with a lot of projects, and it’s just been frustrating.”

Pulling together a talented team of connectors helps get those projects moving. The three-term Republican mayor long has emphasized the significance of working together to benefit the community as a whole. But he doesn’t just preach it — he employs it.

“This style of public-private partnership started with Jonathan Weinzapfel and came through both administrations, but it really accelerated with Lloyd,” says Jones, who Winnecke recruited to pitch in with developments such as the Stone Center and DoubleTree by Hilton hotel Downtown.

“For the school of medicine, the mayor had a vision, he knew the right players, and we met and worked together to lay the groundwork,” Jones says. “The mayor pulled together a collaborative process. He has an ability to make everyone feel important. He’s been the engine behind all this.”

Winnecke credits a community spirit of collaboration for the region’s success.

“Our best-kept secret is our ability to collaborate as a community,” Winnecke says. “You can call people and say, ‘Hey, Bob, can you do this?’ It’s that cooperation and collaboration that really makes it special. … People outside of our region see it. When I talk to the governor, he talks about what he sees in regional collaboration in terms of economic and community development.”

Jones also has assisted Winnecke with matters related to behavioral health initiatives, which he says links directly to the mayor’s concern for his hometown.

“He’s a great human being and a terrific individual for pulling together everybody at the table,” he says. “For Lloyd, it’s not a political issue. It’s an Evansville issue, a regional issue.”

Winnecke’s emphasis on collaboration extends to the type of message he wants to send state and national officials about Evansville.

“What I’ve seen is when there is a good initiative and they see that the community’s been given an opportunity to buy into whatever that initiative is and have some say, and then there’s good leadership and a good approach, that’s when things like the Deaconess Aquatic Center get done,” Winnecke says.

Those connections and that spirit of collaboration will serve Winnecke in his next role. Instead of returning to the news media where he started his career or corporate communications in the financial industry, he will employ his skills learned as mayor as the next CEO of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership.

“Our board went through a pretty deliberate process. When you get right down to some of the big things we have going, he just rose to the top as being able to both understand them and not only lead and continue to lead what we’ve been doing, but to take it to the next level,” says outgoing E-REP CEO Tara Barney, who will retire in early January 2024.

“Tara has been a very, very good colleague and a good friend. She has done a really brilliant job of building this organization after the merger of all the original organizations,” Winnecke says. “I think E-REP has earned a lot of credibility in really a short amount of time because the leaders were determined to create an organization that could do really impactful work for the region. And the fact that I’ve been on the board … I think it’s a natural transition, a short learning curve. I think because of the way we have approached relationships within the region, there is already trust from outside the city with how I will interact with the broader community.

“Carol puts it this way. She goes, ‘I think it’s going to be just like being mayor, but without the potholes and the snowplows,’” he laughs. “I quote her every time because I think it’s brilliant. It’s spot on, and I think that’s how it’s going to be.”

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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