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Friday, April 19, 2024

Overseeing the City

Mayor Lloyd Winnecke doesn’t spend a lot of time sitting in a car in traffic on his way to the office these days. Instead, his version of a commute is a brisk walk or bike ride. Turning left out the door of The Meridian Plaza on Main Street, where he and his wife, Carol McClintock, live on the fifth floor, the 53-year-old is one-third of a mile to the Evansville Civic Center Complex. Winnecke could drive down the Main Street Walkway, which has been open since 2002. Yet he makes this five-minute walk to his third floor office almost every single workday.

The 34th mayor of Evansville is able to make that short commute because he’s bought into a concept that he considers to be best for the city. Winnecke wants to revitalize Downtown so much that he and McClintock packed up all their belongings and moved there. Their goal? To show that they believe in and are committed to Downtown Evansville.

“I knew I would have to be the chief advocate for Downtown investment,” Winnecke says, his back to Angelo’s Italian Restaurant and The Arabelle, a condominium development. It’s a cold, gray December day, and the sun is having a hard time shining through the six large windows in his living room facing Main Street and the six windows looking onto Third Street. Yet Winnecke remains enthusiastic. He and McClintock talked about moving back to the Downtown area during his mayoral campaign. Now, the couple watch the storms roll in from the comfort of their sectional in the great room. They also love to watch the snowfall. “We line up our chairs for the fireworks,” Winnecke smiles. “We’ll have parents and a few friends over.”

“And the sunsets in the wintertime are unbelievable,” McClintock adds.

They wouldn’t have had that view two decades ago, when the couple lived at 506 SE Riverside Drive, across from the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science. Then, visitors couldn’t drive on Main Street, whose businesses were dwindling in popularity. There were no Downtown condos. Customers began taking their business to the East Side of Evansville, which was flourishing.

These days, the Downtown area is making a turnaround. “It’s a very energetic area,” Winnecke adds. “It’s really exciting to be Downtown.”

The couple’s 2,800-square-foot condo is one of 23 units in The Kunkel Group’s mixed-use development that between the 1940s and 1984 was known as de Jong’s department store. McClintock says the tower she and Winnecke live in is new construction. It was the site of what was a parking lot next to the department store. Now, that part of The Meridian Plaza contains Don’s Claytons Dry Cleaners as well as two loft units each on the second and third floors. The fourth and fifth floors only have one unit each, she adds.

The condo is Winnecke’s and McClintock’s fourth residence since they were married 25 years ago this year. They purchased the condo after McClintock learned of the property through her work as a real estate agent for F.C. Tucker Emge Realtors in Newburgh, Ind. The couple moved into the three-bedroom and two-bathroom living space on Memorial Day in 2012, roughly five months after Winnecke took office. It’s also about the same size as their former home in the Sutherland on the East Side. The couple lived in the subdivision near the corner of S. Green River Road and Covert Avenue for eight years.

“We love it, love it, love it,” McClintock says from the condo’s open kitchen with floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. She’s standing on dimpled bamboo flooring, facing a granite countertop, her back to a stainless steel subway tile backsplash. To her right is the dining room table that seats eight people; behind her to her left is the wide, diagonal hallway leading to a guest bedroom and two guest bathrooms. In front of her, through a doorway to her left, are the master bedroom, master bathroom, and study. Winnecke, a self-described “beer guy,” keeps his favorite beers Stella Artois and Kronenbourg 1604 in the pullout refrigerator in a small bar in the hallway.

McClintock isn’t home long before she’s interrupted by a phone call. She is trying to raise additional money for the Wesselman Nature Society Capital Campaign, which seeks to raise $1.5 million over three years to improve the entrance to the park and renovate the main exhibit space, among other things. It’s likely one call of many she’s fielded that week, yet McClintock is quick with a smile and a reply. A native of Indianapolis and a former Vanderburgh County Commissioner and Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Evansville, this active community volunteer often is able to be where Winnecke isn’t. And she is just as committed to doing what she can to champion the city.

As Evansville’s Mayor and First Lady, the couple has hosted roughly 15 catered dinners or receptions to thank Lloyd’s donors and/or to raise money for charities like Gilda’s Club and the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra in 2013. “One week, we had three dinners,” McClintock smiles, still standing calmly in the immaculate kitchen. Last year, she says, 21 catered events were held at the condo — one about every other week. When Winnecke begins campaigning for his second mayoral term at the start of the 2015 election cycle, the dinners and events at the corner of Third and Main streets will likely decrease, at least for a time. Until then, however, the condo remains a base for fundraising for non-profit organizations and more.

On Halloween 2013, Winnecke and McClintock hosted a fundraising event at their condo to benefit Gilda’s Club Evansville, which provides access to networking and support groups, workshops, education, and social activities for those impacted by cancer.

“It was no trick, all treat,” Melanie Atwood, the executive director of Gilda’s Club Evansville, laughs. She says Winnecke and McClintock throw only six of these parties per year, paying for the invitations, catering, and other expenses themselves. The mayoral couple then invites people they think the members of the Gilda’s Club board should meet, and Gilda’s Club does the same. That evening, Gilda’s Club was able to meet Tyna Wheat and Sharon Sartore, the owners of The Diamond Galleria by Rogers, which later collaborated on an event to benefit Gilda’s Club.

“The mayor and Carol are just great networkers,” Atwood says, adding that they do more than raise financial support. “They do a great job of building a network of people that becomes a win-win. It’s not a one-and-done, it’s ongoing, and they get that. And that’s to the benefit of our community. They really build within a network, and that’s what makes us strong.”

There’s another benefit to hosting so many people in Winnecke’s and McClintock’s condo: visitors get to see what it’s like to live on Main Street, in the heart of Downtown, and the timing is right. Downtown Evansville continues to change. No longer are its streets busy by day and vacant by night. While lunchtime traffic always has been steady as restaurants cater to bankers, attorneys, and other office personnel, now people who don’t live or work in that area have a reason to come Downtown to dine, bar hop, watch athletic games, and listen to music after most businesses close at 5 p.m. Just down Main Street from the condo, Winnecke and McClintock could walk to the Backstage Bar & Grill to hear some acoustic tunes, or they could duck into The Jungle for a steak sandwich. They could share a bottle of wine over pasta at Milano’s Italian Cuisine before heading to the Ford Center for a concert.

The Ford Center, opened in November 2011, has attracted fans sporting purple at Aces basketball games. Even in sub-zero temperatures, families paint their faces and fill the seats for IceMen hockey games. When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kicked off its 21-show tour in North America in May 2013, the band chose to do so to a packed crowd at the Ford Center. Now, the $71.4 million Evansville Doubletree Convention Center and Hotel, expected to open in the fall of 2015, will add even more visitors to the mix.

Previous mayors helped the Downtown area on its way to a turnaround, McClintock says, and the changes follow other large Downtown developments in the past 10 years. Jonathan Weinzapfel, for instance, instituted a loft incentive program that gave money to developers to build condos in Downtown Evansville in 2004. The city offered a $20,000 subsidy for loft developers per unit.

The Kunkel Group spent nearly $5 million to renovate what is now known as The Meridian Plaza. It also transformed the old J.C. Penney store on Main Street into a 31-unit condo development. Mike Martin, who owns Architectural Renovators, developed the five lofts of The Marlocon. John Stratman, who owned Stratman’s Pharmacy on Main Street, converted the second floor of his building at Fourth and Main streets into five loft apartments. Pat Rayburn and Bill Bussing II formed 21 condos from the former Permanent Federal Bank building at the corner of Third and Locust streets.

Winnecke’s and McClintock’s condo in The Meridian Plaza offers a good base for the couple. “I can drop in if I need something, or if I spill something on my shirt,” Lloyd smiles. For McClintock, whose office is in Newburgh, the study is easy to manage and allows her to work from home when she needs to. “I do that quite a bit,” she says. “It makes it very handy.” While there is no Downtown grocery store for them to pick up items for meals, McClintock says that’s not a problem for the couple. “Now people shop at the grocery store as you are running somewhere else,” she says. “I shop the same grocery stores that I did when I lived in the Sutherland.”

Winnecke and McClintock remain busy attending both public and private events throughout the year, picking up trash on Saturdays, attending fundraising dinners, socializing with friends and supporters, and taking part in dedication ceremonies. Yet in the unlikely event that the couple is home on a weekend, Winnecke says he has to find “a little popcorn time” on the couch to watch a football game, basketball game, or golf. “It’s my only time to catch a catnap,” he smiles.

“We love this space,” Winnecke says. “We had high expectations, and they’ve been met and even exceeded.”

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