EVANSVILLE  – As 1,500 delegates and their friends descend on Evansville for this year’s Indiana Republican Convention, it will mark only the second time in modern history that the GOP convention will take place outside of Indianapolis. Here’s what you need to know about the state’s third largest city.

Pardon our mess 

Just as Indianapolis emerged in the 1980s from its negative reputation as “India-no-place” or “Naptown,” Evansville is now undergoing its own resurgence. The downtown alone has over $500 million in renovations simultaneously occurring, an unprecedented amount of investment.
 
Simply put, Evansville’s downtown is poised for booming growth with renovations and new construction happening nearly everywhere you look. Some of this progress will present an unattractive annoyance – construction barrels, cleared lots and closed streets are common sights – but it all points to a promising renaissance.
 
Tropicana Evansville, the state’s first land-based casino, opened 75,000 square feet of gaming fun in renovated space. Two new downtown hotels under construction will soon join the recently completed DoubleTree convention hotel, which rests next to the new Stone Family Center for Health Sciences, a collaboration for medical education by the University of Evansville, University of Southern Indiana and Indiana University.
 
Joining all of that are scores of new housing developments, small businesses, restaurants, and shops that recently opened or will open in the near future. It all may look messy now, but it’s welcome progress for a vital Indiana region. 
 
Evansville’s long political shadow
 
As the city’s chief executive, Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke will play a large role at this year’s GOP convention. In a heavily Democratic city, he is the first Republican to be reelected as mayor since the 1970s and continues to boast high approval ratings. But visitors to this year’s convention will also see signs of the city’s long shadow extending to Indianapolis. Indeed, not since Evansville native Robert Orr occupied the governor’s mansion has the city exerted such a strong influence on state policy.
 
Evansville resident Suzanne Crouch leaves her fingerprints all over Hoosier policy and the modern GOP. After serving many years as vice chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee and then as state auditor, she now helps shape the Holcomb administration’s agenda and shepherd it across the finish line during legislative sessions.
 
Crouch’s replacement in the legislature, Holli Sullivan, is busy shaping her own legacy as a member of the Ways and Means Committee and chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee.
 
Gov. Eric Holcomb spent most of his formative years up the road in Vincennes in Evansville’s cultural orbit and later worked on the staff of Evansville-based Congressman John Hostettler.
 
Congressman Jim Banks, the state’s fastest rising GOP congressional star, also worked on Hostettler’s staff and lived for a period in Evansville, building notable connections with the region’s political leaders.
 
On the Democrat side, former Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel and former congressman (and U.S. Senate candidate) Brad Ellsworth continue to be discussed as possible statewide candidates.

A regional approach
 
Cut off from the rest of the state, at least until the completion of I-69, Evansville rarely thought of itself as exceptional. But all of that is changing thanks to strong public and private partnerships. The city can serve as a model for the state’s new regional approach.
 
Evansville has increasingly worked together with surrounding communities to transform the area as a destination to live, work and play. We were among the first to implement a unified, county-wide school district and library. The result has been both the school and library system excelling as among the very best in the state.
 
More recently, Southwest Indiana was selected as one of three regions to receive $42 million in state matching funds under the Regional Cities Initiative geared toward talent-attracting projects. The region’s success with implementing the project is directly tied to various local governments working together as a region, not as separate silos. Admittedly, a recent push to unify city and county government failed in a referendum, but the bigger picture suggests a region committed to cooperation and efficiency.
 
Indiana cannot excel on the success of Indianapolis alone. As younger generations flock to urban centers for jobs and cultural amenities, we need areas like Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville to flourish as hubs of growth.
 
Evansville has started down a viable path to progress. This year’s GOP convention provides a prime opportunity for state leaders to see its progress thus far, but also glimpse the additional steps needed to empower our state’s regional urban hubs for sustained growth. 

Claybourn is a Republican attorney from Evansville.