Southern Indiana

Right now, no event venue in Clark or Floyd counties can host more than about 750 people.

That could change in the coming years, now that a feasibility study has found a high-capacity conference center could succeed in the region.

Executive Director Jim Epperson of SoIN Tourism, the group that commissioned the study, said such an undertaking would be difficult for any one local municipality. But by working as a team, he says, it could become a reality.

“We’re just kind of in a unique position because of our structure to be able to not play favorites, to be totally data-driven, and to find an answer that truly does not turn into an albatross,” Epperson said.

The study included recommendations for a 25,000-square-foot event space and 12,000 square feet of meeting rooms, with the potential to add a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 200-room hotel in the future.

Government officials from Clark County, Floyd County, Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany — who appoint SoIN Tourism’s board of managers — can take part in the development process. They can each suggest one site for the center during the next phase of the study. Private developers and other local governments can submit proposals for a fee.

SoIN Tourism will then explore options for the top-rated site, including specific designs, cost analyses and funding sources.

“The location selection has to be objective and data-driven,” Epperson said. “We can’t, and we won’t, play favorites on this, because data-driven also means the best chance for success for the project.”

More than 200,000 people live in Clark and Floyd counties. For years, places like high school gyms have been their highest-capacity indoor public spaces.

Jack Coffman, president of the Clark County Commissioners, said that needs to change now that the region’s population and economy are booming.

“We are becoming more metropolitan,” he said. “Our population increased 10% within the last 10 years. So it’s obvious people want to live here. Now, it’s time to look at wanting people to come here to visit.”

Coffman said an ideal location for the conference center would be somewhere along either the Interstate 64 or Interstate 65 corridor, with easy access to Clark County Airport.

Commissioner President Shawn Carruthers shared a similar vision for Floyd County. He said the infrastructure around Highway 150 and Interstate 64 is already well-equipped to handle a project of this scope.

When local groups host large events, Carruthers said they shouldn’t have to leave the state.

“I think we lose out on just that sense of community,” he said. “We’re crossing the river into Louisville to spend our dollars.”

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore echoed Carruthers, adding the financial impact would go beyond visitors spending money. He said the convention center could spur additional commercial development in the region.

Moore mentioned the former Jeffboat shipyard, Veterans Parkway and the River Ridge Commerce Center as possible locations.

“In order for us to continue to grow the local businesses and the larger businesses that are in our vicinity, a convention center is a key part of that,” he said. “You not only see the boon from people coming in from out of state for a three-day weekend or something. But those people are here spending money in our grocery stores, in our restaurants, in our shopping districts.”

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.