Downtown Evansville restaurants and businesses opening in 2022
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — When explosives brought down all 18 stories of the 420 Main building in November, it did more than change the Downtown Evansville skyline.
Officials believe it was addition by subtraction, too.
In a matter of seconds, Downtown shed thousands of square feet of unusable space. A smaller, new development on the tower’s block is expected to bring about 120 apartments, plus sidewalk-level businesses and an attractive corner park.
“Everybody is very engaged and looking at getting the site cleared, so we can get to next steps,” said Candace Chapman, executive director of the Downtown Evansville Development Corp.
But here’s the question everyone is asking: When will those next steps get underway?
Chapman said there’s no specific timeline. Labor shortages, equipment prices and inflation will have a say in when the 5th & Main project breaks ground.
The property owner and developer is Domo Development. The company received state economic development tax credits to assist with financing. CenterPoint Energy is donating $1 million to the corner park and has secured its naming rights.
The 5th & Main project and its promise of new housing is fueling renewed interest in Downtown among other developers, said Joshua Armstrong, president of the Downtown Evansville Economic Improvement District.
Armstrong said several other Downtown restaurant concepts are either confirmed, with 2022 openings anticipated, or in conceptual stages.
Insomnia Cookies is coming to the ground level of Innovation Pointe at 318 Main St. And Samuel’s, which will have “smashburgers” as a centerpiece item, is headed to 113 SE Fourth St. Other restaurants in the pipeline are Hometown Nutrition at 300 Main St. and Cosmo’s Bistro in the McCurdy, 101 SE Third St.
Carpenter Crossing Food Hall, 408 Carpenter St., is an expected summer 2022 addition in the NoCo District. The plan is to have a collection of small restaurants inside, with TV screens.
Owners of Comfort by the Cross-Eyed Cricket on Main Street have bought the former Café Arazu restaurant space on Main, as well as an empty space at Main and Second streets. It’s not known when the properties will be filled, but Josh Tudela, owner of Comfort, said he’s hopeful to open restaurants in both spots by the end of 2022.
“We’re working on both of them, just tying to find the right people,” Tudela said.
Shing Lee at 215 Main St. recently closed after a 50-year run. Nothing has been announced yet about the future of its space.
Another long-anticipated new Downtown development is seeing the light of day. The former Riverhouse near the corner of Walnut Street and Riverside Drive is nearing its reopening as a Holiday Inn Express & Suites.
Rehabbing the property took many years, but developer George Yerolemou said he expects to open this month. The property will add 79 hotel rooms to the city’s Downtown inventory.
MerryMint, a retailer of high-end party supplies, expects to open in the first quarter of this year at Walnut and Fourth streets. Two other local businesses — Emerald Florist and Wheat & Co., a hair and nail salon — have signed leases in the 400 block of Main Street and plan to relocate there.
Others are looking at Downtown. Armstrong said one regional financial institution is considering the area for office space, and another one is looking for banking and branch space.
What’s driving all of the activity? Housing, for one thing.
Although Evansville’s overall population has been stagnant for several years, Armstrong noted the addition of nearly 400 apartments over the last five years, a figure that will grow again when 5th & Main is completed.
Armstrong said Kunkel Square Apartments, which is in the process of a sale, and Post House are filled. Central Lofts, another apartment development, is nearly open in the old YMCA building.
About 20% of Evansville jobs are within Downtown’s two census tracts, and 12% of payroll countywide comes from Downtown. One- fourth of the county’s hotel rooms are Downtown.
“A lot of what is driving this push is, first, across the country there has been an increase emphasis on the importance of downtowns,” Armstrong said. “And I think part of here is the implosion of 420 Main. They see things are really happening, and it’s shaken loose some developers who had been sitting on the sidelines for awhile.”
The 5th & Main project is viewed as important puzzle piece because it will bring a modern look to a prominent Main Street block that’s looked tired and dilapidated for years.
When Ford Center guests leave the arena and head south on Main Street, they come across that empty block and might be persuaded to turn around rather than keep walking, said Heather Vaught, owner of River City Coffee + Goods at 223 Main St.
“To fill in the no-man’s land on that block will be important for businesses closer to the river,” Vaught said.
The business environment for Downtown entrepreneurs has gradually improved over the last several years, said Vaught, who opened in 2016.
“It’s night and day,” Vaught said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much better it is. Shockingly better. We grew every single year. We even had a small percentage of growth (amid the pandemic) in 2020 and 2021 … Evansville is great about supporting local businesses.”
Fourth Ward Evansville City Councilor Alex Burton said Downtown is on its way to becoming a more inclusive, creative place.
“I’m really looking forward to the new development because there’s so much room for things to be created,” Burton said. “I’m looking forward to some great things, diverse attractions and looking forward to some things we’re seeing in other cities … I think some ideas are going to take off.”