At the tourism bureau’s Board of Managers meeting Wednesday, the board agreed to spend up to $10,000, on top of about $3,000 that has already been spent, to bring customers back to businesses that have been hurt by the closure of the Interstate 64 span.
The Sherman Minton Bridge, which connects New Albany to West Louisville, has been shut down since Sept. 9 when a critical crack was discovered in a support beam. An announcement earlier this week from the Indiana Department of Transportation said that repairs to the bridge are ahead of schedule and it could open a week before the March 1 deadline.
Patrick Gregory, general manager of the Sheraton Louisville Riverside in Jeffersonville, urged the board to act quickly, so once the bridge reopens businesses will be revitalized immediately.
“I just think right now is a real golden opportunity to try and make up some of what we’ve lost over the last six months, once it does reopen,” he said. “I think with the reopening of the bridge it would make sense to try and make an impact immediately, rather than let it trickle back over a long period of time.”
Part of the proposal Gregory requested would be to purchase drive-time radio ads, at a cost of about $10,000, to bring consumers back to the region. He said two private businesses have donated $2,000 for the campaign and a request will also go to the area’s legislative councils seeking $5,000 from each entity.
But some money has already been spent by the tourism bureau.
Executive Director Jim Keith said the bureau has spent $3,000 to date to launch a website, its design and to print related marketing posters. All of the marketing programs are designed to change the perception of people since the bridge closure has caused some areas to be cut off and others to experience extreme amounts of congestion.
While Gregory said the impact from the bridge closure has hit both sides of the Ohio River, Southern Indiana has felt the greater burden.
“It’s even been a bad perception to get people from Indiana to come closer to the [Hoosier side of the] river because it is so congested,” he said. “Drive-time [commuters] are the people that have the worst perception right now.”
He said since the Breeder’s Cup was held in Louisville in early-November, business at his hotel has been down 30 percent.
Board Member Mike Kampfhammer, owner of Buckhead and Rocky’s Sub Pub in Jeffersonville, agreed that the businesses along Riverside Drive in Jeffersonville have taken a similar hit.
“In my opinion, Jeffersonville, and this little pocket particularly, has been hurt more than probably the rest of Southern Indiana,” he said. “I don’t talk to anybody that’s not off 30 to 35 percent in the Jeffersonville area. That’s a big number.”
Keith agreed and said he believed the merchants in Jeffersonville may have seen the biggest drop in revenue.
“I think this area was hurt more so, than say, downtown New Albany,” he said. “New Albany benefited from those in the Knobs who ... would not go across the bridge because it’s a pretty good hassle.”
In addition to three to four weeks of radio ads, marketing posters and the website, Gregory said local merchants are all welcome to go to the website — openbridgesindiana.com — and post different offers to try to encourage people to come to the Indiana side of the river.