Joshua Armstrong / Southwest Indiana Chamber

The Main Course Restaurant challenge will award $250,000 to the restaurateur with the best plan for opening a new concept in this art deco building in downtown Evansville, Indiana.

Incentive to Open a New Concept in Evansville, Indiana

It’s a savory offer. City leaders in Evansville, Indiana, will award $250,000 to the restaurateur or developer with the best plan to open a new restaurant in their downtown.

The initiative, called the Main Course Restaurant Challenge, is motivated by a desire “not to control the project but to eliminate some of the challenges in creating a new restaurant,” explains Joshua Armstrong, downtown alliance director for the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Nominations were accepted through Oct. 15, and the winning concept will occupy a limestone Art Deco-style building that was constructed in 1952 as a drugstore. The 5,200-square-foot building—just blocks from where the Ohio River makes a scenic horseshoe curve—overlooks a park near a sports complex and the new Indiana Medical School.

More than just a picturesque setting, Evansville is the third largest city in Indiana and has approximately 120,000 residents with 359,000 residing in the metro area. Still, Armstrong says, “It is difficult to get a new restaurant going.”

The idea to offer starter money came from two executives: Bob Jones, CEO of Old National Bank, and J.P. Engelbrecht, CEO of the South Central Group. The city, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and 181 area businesses contributed money for the project.

“Everyone we called listened, and most contributed,” says Armstrong, who envisions a restaurant and bar that serves lunch and dinner and will employ approximately 25 workers.

A committee searched for restaurant developers who would be a good match for Evansville, and 180 independent restaurant companies were invited to participate, with a public cook-off scheduled last month so residents could play a role in selecting which restaurant comes to town. Contest guidelines require the new restaurant open by Sept. 1, 2015.