“That price of $1 per square foot was the price that it sold for, not the rental rate!” Elizabeth McNeece told me as we drove by a good looking, solid 3 story building on a corner street on the main street in the downtown of Vincennes, IN. “And the roof is in very good shape.” McNeece owns a coffee shop (with a wi-fi hot spot) only a block away and is president of the downtown association. She and her husband Marc, who is president of the local chamber, were giving me a tour of the town prior to my talk at their annual chamber dinner.
“This is the Pantheon Theater which seated over 1,000 people. It could probably be bought for around $35,000 or $40,000. Red Skelton used to perform here.” He was born and raised here and is definitely a favorite son. Vincennes University is building a new $15 million Red Skelton Performing Arts Theater.
They showed me other incredible bargains in their historic downtown. Vincennes, built on the banks of the Wabash River, was the first capital of the Indiana territory and was the western front in the Revolutionary War, allowing the USA to become a much larger country than the original 13 colonies. They’ve got buildings that date to the 1730s. “We’ve got the largest historical district in the state with over 1200 homes in it,” Marc told me, “We had one couple from San Francisco who saw one of our old homes for sale on the internet for $90,000. They bought it, put another $90,000 into fixing it up, sold their home in California and moved here. They said that the savings allowed them to retire 10 years earlier than they thought they would be able to.” They are developing a mile and a half river walk that will connect the University to past the downtown area.
Vincennes is developing a plan to utilize their unique downtown and historical area, modeled after Paducah, KY another old river town. Paducah advertised their historical area to artists nationally, offering to loan them the funds to come in to fix up old buildings into studios and lofts. Within a couple of years they recruited in 44 new artists who invested over $11 million into the downtown area. Their tourism sales are up by $4 million. Makes sense! I don’t know why more towns like Paducah and Vincennes do something similar.
Vincennes is a sleeper. If my business was redoing old buildings, instead of industrial development, I’d be down there today buying buildings.