Chamber president did not act for whole group

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The below letter was addressed to Christy Gillenwater, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana and shared with the Mount Vernon Democrat and other interested parties.

Dear Ms. Gillenwater:
For the past 40 years our company has been a proud member of the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana. We subscribe to its belief of private enterprise and that less government is necessary for the continued economic growth of America. As such, for 20 of those years, I was honored to serve on the Board of Directors and engaged in many Chamber projects that helped make Evansville and outstanding community for the public and entrepreneurial companies like our own. As a company, we have appreciated the Chamber’s vision of leadership through regional collaboration towards “one voice,” which, until recently, the chamber was fulfilling.
In your role as president, you recently acted in contradiction to those principles when you publicly stated that you represented the entire chamber in support of the new downtown hotel project. You must possess inside knowledge of the business plan and financial strength of the development company, who is not a member of our Chamber, that the City Administration seeks to hand over $37.5 million to to build a new hotel and convention center. According to our investigation and industry analysis, the project will commit the city to over $84 million in investments and bond payments over 25 years.
As a company, and as an individual, we are not against anyone building a hotel downtown or any place else in Evansville, however, we are opposed to the project as presented. We adamantly oppose a governmental-endorsed taxpayer subsidy of the size being touted by the city administration, which you have said on more than one occasion the chamber supports.
To my knowledge, neither you nor anyone else you represent is concerned that 70 percent of the business this hotel is projected to produce must come from existing hotels in Evansville, “cannibalizing” over $4.6 million of their net revenue annually. These hotels, many of whom are chamber members, will be negatively impacted, and when they chose Evansville to build and create jobs, did not receive any form of direct governmental support in their development.
As a family, we have invested a lifetime of service to our community and over $100 million in various businesses. We resent you or anyone else in the Chamber professing the Chamber’s total support of this project. We are corporate members of the Chamber, four of our hotels are members and the membership paperwork for one more is on my desk, as well as our local MeTV affiliate, WTSN.
We have only met on one brief occasion, however, that being said, I would have expected the professional and common courtesy of a call in light of your role as president of the Chamber, especially when this government hand-out threatens the financial sustainability of many of the Chamber’s members and clearly defies its Mission Statement of “serving our region by protecting and promoting business.”
Effective immediately, we hereby cancel all memberships of all hotels affiliated with Dunn Hospitality Group as well as corporate memberships for Dunn Hospitality and WTSN, and we encourage other hotel Chamber members to do likewise. I am embarrassed that our Chamber is failing to live up to its vision of developing a pro-business environment for the region that encourages business investment but instead engages in a political decision that threatens some of its members’ very existence.

John Dunn
President and CEO of Dunn Hospitality Group