Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kentucky economic leaders visit Owensboro

By Ben Garbarek - bio | email | Twitter
OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - 2009 could not end soon enough for many economic leaders.
"I think everybody's had a tough year," Larry Hayes, secretary for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, said. "It doesn't make a difference which state you're in or what particular industrial sector might be prevalent in your state. Everybody's had a tough year."
Owensboro has not been spared.
"We've lost our share of jobs," Nick Brake, President of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, said. "But actually we've lost proportionally fewer jobs than cities like Louisville, Bowling Green and even Evansville so we feel like there's a lot of stability in the economic base we have here."
Owensboro recently has dealt with closures at both the Hon Corporation and General Electric.
The cabinet said manufacturing jobs are disappearing throughout Kentucky but said the emerging biotech industry could give Owensboro a new identity.
"We need to have those manufacturing jobs," Hayes said. "We need to continue in the area of bio to dedicate resources and it's becoming increasingly important so we'll develop a real talent pool here."
The Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet said one of Owensboro's more attractive economic features is the Ohio River.
Now, state economic leaders are looking at riverfront property to market to businesses looking to relocate to the Bluegrass State.
The cabinet said next year can't be any worse.
"I think 2010 is going to be better in the sense that we're probably not as shell-shocked as a country now," Hayes said.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Interstate Spurs Driving Commerce to Owensboro

OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - Earlier this week Congress approved $375,000 to study changing several parkways in Kentucky into interstates.Now some commercial realtors say Owensboro is starting to get noticed.
"We've been getting calls from large, industrial-type companies looking for 50,000 square feet or more," said realtor Bo Barron.  "Third party logistics companies, distribution kinds of things and that's something that the Owensboro market really hasn't had a demand for."
Local commercial real estate agents say business is picking up thanks to new interstate designations for both the Audubon and Natcher Parkways.
"I think it could be directly tied to the interstate designation," he said.  "Both the calls we've had in the last week I asked them and they said it's been a factor in them looking at Owensboro, western Kentucky, southern Indiana."
"That's the whole idea for converting the parkways to eventually becoming full-fledged interstates is to attract more business, more tourists, more opportunities for Owensboro," said Jody Wassmer, Chamber of Commerce.
Part of changing the parkways into interstates would be some changes like widening some of the medians, raising some of the overpasses as well as lengthening some of the entrance ramps. The Chamber of Commerce says some of the entrance ramps were designed for toll payers to slow down but with interstates, drivers need to speed up to merge with traffic.
"This country travels by the interstate system," Wassmer said.  "Business travels on the interstates and it's just really important in this day and age that you have as much interstate access as you can get."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes Will Visit Owensboro

Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development Larry Hayes will be visiting Owensboro next week to meet with local officials regarding various economic development issues.

A focus of the visit will be to discuss many of the partnerships that exist between the Cabinet and the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. to promote Owensboro to prospective businesses and site selectors.
“Owensboro continues to be proactive in its job creation strategy,” said Hayes. “During my recent visits with community officials, it was evident that they had laid the appropriate groundwork to accomplish their long-term economic goals.”

Hayes will speak with regional leaders at 8:30 am Tuesday, December 22 at the Commerce Center.

Dana Corp. selling plants to Mexican firm

The Dana Holding Corp. has agreed to sell its Structural Products arm to the largest vehicle frame and structure supply company in Mexico, according to a press release.  The Maumee, Ohio-company has agreed to part with 10 facilities in the United States, Argentina, Australia, Venezuela and Brazil, including its Owensboro plant, according to the release. The sale was agreed upon for $130 million payable at closing, plus an additional $5 million payable a year after closing and $15 million more subject to earn-out, the release said.

The buyer, Metalsa S.A. de C.V., has agreed to shoulder certain liabilities as part of the sale, which is subject to government regulatory approval and other conditions.
Metalsa, which was founded in 1956, has 3,600 employees with a presence in India, Japan and the United States, as well as Mexico.

Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., said the EDC has been aware of the upcoming sale and has been working with Metalsa as part of the transition. "We continue to be in regular contact with the company and don't anticipate any changes," Brake said.

RiverPark Center and Colleges Collaborate on Theatre Degree

By Ben Garbarek - bio | email | Twitter
Posted by Noah Stubbs - email
OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - Starting next fall, college students in Owensboro can earn a bachelor's degree in theater arts by attending either Kentucky Wesleyan College, Brescia or Owensboro Community and Technical College and take courses at all three schools as well as the RiverPark Center. The city says the arts help attract talented people downtown.
"It can be a real drawing card certainly for our community to bring in the kind of young people that are interested in a very unique environment," said Nick Brake, Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation.  "An environment I wouldn't hesitate to say doesn't exist anywhere else."
"Attracting that talent is what this how downtown development thing is all about," said Downtown Development Director Fred Reeves.  "At the end of the day it's an economic development endeavor. It's not about just nice and pretty, it's about making this community thrive in the future."
Eventually this new theater program could lead to a new building for a downtown arts academy.
The city says part of its redevelopment plans would be to create an arts district here in the eastern part of downtown and that's where the Downtown Arts Academy could be located in the future.
The RiverPark Center says having a downtown theater program will bring more young people to the riverfront.
"In these old buildings that have second and third and fourth floors that are useless and probably will remain so," said Zev Buffman, RiverPark Center.  "We know what will happen on the bottom floor, retail but on the other floors student housing."
©2009 WFIE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Officials say ballooning property prices reflect high hopes

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, December 13, 2009 12:00 AM CST

Downtown property values -- or at least the asking prices for downtown property -- are soaring as $120 million worth of downtown projects get started.
The $40 million riverfront redevelopment is well under way, and work should start next year on $80 million worth of projects that include a new hotel and convention center.
"When we have people come in looking for a downtown location, they're finding that the asking price is considerably more than the assessed value," Fred Reeves, downtown development director, said last week.
* Theatre Workshop of Owensboro recently entered into an 18-month lease with an option to buy Goldie's Best Little Opryhouse in Kentucky, 418 Frederica St., for $250,000.
The price also includes the theater's light, sound and video equipment.
But the Opryhouse is assessed for tax purposes at $85,300.
* Don Moore recently announced that the property at 600 W. Second St., where his new vehicle dealership has been since 1945, is for sale for $988,000. He's moving to Kentucky 54.
The downtown property -- on the south side of Second Street -- is assessed at $383,000.
* James L. Yates American Legion Post 9, 118 Veterans Blvd. W., is across the street from Smothers Park and the riverfront development.
It's for sale for $1.5 million. It's assessed at $300,000.
* The building at 420 Frederica St., home of Barney's Cafe & Grill, has an asking price of $200,000.
It's assessed at $85,000.
* The building at 119 E. Second St., home of Bacchus Bar & Grill, has an asking price of $525,000.
The assessed value is $300,000.
* And the building at 111 E. Third St., home of the McCarroll Nunley & Hartz law firm, has an asking price of $575,000.
It's assessed at $225,000.
Asking is not selling
"Asking and selling are two different things," said Terry Woodward, chairman of Owensboro's Downtown Development Corp.
"If you pay too much for property, you'll never make it," he said. "But if they think their property is worth that, I'd assess it at the asking price,"
Woodward said, "When Dad (LeRoy Woodward) was mayor, GE was wanting to expand, but one property owner wanted five times what his property was assessed at.
"Dad went to see the man and asked him, 'Is your property really worth that much?' The man said, 'It sure is.' So, Dad told him that as soon as he got back to his office, he would get the property reassessed for that amount. The man came around really quick then," he said with a laugh.
But assessments don't work that way these days, according to Sandy Dawdy, Daviess County property valuation administrator.
"With commercial property, the use is so important in determining the assessment," she said. "We have a lot of small offices downtown, and some of the buildings are in pretty poor shape. Others have been fixed up really great."
Many times, Dawdy said, "it's the intangibles that give a piece of property more value. With Goldie's, you're buying a piece of history. Everybody knows where Goldie's is," and it's the only privately owned theater downtown.
"With Don Moore's property, $900,000 might seem ridiculous now," she said. "But it could be a bargain in a few years. There's just no way to know."
Assessments are partly based on square footage and the conditions of a building, Dawdy said, as well as recent sales in the vicinity.
Can't factor in speculation
"The only thing we can prove is the physical property, not what it's worth to someone else," she said. "We can't factor in speculation."
Moore hasn't yet sold his property, across Second from the old Executive Inn Rivermont. But he says, "Tax assessments are probably a little undervalued. It's hard to increase it fast enough. The city appraised my used car lot across the street at $595,000."
It's assessed for tax purposes at $126,400.
"Prices are going up downtown now," Moore said.
But Dawdy said a used car lot is basically a paved parking lot.
Rising prices have more to do with what's planned in the area than what's there now, she said.
"In commercial appraisals, we look at what property in that area has sold for and renovations to the property," said Dana Thornberry, a local real estate appraiser. "A lot of what's happening now is speculation. People think something big is going to happen downtown, and that makes the prices they're asking go up."
But she said: "We can't do appraisals based on speculation. We can tell the client and the lender about the plans that have been announced for that area, and they can take it into consideration if they want."
In downtown Owensboro right now, Thornberry said, "The appraised value and the asking price for a piece of property probably aren't the same."
Larry and Rosemary Conder have bought four downtown buildings since 2007.
The Conders bought what's now the Creme Coffee House, 109 E. Second St., for $292,160 and The Crowne at 107 E. Second for $240,000 in 2007.
Last year, they bought the Smith-Werner Building at 116, 118, 120 and 122 W. Second St. from Daviess Fiscal Court for $56,960.
And this year, they bought the building at 221 St. Ann St. from Independence Bank $58,000.
"We thought that was a fair price for a building that wasn't in good shape," Rosemary Conder said of the St. Ann Street property.
"We looked at the Bates Building (at 101 W. Second St., most recently home to River City Church), but they were asking $2.4 million for it," she said. "We couldn't afford that."
Conder said: "I'm sure property owners are trying to take advantage of speculation. There are a lot of differences in property values downtown now. It just depends on the individual property owner and how much they think they can get."
Lots of people are looking
"There are an awful lot of people looking at downtown property now," Reeves said. "I was just on the phone with a developer who wants to buy downtown property.
"I haven't heard of anybody giving up on downtown because of the asking price for property. Nobody has said they can't afford it. But we're finding that people aren't coming down very much on their asking prices. They know something is going to happen, and they're willing to wait for someone who will pay what they want," he said.
Woodward is one of downtown's biggest property owners. He has 15 pieces of property -- mostly east of the Glover H. Cary Bridge.
"Nobody has approached me about buying any of my buildings," he said, "but I'm out of the mainstream down here. The hub will be around the new hotel" at Second and Frederica streets.
"Wait till something starts happening," Dawdy said. "When things start selling, we'll be better able to determine values. It's going to be exciting."
Nominees for top story of the year

By The Associated Press

Published: Monday, December 7, 2009 12:00 AM CST

Downtown Master Plan Approved -- In January, Owensboro City Commission members unanimously approved a municipal order to support the $80-million downtown master plan, which calls for a convention center, hotel, arts academy and other amenities to be built along the city's riverfront. Two days later, Daviess Fiscal Court approved a similar resolution. By year's end, Fiscal Court had approved funding for a downtown convention center, and officials were considering bid proposals for a downtown hotel.

Ice Storm -- A steady rain coupled with subfreezing temperatures led to an ice storm in late January unlike any ever seen in Kentucky, and particularly ravaged the western part of the state. Trees and power lines buckled under the strain, leaving tens of thousands of local residents without power for days, and caused Gov. Steve Beshear to declare a state of emergency and President Barack Obama to declare the state a major disaster area.

Economic Woes -- The Owensboro area, like much of the country, has seen unemployment soar into double digits this year, reaching the highest level in more than 25 years. More than 800 manufacturing jobs have been lost and another 350 or more are already scheduled to disappear in 2010. Two plants that have been part of the local economy since 1945 -- GE and HON -- will close in 2010.

McRaith Steps Down -- After serving the Diocese of Owensboro for 26 years, the Most Rev. John J. McRaith's resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI. McRaith, 74, cited his health as the main reason for his retirement in January. The Diocese of Owensboro covers 32 counties in the western third of the state, serving more than 60,000 Catholics.

Insurance Premium Tax Increase -- The Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court voted in February to raise the city and county's insurance premium taxes to pay for the downtown development project. The city's tax rate increased from 4 percent to 6 percent in 2009 and will increase again to 8 percent in July 2010. The county's tax rate increased from 4.9 percent to 6.9 percent this year and to 8.9 percent next year. The tax applies to auto, homeowners, boat and casualty insurance policies, but not health insurance plans.

City Buys Big E, Then Implodes It -- The Owensboro City Commission approved purchasing the Executive Inn Rivermont property from Marshall Investments for $5 million. In June, a company hired by the city began selling furniture and memorabilia still inside the closed hotel. And in November, a big crowd watched as the Big E was imploded as part of a documentary that will appear on The Learning Channel.

Flights Return -- Commercial air service returned to the Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport in February as Allegiant Air began flights between Owensboro and Orlando, Fla. The service proved popular, and by year's end, Allegiant was offering flights for as low as $9.99 in an effort to help the airport reach 10,000 passengers and qualify for a $1 million in federal funds. Later in the year, Kentucky Skies began offering commercial flights between Owensboro and Nashville.

OMHS Honored -- In February, Owensboro Medical Health System received the HealthGrades Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence Award for 2009, an honor that put it among the top 5 percent of rated hospitals in the United States. OMHS was one of five Kentucky hospitals to receive the award.

CATS Overhaul -- The way schools are measured in Kentucky was drastically overhauled in March, when the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, which eliminated the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System and charged the Kentucky Department of Education with developing new standards and a new test for the 2011-12 school year based largely on lawmakers' mandates.

River Wall Work Begins -- The first piles for the river wall project were driven in April. The wall is the primary component of a project that will triple the size of Smothers Park and include an inlet and waterfall feature and overlooks at the foot of Frederica, St. Ann and Allen streets. By year's end, city officials predicted the entire riverfront project would be completed by 2012.

OMU Rate Hike -- OMU officials proposed a 27 percent increase on residential electric bills in April, but the proposal was met by skepticism from the public and city officials. Eventually, the Owensboro City Commission called for an outside expert to look at the proposal. The City Commission later approved the rate increase, though it was slightly lower than what was originally requested.

Mullen Murder Mystery Solved -- A Christian County jury convicted three men in May for the 1987 slaying of a Central City woman and handed down the maximum possible sentences for each of them.

Former Central City Police Officer Billy Fields, Jeff Boyd and Jimmie Cramer were found guilty on charges related to the death of Corinna Mullen, whose nude, mutilated body was found in the trunk of her car parked behind the municipal garage in Central City, on Oct. 2, 1987. The jury handed down a 60-year prison sentence for Cramer and life sentences for Boyd and Fields.

Gastenveld Replaced, Lawsuits Follow -- Paula Gastenveld was removed as president of Owensboro Community & Technical College in May and reassigned to the offices of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in Versailles. KCTCS President Michael McCall gave no reason for the change. Gastenveld later filed a lawsuit against McCall, some administrators at OCTC and several local officials. In an effort to learn more about why Gastenveld was dismissed, the Messenger-Inquirer filed several open records requests for documents pertaining to the performance of Gastenveld and others named in the lawsuit, but those requests were denied. The state Attorney General's Office ruled the documents should be made public, but KCTCS sued the Messenger-Inquirer in order to block their release. As of December, both lawsuits are still pending.

Swine Flu -- The H1N1 virus, or "swine flu," was on the minds of health officials and residents alike as the pandemic that hit tens of thousands of people around the United States began showing up locally. In May, Daviess County health officials recorded the first case of swine flu in the county. In August, the H1N1 virus hit Muhlenberg County hard, with about 50 cases reported. And by October, area residents were lining up to get the limited doses of the vaccine for the H1N1 virus.

Riverport Sale Considered -- Mayor Ron Payne announced the formation of a committee in June to study whether the Owensboro Riverport should be privatized. The committee met several times throughout the year, and in December issued a series of recommendations that, while stopping short of calling for the port to be sold, could significantly alter how the port is operated.

Haire Bowing Out -- Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire, who has held the position since 1998, announced in August that he would not seek re-election in 2010. "I sense it's time to transition to new individuals," Haire said.

Ice Arena Opens -- The Edge Ice Center, Owensboro's $6.5 million public ice skating arena between the Sportscenter and National Guard Armory on West Parrish Avenue west of Moreland Park, opened to the public in August.

Muhlenberg Merger -- After months of discussion and planning, the merged Muhlenberg County High School opened its doors to students in August.

Extreme Home Makeover -- Thousands of community volunteers came together with Thompson Homes in September to build a new home for the Steven Mattingly family of Maceo as part of the ABC reality TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Mattingly, a Yelvington volunteer firefighter, was struck by a car in December 2007 while directing traffic at a fire. His wife, Melissa Mattingly, witnessed the accident and used her EMT training to give him CPR and keep him alive.

Bypass Extension Begins -- Gov. Steve Beshear came to Owensboro in September to break ground for the first phase of the U.S. 60/U.S. 231 bypass extension, which will extend the highway from Kentucky 54 to U.S. 60 East near Hawesway Truck Plaza. That phase will cost $34.2 million and should be finished in 2011. When completed, the bypass extension will become part of a new four-lane corridor from Owensboro to Interstate 64 at Dale, Ind.

New Hospital Moves Forward -- OMHS faced several challenges to its plans to build a new hospital between Daniels Lane and Pleasant Valley Road, but eventually those hurdles were crossed and the project continues to move forward. As part of that process, the Owensboro City Commission approved an ordinance giving its go-ahead to OMHS to borrow up to $575 million in state-issued bonds.

Principal Charged With Sex Crimes -- Allison Brant, a former principal at St. Mary of the Woods Catholic school who resigned after allegations were made, was charged in October with rape and sodomy, after police said she had sex with a 15-year-old boy. Police would not confirm if the boy was a student at the school. Brant pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Moving Wall Returns -- The Moving Wall, a traveling half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, returned to Owensboro in November for the first time in 10 years. The Wall, which was set up in Moreland Park, contains 71 names of Owensboro-area men who were killed in Vietnam between 1965 and 1971.

Convenience Store Robbery, Killing -- In November, Suba Singh of Henderson was shot and killed during a burglary of the Bon Harbor Convenience Store. Brock Antonio Hanley, 27, of Owensboro was later arrested in Louisville and charged with murder.

City Buys State Office Building, Ben Hawes Park -- The City Commission reached consensus in early December to buy the state building from the state for $1.74 million. As part of the deal, the city will also take possession of the 553.5-acre Ben Hawes State Park.

The state office building, at Second and Frederica streets, is on the spot where the master plan for downtown revitalization calls for a convention center hotel to be built.

Two developers left in competition for hotel

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer

Published: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 12:19 AM CST

Local officials are negotiating with two developers to build an upscale hotel in downtown Owensboro, but the decision on which one will be selected probably will not be made by the end of this year, said Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.
Brake said Tuesday that an announcement of the selection is still expected soon after the first of January.
In late October, the committee charged with recommending a developer announced that three finalists were in the running, and all had proposed building a hotel with between 150 and 175 rooms. One of the developers has been eliminated.
"The challenge is the funding," Brake said. "It's a time-consuming deal."
The developers have been asked to provide thorough documentation that they have access to adequate funding to complete the project, Brake said.
"I'm confident we have two very lively candidates that have the wherewithal to do it," Brake said. "It's up to us to decide which is better for the community."
Both finalists have local connections and have relationships with national hotel brands, Brake said.
When the EDC issued the request for proposals for hotel developers, the requirements called for a hotel to have at least 150 rooms but preferably 225 and complement activities on the planned market square plaza with retail, restaurant and other amenities on its ground floor. It was to be a corporate managed, national or international chain-affiliated hotel geared primarily to serve the convention and group-meeting markets with quality on par with convention center hotels in other U.S. cities.
The finalists have not been identified.
Earlier this summer, the EDC said the original proposals came from developers seeking to operate franchises including Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn.
The hotel is proposed for the site the state office building now occupies on Second Street between Frederica and St. Elizabeth streets.

Friday, December 4, 2009

City to buy State Office Building

Published: Friday, December 4, 2009 12:04 AM CST

Owensboro moved a big step closer to getting an upscale hotel and convention center built downtown with Thursday's confirmation that the city will acquire the State Office Building.
Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne confirmed that the City Commission had reached consensus to buy the state building from the state for $1.74 million.
As part of the deal, the city will also take possession of the 553.5-acre Ben Hawes State Park, known primarily for its 18-hole golf course.
The State Office Building, at Second and Frederica streets, is on the spot where the master plan for downtown revitalization calls for a convention center hotel to be built. Three developers have been selected as the finalists to build a hotel with between 150 and 175 rooms.
Naming that developer is imminent, Payne said, and purchasing the state building clears the way for it to be demolished and the hotel project to proceed.
The city will receive the deed to the two-story state building by Dec. 31, and the target date for the state to vacate the building is April 30, Payne said.
"We needed to do this fairly soon because we are selecting a developer for a new hotel," Payne said in his City Hall office Thursday morning. "We'll probably be making that announcement right after the first of the year. Construction of a convention center and hotel will begin next year."
Daviess Fiscal Court is committed to building the convention center west of the proposed hotel. But county government will not be involved in the purchase of the state building or taking over and operating Ben Hawes State Park, Payne said.
"I appreciate the state working with us on this and I also appreciate the help of State Rep. Tommy Thompson because he helped up accomplish this."
The City Commission will formally vote to purchase the state building later this month, perhaps on Dec. 15, Payne said. He said a majority of the commission supports the state building purchase and takeover of Ben Hawes.
The money to buy the state building will come from city's downtown revitalization fund of almost $60 million, made possible by the city's decision 11 months ago to increase its insurance premium tax. Proceeds from the increase are solely devoted to downtown redevelopment.
Ben Hawes Park was developed by the city in 1964 and sold to the state a decade later.
Fred Reeves, downtown development director, said the agreement between the city and the state to transfer the state building to the city is "absolutely huge."
"To finally have it is wonderful news for the community and for the downtown project," he said. "As we have talked to hoteliers, we've never looked at any other site. Now we can talk to them with certainty."
Reeves said he has talked with state officials many times about the people who work in the state building and where they will be relocated.
"They are looking at a number of sites across the community at least temporarily until they can either build a new building or find something that absolutely suits their needs," Reeves said.
Reeves said that it is more likely that the state will build a new downtown state facility because of the lack of a suitable existing building to house the 219 state employees.
City Commissioner David Johnson said he supports the state building purchase because the site is the critical piece of property needed to complete the downtown redevelopment plan.
Johnson said he also supports the city taking over Ben Hawes State Park.
"It allows us to move from a nine-hole golf course (Hillcrest Golf Course) to a 27-hole golf course," Johnson said, noting that Hawes has a regulation 18-hole course and a nine-hole par three course. But Johnson said he is opposed to the city operating both Hillcrest and Hawes golf courses.
Commissioner John Kazlauskas said he supports the acquisition of the state building because of its importance to the downtown master plan. Acquiring Ben Hawes State Park may turn out to be a positive because the city may be able to make improvements there that the state has been unwilling to make, Kazlauskas said.
Payne said converting Hillcrest to a passive city park and using its golf cart paths as walking trails is a possibility. Selling Hillcrest to a private developer is not what he wants, Payne said.
"We will have to look at whether we can operate two golf courses or operate one," Payne said. "I want to talk to the people who utilize Hillcrest. ... What happens at Hillcrest is yet to be determined, but it is an issue whether we can operate two golf courses well."
Under the state's operation, Ben Hawes runs an annual operating deficit of about $500,000. Bill Parrish, Owensboro's city manager, said city staff is already looking at ways to lower costs and raise revenues at the state park.
"We're looking at the things we did at Hillcrest, which is pretty successful, and transfer them to Ben Hawes," Parrish said. "The big push is to increase usage. ... We will push hard on the revenue side. Our staff believes there's a lot more revenue out there."
Lowering the cost to play golf at Ben Hawes will be key as a way to attract more golfers, Parrish said.
Parrish said he was not aware of any restrictions the state will place on the city's use of the park, including the ability of the city to sell it.
"We will look at what they send us, but I don't know of any restrictions," he said. "We will look for it being fee simple, meaning we can do with it what we will."

Steve Vied, 691-7297,

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Panel: Riverport should stay private

Published: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 2:38 AM CST

A special committee appointed by Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne to look into the possible sale or privatization of the Owensboro Riverport Authority recommended Tuesday that the Ohio River terminal remain publicly owned and under the guidance of its public board of directors.
But in what may be a concession to critics who say the nonprofit, tax-exempt port competes unfairly with the private sector, the committee is also recommending that the port's board take a serious look at contracting with a private company to operate the terminal's unloading, loading and warehouse operations.
The committee is also recommending that the riverport continue trying to sell the former Green River Steel property on U.S. 60 East and find a private buyer for three warehouses it owns near the terminal.
Finally, the committee recommended that in the future the riverport create partnerships with private-sector companies by leasing land to tenants who would then own any improvements they make to the property.
The five-member committee discussed the recommendations at City Hall Tuesday before eventually endorsing them, although some of the members seemed less than enthusiastic about the idea of contracting out the port's operations to a private party.
Later Tuesday, committee chairman Alan Braden presented the recommendations to the Owensboro City Commission, which voted unanimously to receive them and forward them to the riverport board for its response to the committee's conclusions.
Payne appointed Braden, a former city commissioner, former City Manager G. Ted Smith, George Hulse, Dean Jones and Suzanne Northern Blazar, a riverport board member, to the Advisory Committee on the Privatization of the Owensboro Riverport Authority in June. Payne's charge to the committee was to decide if the riverport should be sold, what benefits would the city derive from a sale and how would it be done.
Now it will be up to the riverport board to make the next move. City Attorney Ed Ray confirmed that under state law, only the riverport board has the authority to make the recommended changes.
"I am not going to respond to the recommendations at this time," Payne said shortly after hearing them. "I want to hear what the riverport board has to say about it."
Commissioner Candance Brake asked if receiving and forwarding the recommendations to the riverport amounted to ratifying them and Payne's response was no.
To the ultimate question of whether the riverport should be sold outright, the committee was completely opposed to the idea.
"It's very important to retain control," Hulse said.
Hulse was highly skeptical of the idea of contracting the port's operation to a stevedoring company.
"You lose control and minimize the economic development purpose of the port," Hulse said. "There are continuity issues and the possibilities of a work stoppage. I'm against it, but I'm in favor of the board taking a look at it."
Braden said the recommendation to consider contracting the port's operations was not so much about being sympathetic to private sector criticism concerning unfair competition as it was about how well such arrangements work at other public ports the committee studied and visited.
"We just saw how other facilities were handling it and how very successful they were," Braden said.
Ed Riney, president and CEO of the riverport, said he was pleased the committee did not recommend selling the riverport. He said the riverport board has considered contracting operations before and will do so again if it is viable.
"I maintain we have a pretty efficient operation now, which is why the riverport is so successful," he said.
Tom Smith, chairman of the riverport board, said he was pleased with the committee's recommendations.
"I was very pleased with the reaction and recognition that our board has the authority to do this," he said.
Smith told the City Commission that some of the committee's recommendations were already on the riverport board's agenda.
"This board is proactive and progressive minded," he said. "We intend to consider all the recommendations. Most of what is recommended is on our plate already."

Steve Vied, 691-7297,

Annual survey shows high downtown interest among Chamber members

Thirty-one percent of Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce members say they would “be interested in locating their business and/or starting a business downtown” and 17% say they would “be interested in living downtown” according to the annual legislative and local issues survey this fall.

Thirty-three percent of respondents indicated “their business would not work downtown” while 12% say they “are not in favor of the downtown plan.” Six-percent of respondents had no response to the downtown question. The survey was completed by 23% of Chamber members during September and October.

“That means that nearly half of respondents would like to have a business and/or live downtown,” says Chamber President Jody Wassmer. “That seems to be fairly significant support for what the plans the city and county have initiated in downtown Owensboro.”

The Chamber board of directors voted to support the “place-making initiative” plan last winter and subsequently took several members to Greenville, SC last May to see that city’s proactive downtown redevelopment. The group returned with the belief that Owensboro was on the right track to stimulate private downtown investment that would lead to increased commerce, tourism and economic development for the entire community.

Among other survey results, healthcare insurance costs and employee verbal and written communications skills were named as top concerns. Most businesses believe state employee public pension costs need to be reformed and local governments should “reduce services and live within their means” and not be allowed to implement local sales taxes to deal with rising costs. Most Chamber members also believe state government should better manage existing revenues and expenses and not implement a sales tax on services.

Fifty-six percent of members are in favor of expanded gaming as a way to raise revenues for the state while 38% don’t favor the issue.

To a question asking which education issue they believe is most important to Kentucky, Chamber members did not have a clear choice. Twenty-four percent favor “accountability through end-of-course exams and performance measures” and 20% indicated “mandatory pre-school and all-day kindergarten.”

In response to a question about the possibility of city-county government merger, 54% said they favor it with 27% indicating they “don’t know enough about it.” Fifteen-percent said they are not in favor of government merger. Those numbers are about a 5% drop in support for merger from the same question last year.

“I suspect the city and county government cooperation on the downtown plan has softened the support for merger somewhat at this time,” says Wassmer.

In questions related to the work of the Chamber, members indicated they believe the Chamber’s most important job is to market Greater Owensboro with legislative advocacy a close second.

“We’re making plans for being very proactive next year in telling the world about all the good things happening in Owensboro and Daviess County,” adds Wassmer.

Ninety-two percent of members gave the Chamber either an “excellent” or “good” grade in its lobbying/advocacy efforts on state and federal issues. 

The complete list of questions and responses can be seen on the Chamber’s website at by clicking the “What do Chamber members think?” link.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Expansions punctuate year

Despite the worst recession since World War II, the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. has worked with 16 companies in the past year on expansions totaling more than $90 million, EDC President Nick Brake said Tuesday.

The expansions have created more than 500 jobs, he said.

Sixty percent of the total -- 300 jobs -- are being created by U.S. Bank Home Mortgage during a $14 million expansion in Highland Pointe off Kentucky 54.

"We're a little above the usual number of expansions this year," Brake said. "But we're a little above on the negative stuff, too."

The area has lost more than 800 manufacturing jobs in the past year, and another 350 are already scheduled to disappear in the next year.

Brake said the days of Owensboro being solely a manufacturing-based economy are over.

"This is why the expansion of the Owensboro Medical Health System is so important," he said. "It will further diversify our economy.

"We have companies that are in trouble," Brake said, "but we also have companies that are doing really well. Considering that this is a recession year, we're very happy with the number of expansions."

He said the area faces a problem of aging facilities -- many factories are at least 40 years old -- and an aging work force, many of whom will be retiring in the next five years.

"There aren't many production jobs out there," Brake said. "The shift in manufacturing is toward skilled technicians. A lot of our workers are going to have to be retrained."

The EDC list of expansions shows Unilever, $49 million, 59 jobs; Sazerac, $10.5 million, 50 jobs; S&Y LLC, $8 million, three jobs; SFG, $3.7 million, 30 jobs (and 450 saved); Sun Windows, $3.25 million, jobs not available; Swedish Match, $2.2 million, 15 jobs.

Echo Lake Foods, $1.5 million, 40 jobs; Industrial Mold & Machine, $1.3 million, five jobs; MPD, $298,000, 15 jobs; Messenger-Inquirer, $250,000, eight jobs; Canteen Services, $200,000, nine jobs; and Cox Paper & Printing, $30,000.

Brake said EDC is also working with Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky and Phill's Custom Cabinets on expansions. But the dollar amount of those expansions and the number of jobs they will create have not been worked out, he said.

"We have been watching this global economy evolve for a long time, anticipating that we could be affected," EDC Chairman Darrell Higginbotham said in a news release. "We have a three-year head start in adjusting to the shifting economic circumstances impacting us this year."

The EDC Strategic Plan, created in 2006, is a "four-tier strategy focusing on supporting existing businesses, targeted business attraction efforts, nurturing high technology company startups, and creating a community that attracts talent," Brake said.

"Sitting face to face with individuals and companies impacted by this global downturn has further motivated us to work harder than ever on a multi-faceted approach to economic development," Higginbotham said.

Brake said EDC has conducted three "coordinated campaigns" this year.

One was in green energy "hoping to capitalize on stimulus dollars in that sector, one in back office and professional service areas similar to the jobs U.S. Bank has in the region, and one in advanced manufacturing," he said.

EDC was ranked eighth last year by Site Selection magazine for most economic development projects among regions the size of Owensboro.

Brake said EDC is planning additional targeted campaigns in 2010.

Nearly two-thirds of new jobs are created by existing companies, he said.

Brake said the Emerging Ventures Innovation Center program headed by Madison Silvert has recruited 13 technology-based companies to start up in the region.

Earlier this year, Silvert was invited to speak to the Kansas City EDC about the success Owensboro has had in nurturing entrepreneurs, Brake said.

Looking ahead to next year, he said: "We're optimistic. We're working with a couple of existing companies looking at expansions and we're optimistic about some new companies."

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,