Monday, January 4, 2010

Lofty Living: Downtown's potential draws some to live there

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer

Published: Sunday, January 3, 2010 12:02 AM CST

John and Adrienne Condray and Vance and Heather Girten are young Owensboro couples who have lived the urban lifestyle and enjoyed it. In a matter of months they intend to begin replicating that experience in Owensboro.
The Condrays and Girtens are moving into two of four custom condos currently under construction on the second floor of the Smith-Werner Building at 116-122 W. Second St. Larry and Rosemary Conder are renovating the Smith-Werner Building at a cost of $1 million or more.
The Condrays will live above the Gambrinus Libation Emporium at 116 W. Second St., which recently opened, and will operate the business. Adrienne Condray is the Conders' daughter.
One of the oft-stated hopes for a revitalized downtown Owensboro is that a residential element will develop, with people living in loft apartments above businesses and offices. The Condrays and Girtens won't be the first downtown residents, but the number isn't great.
The Condrays lived in downtown Memphis before moving to Owensboro to manage the Gambrinus. John, 34 and a graduate of Brescia University, was a commercial credit reviewer for a large bank. She is a teacher.
"We could have lived anywhere, but we got spoiled in Memphis working a block away from where we lived," he said. "Everything was within five blocks."
To a lesser extent, the Condrays will have some of the same opportunities in downtown Owensboro.
"We love Colby's, the Bistro, the Miller House and there's a pharmacy," Condray said.
As the downtown area develops, the Condrays expect their living experience to be enriched.
"There's already an entertainment district with the RiverPark Center," Condray said. "We've seen what a downtown can be like and what it can hold. We really think Owensboro can be that at a smaller level. We're within walking distance of several great restaurants. We want to complement everything else, not be a competitor. We want to attract more people downtown."
Condray, who said he hasn't felt the desire to mow grass since he was 15, said downtown living may not be for everyone.
"You have to have a desire to be more urban," he said. "There's not an urban feel to Owensboro, but maybe there will be once you get people down here and see what it can be like. ... You can have a nice house in the middle of everything else. Right now the people it's most desirable to are empty-nesters who want to downsize."
Condray has a vision for what he'd like downtown to become.
"A corner grocery would be great," he said. "We'd love more restaurants. We don't have a problem with pubs and bars. I'd like it to be a shopping and dining district with locally owned pubs and bars ... there's tons of room to grow. When we heard about the master plan, that was a key component for us. We would have loved to see a baseball park, but we're excited to see the hotel and convention center."
Adrianne Condray is looking forward to watching the downtown evolve.
"It's exciting to see changes and be here from the beginning and see people migrate downtown," she said. "I've always wanted to live in the city. In Memphis, it was a community within a community. It didn't feel like a huge city."
The Girtens share a rural background. She's from Hancock County. He's from Union County. But after living in an urban setting in Lexington while in pharmacy school at the University of Kentucky, the idea of living in an apartment overlooking Owensboro's Second Street is especially appealing for the couple.
It helps that Owensboro is about halfway between their families. Heather Girten is a pharmacist at a local supermarket. Vance Girten is on schedule to graduate from UK's pharmacy school in May and intends to work at an Owensboro-area pharmacy.
"We plan to stay in this area," Girten said. "We got Rosemary's number and she had something planned and we stayed in touch. We liked what they had in mind. We like where they are going."
The Girten's are interested in the downtown Owensboro redevelopment project and want to be a part of it, Girten said.
"We've seen the poster boards," he said. "It looks like a pretty big development. It will be a neat experience to see those changes."
Girten said he appreciates history and the community's decision to reinvigorate its downtown riverfront area interests him.
"They are bringing it back to the way it should be," he said. "That's why Owensboro is here. (The river) is still very important."
Mainly, the Girtens are seeking an urban lifestyle.
"Stepping out the door and grabbing a cup of coffee or walking to dinner is definitely attractive," he said.