Thursday, January 21, 2010

Panel will oversee convention center project planning

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 7:44 AM CST
A special five-person committee will be given the responsibility of overseeing the planning, development and construction of a downtown Owensboro convention center under a plan unveiled Wednesday.

As outlined by Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire, Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne and Downtown Development Director Fred Reeves, the committee will make a wide range of decisions about the convention center, including selecting architects and contractors, with the help of consultants experienced in the convention center business.

The final authority over the convention center project will fall to the Owensboro-Daviess County Industrial Development Authority, under an interlocal agreement to be drawn up between Daviess Fiscal Court, the Owensboro City Commission and the Industrial Development Authority, whose members are appointed by the two governing bodies.

Fiscal Court and the City Commission will have to approve establishing the oversight committee and the interlocal agreement. Haire said he intends to bring the oversight committee before Fiscal Court today for approval.

The five-person oversight committee will include Haire and Payne as well as Mike Horn, Larry Maglinger and Steve Ford. Horn is an entrepreneur and business owner, Ford is an insurance company executive and Maglinger owns an audio and video business and has knowledge of the entertainment industry.

The Industrial Development Authority, which will act on the oversight committee’s plans, is a six-person board consisting of Haire; County Administrator Tony Sook; Susan Free, program manager of the Kelly Autism Program of Owensboro; Jiten Shah, executive director of the Green River Area Development District, City Manager Bill Parrish and City Commissioner Candance Brake.

Haire said the arrangement removes the convention center planning and development process from the direct control of Fiscal Court and the City Commission, meaning that changes to the makeup of the elected bodies through elections will not derail the building of the convention center, estimated to cost close to $20 million if not more.

The county is building the convention center, but the city may have to contribute money to the project if its costs more than the $17 million to $18 million the county has available for it, Payne and Haire said.

“This is an election year and Fiscal Court will change and the City Commission could change,” Haire said. “This is one of the largest investments the city and county will make. There’s reason to have consistency from the beginning to the end. It’s to the public’s benefit and the hotelier’s benefit. It would be catastrophic if the county decided not to do it or the city decided not to put money up. The question was, how do we do it now?”

By placing the ultimate authority with the Industrial Development Authority, the project’s future is ensured, Haire and Payne said.

“The key is placing the money outside the control of government,” Payne said. “The Industrial Development Authority will hold the $17 million and be directed to construct a convention center.

Payne predicted that the current City Commission will approve additional funding, perhaps as much as $7 million, for the convention center from its downtown redevelopment contingency fund if and when it is needed. Those additional costs should be known before the end of this year, he and Reeves said.

Last week city officials announced that The Malcolm Bryant Corp. had been selected as the preferred developer to build a $20 million downtown hotel that will be attached to the convention and events center. If a development agreement between Bryant and the city is approved, construction will start this year and be finished in 2012. Ideally, the convention center will be built on the same time frame, officials have said.

Some of the duties of the convention center oversight committee will be to spell out the relationship between the convention center and the hotel owner, determine the appropriate size and layout of the convention center, seek public input on design and construction, negotiate contracts with food and concession providers, negotiate agreements with local organizations for use of the facility, establish policies for pricing and use of the facility, ensure that it serves the convention, entertainment and sports needs of the community for years to come and make sure that prevailing wage rules are followed and work to use local contractors and suppliers in its construction.

“We’ve got a lot of different players, so we thought it was important to have a steering committee to make decisions, but not in isolation,” Payne said. “... I have followed the judge-executive’s leadership. It’s well done. We will get this accomplished.”

The committee will need outside assistance, said Reeves. A feasibility and use study will be done, which will determine the size and layout of the convention center, he added.

“The first study is critical,” said Haire. “In the meantime, the committee of five is ready to identify what additional help we will need.”

Payne called the convention center the linchpin of downtown redevelopment.

“This is the key project,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we do it right. What we are doing here will do that.”

Steve Vied, 691-7297,