Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bluegrass Museum could expand into New Downtown Location

The state office building at Second and Frederica streets would become the International Bluegrass Music Museum under the city's latest downtown master plan.

And the outside of the gray concrete-and-glass building would be modernized to make the museum an "iconic symbol" of Owensboro, Barry Alberts, managing partner of CityVisions, a Louisville consulting company, told a joint meeting of the Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court on Tuesday evening at City Hall.

Plans show on the Second Street side of the new museum a giant musical instrument similar to the electric guitar outside Hard Rock Cafes or the giant bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville.

The 60,000-square-foot state office building is nearly three times the size of the 22,000-square-foot bluegrass museum at Second and Daviess streets.

Alberts said the river side of the building could open up with a stage facing what's now the parking lot but would become an outdoor performance area.

Plans call for an indoor performance area as well.

Terry Woodward, vice chairman of the museum's board of trustees, said last year the museum drew between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors. But they came from all 50 states and 42 countries, he said.

Woodward predicted that the museum could draw 200,000 a year if the new facility is done right and the community puts enough dollars into marketing.

The latest plan shows the planned Hampton Inn & Suites

See Museum/Page A2

at Second and St. Elizabeth streets -- where the old jail was. And the convention center would be on the site of the main tower of the old Executive Inn Rivermont.

Woodward said the museum board has long wanted a Bluegrass Opry -- a bluegrass version of the Grand Ole Opry. But the current museum isn't large enough to accommodate it.

"I think we can have a Bluegrass Opry at this building," he said of the state office building.

The museum already has an Internet radio station -- Radio Bluegrass International -- which can be heard around the world.

The city had planned to raze the state building and build either the hotel or convention center there.

But the soil was contaminated and that would have added to the cost, Mayor Ron Payne said.

By remodeling the building, he said, the city will save the cost of demolishing the building and removing the contaminated soil.

No cost estimates were available Tuesday for revamping the building for a museum.

Alberts suggested changing the name to International Bluegrass Music Center because that sounds more vibrant than a museum.

Woodward and Gabrielle Gray, the museum's executive director, agreed with the idea.

But Woodward said the museum's board hasn't yet met to discuss the idea.

However, Kitsy Kuykendall, the board chairwoman, said in a telephone interview: "I'm really pleased that Owensboro is putting a lot of money behind bluegrass. We really need more space for our exhibits."

The bluegrass world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rosine native Bill Monroe, "the father of bluegrass music," in 2011, she said. So the new museum would come at a good time, Kuykendall said.

She suggested that Owensboro incorporate the museum into a marketing plan that includes Monroe's boyhood home in Rosine along with the area hometowns of country and rock musicians including Merle Travis, Louis "Grandpa" Jones and The Everly Brothers.

City Commissioner David Johnson noted that the master plan includes about eight downtown performance venues. He asked if that were too many.

Alberts said it depends on how well they are marketed.

Gray said she doesn't expect to have any problem keeping two venues going at the bluegrass museum.

Woodward began a push 25 years ago, when he was chairman of the Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission, to make Owensboro a center for bluegrass music.

The International Bluegrass Music Association moved here in 1986 and created Fan Fest and an awards show in Owensboro. In 1992, the bluegrass museum opened on a part-time basis.

It wouldn't open on a full-time basis until a decade later after a $3 million grant from the state.

The IBMA moved its events out of Owensboro in 1997. But Woodward said the museum can be more important on a long-term basis than the IBMA.

"We have to have more than a one-week-a-year festival," he said. "It's unlimited what we can do with a new facility."

The state office building opened in February 1974. It's a century newer than parts of the current museum.

The Turley Building on the northeast corner of Second and Daviess was built in 1873 and the Miller Building next door, which also houses part of the museum, was built in 1887.

The plans for the state office building property show an arcade along Veterans Boulevard behind the outdoor performance area, where food could be sold, Alberts said.

"Bluegrass is one of the things that defines Owensboro," he said. "You should have festivals downtown as often as possible."

Alberts said coming from Louisville he knew Owensboro for barbecue and bluegrass.

But there is no barbecue restaurant downtown and the bluegrass museum was hard to find.

City Commissioner Candance Brake called bluegrass "a market we can draw from internationally."

Plans for the new museum at the state office building "will pop the eye on that corner," she said.

Daviess Judge-Executive Reid Haire said the museum "can be a signature opportunity," but he said, "We've got to do what we can afford."

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com