Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Kentucky City Reinvents a Faded Downtown

The New York Times
Published: November 15, 2011

OWENSBORO, Ky. — Ron Payne, the energetic and determined 65-year-old mayor of this small city on the Ohio River, keeps a map of new development projects in a corner of his City Hall office. There are more than a dozen sticky notes fixed to the map, each designating the location and cost of a local construction project recently completed, under way or planned.

Riverfront construction in Owensboro, Ky., includes a river wall and several walking paths.

The total value of the projects is more than $1 billion, including a $385 million hospital under construction east of town; a $2 million, 8,500-square-foot expansion of the regional airport terminal; various road and drainage projects; and a new shopping center along the city’s highway bypass.

But the densest collection of yellow stickers is in Owensboro’s rapidly recovering downtown, which after decades of decay is generating significant new entertainment, hotel, housing, retail, and office development.

Like so many other American cities after World War II, Owensboro’s pattern of residential and business development spread out from the downtown core. By the late 1970s, when the Town Square Mall opened just beyond the city’s beltway, downtown was an island of moldering buildings surrounded by a sea of surface parking lots.

Of late, though, this city of 57,265 and surrounding Daviess County, where 96,656 people live, have invested in an array of business development initiatives in health care, transportation, education, and tourism and travel that focused on making the city and county more competitive in attracting residents and businesses.

Job growth is coming from construction, an expanding medical sector, new businesses in high tech and biotechnology, and the three loan service centers of US Bank Home Mortgage.

Most improbable in this politically conservative region, more than two hours downriver from Louisville, is the $80 million tax increase that provided almost half of the $178.4 million in public and privately financed downtown development projects now under way.

The tax increase, which raised the city insurance premium tax rate to 8 percent from 4 percent, and the county rate to 8.9 percent from 4.9 percent, is paid by residents and business owners on premiums for auto, homeowners, boat and casualty insurance policies. The increase, which came after vigorous debate, was approved by a vote of 7 to 2 in February 2009 by city commissioners and the Daviess County Fiscal Court, the equivalent of a county commission.

Though the new tax revenue is producing jobs and new downtown projects, the effect of the vote on local political careers also was unmistakable. Of the seven city and county officials who voted to approve the tax increase, just two remain in office; two were defeated and three did not seek re-election in 2010.

The largest project by far is a $48 million publicly financed, 169,000-square-foot convention center overlooking the big bend in the Ohio where the city has stood since its founding in 1817. The angular steel and aluminum building, designed by Trahan Architects of Baton Rouge, La., enfolds contiguous zones of glass so the city and river are visible from almost anywhere inside. Construction is scheduled to start in February and be completed by the fall of 2013, Mayor Payne said.

Attached to the convention center by an aerial bridge is a privately financed, $20 million, 130,000-square-foot hotel with 151 rooms. The seven-story hotel, developed by the Malcolm Bryant Corporation of Owensboro, is designed with solar generating capabilities and state-of-the-art energy efficiency measures.

It is the first hotel to be built downtown since 1977 and partly replaces a 591-room hotel that was demolished in 2009. Construction is scheduled to start before the end of the year, and the completion is timed to the 2013 opening of the convention center.

“For so long we were kind of isolated,” said Mayor Payne, who is credited in Owensboro and Daviess County with leading the redevelopment. “We were kind of on a cul-de-sac. You had to be going here to get here. If anything was going to happen in this community, we were going to have to do it ourselves. We decided to reinvent this community, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Along the riverfront and on the busy blocks nearby, construction crews are completing a $40 million federally financed river wall, for flood and erosion control, and shoreline park. In addition, $52 million in city-financed projects are adding promenades, a water-jet fountain, a riverfront playground, and a host of street and sidewalk design features to invite more foot traffic, and the cafes, bars, and leisure businesses that thrive in an active downtown.

Owensboro’s downtown redevelopment also is prompting new construction and business starts in other parts of the city. Revenue from Owensboro’s occupational tax rose 7.8 percent last year, the highest on record. For seven consecutive years city government has ended the fiscal year with surpluses, most recently with $1.1 million in its general fund at the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in September, well below the national rate of about 9 percent. And in the last two years Owensboro and Daviess County added 2,400 jobs, more than any other metropolitan area in Kentucky.

One of the home-grown businesses that is adding new employees and making an investment downtown is First Security Bank, founded in Owensboro in 1997. The bank is spending nearly $3 million to convert a 1960s-era four-story, 28,000-square-foot building on Frederica Street, Owensboro’s primary north-south boulevard, into the bank’s new headquarters.

In addition the two local developers, Larry Conder and Terry Woodward, said in interviews that they were planning separate projects to build mixed-used retail and residential buildings on empty downtown lots. Mr. Woodward said in an interview that he was prepared to spend $7 million to build a five- or six-story, 50,000-square-foot residential and retail building along Veterans Boulevard. Mr. Conder is planning to start construction in the spring on a five-story, 22,000 square-foot mixed-use building with 12 residences and a 3,800 square-foot food market on the ground floor, at a cost of $3.25 million.

As an example, Mr. Conder pointed to an empty century-old brick building on Second Street that he is interested in buying. Two years ago the owner was asking $125,000 for the 2,400-square-foot building. “Now they want $350,000,” Mr. Conder said. “Prices are going up.”

Owensboro featured in the New York Times

OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - A "New York Times" times article about Owensboro hit the newsstand, and the web on Wednesday.

The article showed how Owensboro is progressing on a number of projects.

Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne says this is a good time to be living in his community.

Leaders say many bigger cities are scratching their heads at Owensboro's continued redevelopment efforts and low unemployment rate.

Owensboro, and its surrounding communities have a population of less than 100,000 but the current tally of projects underway is nearly $1-billion.

Mayor Payne says city and county staff have worked hard trying to place Owensboro on the map.

Payne says the projects are just the start, "once you start spiraling back up, that circle gets wider and wider. Because more things you do the more things you can do and we're catching the attention of this nation. "

Payne says articles published recently in the "New York Times" and "American Executive" were the kind of attention they need to attract jobs and boost the local economy.

"While I want us to be a great place for people to retire, I also want it to be a dynamic place for young people to work and raise their family," Payne explains.

Payne says leaders will continue to focus on quality of life and education projects.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cape Air flights to St. Louis will begin in December

15 Nov 2011 — Messenger-Inquirer
BY: By Joy Campbell

Cape Air will start daily flights from Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Dec. 5.

The Massachusetts-based company is set to make 18 flights per week as the airport's new Essential Air Service provider, officials announced Monday. The flights' fares will be $49.99 each way.

"This is something the airport board has been looking forward to for quite some time," Airport Manager Bob Whitmer said. "Cape Air has a sterling reputation in the airline industry and is the largest commuter airline in the U.S."

While the new airline participates in the EAS program - which means it will receive an annual subsidy of $1.529 million - "it also serves many pockets without subsidy," Whitmer said.

"They know how to operate efficiently and effectively," he said. "And they know how to market and survive."

Survival without subsidy has been a sticking point for past carriers including the current company, KentuckySkies, which notified the U.S. Department of Transportation that it would not continue providing the service without subsidy.

That set in motion the DOT's process to find a new EAS provider, and Cape Air was selected from four applicants.

"We think Cape Air will heavily market the area," Whitmer said.

The weekly departure schedule from Owensboro will be: 6 a.m. with arrival in St. Louis at 7:10 a.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. with arrival at 8:10 on Saturday; 9:30 a.m. for arrival at 10:40 a.m. Sunday; 12:12 p.m. for arrival at 1:30 p.m Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 1:25 p.m for 2:35 p.m. arrival on Saturday; 3:50 p.m. for 5 p.m. arrival Tuesday; 4:35 p.m. for arrival at 5:45 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

The St. Louis departure schedule will be: 10:30 a.m. for 11:48 a.m arrival in Owensboro on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 11:45 a.m. for arrival at 12:58 p.m. Tuesday and Saturday; 3 p.m. for 4:13 p.m. arrival on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday; 5:32 p.m. for arrival in Owensboro at 6:45 p.m. daily.

A 10-ticket discount commuter book is available for $469.

"Travelers will have many more flight opportunities and seats out of St. Louis than Louisville or Memphis," Whitmer said. "St. Louis is an ideal commuter hub."

"This is our sixth destination from St. Louis, and all of us at Cape Air are excited about being able to serve Owensboro" Cape Air Founder and CEO Dan Wolf, said in a news release. "We have seen ridership increase steadily in St. Louis, where we serve more than 70,000 passengers annually. Much of that success can be attributed to our codeshare agreement with American Airlines. This easy connection to American means you can book your entire trip on one itinerary and check your bags through to your final destination."

Cape Air also sells joint tickets and connects luggage with Delta, United, Continental, US Airways and Frontier.

The flights to St. Louis provide another option for travelers who may have been driving to Nashville or Louisville, Whitmer said.

"We have a lot of business travelers with home offices in Texas and Oklahoma - gas transmission companies, for example - and this will give them good connections for out West and provide good connections for Chicago and the northeast. This is a major benefit to the business community."

Other benefits, Whitmer said, are Cape Air's baggage agreements with major carriers, and that flights will be screened by the Transportation Security Administration in Owensboro, so that in most cases, passengers will not have to go through the process again.

"And a major factor in our selection was that you can go online to Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity or any of those travel sites and get ticket prices and tickets," he said. "That is a tremendous advantage."

CapeAir's participation in the global distribution system gives people traveling to and from Owensboro numerous options for checking connections and prices.

Reservations may be made at 866-Cape-Air or online at

The carrier also plans to open a local office, probably downtown.

Cape Air is an employee-owned company flying to destinations that include New England, New York, the Carribean, Florida, the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Micronesia.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Airpark space ready for business

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, November 11, 2011 12:35 AM CST

U.S. Bank Home Mortgage will start conducting business in the second phase of its new building in the Mid-America Airpark on Monday.

And the company expects to continue to add jobs at “a much more measured pace” in the coming months, said Bob Smiley, the mortgage company’s executive vice president.

About 300 people have been hired since July 2010 when corporate, city and state officials announced 500 more jobs would be added through their partnership.

Originally, the mortgage company expected to hire 500 people by 2014, but it probably will reach that number much sooner than that, Smiley said.

The city of Owensboro and the state are providing incentives for the growing mortgage company based on its adding 500 jobs to its 1,000-plus work force in Owensboro.

Part of the city’s incentive package was to build the 81,300-square-foot financial services office building on the southwest corner of Tamarack and Carter roads for the mortgage company to lease.

The construction was planned in two phases with the mortgage company’s growth triggering the timing for the expansion.

The company moved into 47,900 square feet of space on March 28 of this year and was ready to start Phase II of the economic development project by June, Smiley said.

“In Phase II, we’ll have about 275 spots, but we’ll be relocating about 220 people from the Frederica Street and Moreland,” he said. “So, we’ll have room for expansion in all of our locations.

We’ve been holding off on some new hires because of space.”

Smiley said he’s pleased with the new building and the partnership with the city.

“The new section is a duplicate of the first phase except for the center where we have our administrative offices and training room to serve the entire facility,” he said. “If you walk into the building today, you wouldn’t know it was built in phases.”

The price tag for Phase I of the call center was $4.87 million. A&K Construction of Paducah won the original bid to construct it, and the company’s proposal included the 33,400-square-foot add-on for Phase II at a cost of $2.8 million.

“A & K did a great job and were on budget and on schedule,” said Tony Cecil, the city’s operations manager.”We contracted with a local architectural firm, RBS Design of Owensboro, to do our project management, and that helped tremendously. They always had eyes on it.”

The expansion features work space for more personnel and restrooms.

“Working with U.S. Bank has been a pleasant experience,” Cecil said. “It went better than we anticipated. We don’t typically do a lot of joint ventures, so to have this public-private partnership to be so successful is encouraging for future partnerships.”

The mortgage company has had good luck in filling positions, Smiley said.

U.S. Bank now has openings throughout the mortgage business, he said. Applications are available online at

State and city incentives for the project amount to $6 million. U.S. Bank has said it intends to invest $14.1 million at the location.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Study: Owensboro a high performing small metro

A new U.S. jobs growth report lists Owensboro as a “high performance” small metro based on summer employment trend data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Headlight, LLC, which provides economic and workforce development companies with data and software systems, conducted the analysis.

Owensboro’s annualized growth from June to September was 5.8 percent, and its actual growth was 1.4 percent.

The study also provides a look at how close cities are to their employment status in December 2007 — the start of the recession. Owensboro has a 1.9 percent deficit. This data indicates it would take Owensboro 17 months to get back to the December 2007 employment level.

“Any time you look at comparable data to see where other communities like ours are, and we’re in the top quartile, that’s good,” said Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. “And any time someone labels you a high-performing metro, it’s a good thing. It shows we have growth, actual and projected.”

The report analyzed 386 metros — 269 were categorized as small. Owensboro fit the criteria of a “micropolitan” area as defined by the BLS. This group has an average population of 50,000-60,000 but can be as high as 195,000. And they are typically single-county “ex-urbs” that can be located close to large metros.

The report is organized by population size.

Only a couple of other Kentucky metros show up in the study.

Louisville-Jefferson County is a “high performance” metro in the medium category for summer 2011. It’s annualized growth was 4.7 percent; actual growth 1.2 percent. It has a greater deficit from -- or further to go to get back to -- the prerecession employment level than Owensboro does. Its rate is -3.4 percent, meaning it could take 37 months to reach that December 2007 point.

The conversion of the job deficit data into “months remaining” to reach the prerecession rate does not suggest that the recovery will take this long, the study states. It is another data point of reference on the speed of the recovery.

The study also shows that 45 percent of the small metros still were in crisis during the summer. And 41 percent of medium and 35 percent of large metros also showed negative job growth.

Elizabethtown ranked in the bottom 5 percent showing -2.9 percent actual job growth.

“That’s almost half the small cities that were in recession this summer,” Brake said. “If you look at the average job growth by metro size, the top 25 percent are doing pretty well, and the bottom are doing really poorly.”

The report indicates that Owensboro has a good strategy in diversifying its economy and pursuing different options for growth including “quality of place and quality of life,” Brake said.

Not surprising, Brake said, is that it also shows a corollary -- many cities in the top 25 are college cities or are focused on quality of place or quality of life issues.

“They’re focused on creating a strong workforce, attracting young people and attracting entrepreneurs,” he said. “Anything we can do to focus on aligning with this sector is important.”

“While growth has appeared slow but steady for the nation, the recovery has been far from uniform across metros in the U.S.,” the study synopsis states.

The public release about Headlight’s growth report is at

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bryant unveils hotel design

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, November 4, 2011 2:07 PM CDT

Developer Malcolm Bryant unveiled the final design and site plan for a seven-story, 151-room hotel on Owensboro’s riverfront Thursday that will feature walls of glass on one corner and a full-service restaurant with outdoor seating on another. It will contain about 120,000 square feet and guests will be greeted by a wall covered with flowing water in an expansive lobby with 14-foot to 18-foot ceilings, outfitted with original art.

The hotel, to be a high-end, convention-class Hampton Inn & Suites costing $20 million, will be 85 to 90 feet high. The restaurant will face the Ohio River and the Mitch McConnell Plaza, according to Bryant. A ground floor retail store of 3,800 square feet that Bryant envisions as an place to buy products made only in Kentucky will also have a river view.

A third of the hotel’s rooms will be suites. When finished, it will be downtown’s tallest building and will match the number of stories of the former Executive Inn Rivermont’s central tower, the hotel it will replace.

Bryant said his company, Malcolm Bryant Corp., hopes to break ground on the hotel by January. It is set to open in late 2013. Bryant unveiled the plans for the hotel at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster breakfast at Owensboro Christian Church, calling it a one-off design unlike any other Hilton property.

“Hilton looks at this as a unique property, special for Owensboro,” Bryant said. “It’s not copied off anything else.”

Bryant stressed that the design of the hotel creates a good transition from the $48.4 million convention center to the hotel and to the rest of the revitalized downtown area east of the hotel.

“Our job was to transition from the events center to the rest of downtown and I think we’ve done an excellent job of that,” Bryant said.

Other planned amenities for the hotel include an indoor swimming pool, spa and fitness center, a second-story bridge connecting to the adjacent convention center, three elevators, a 13,000-square-foot commons area and second-floor meeting rooms. Veterans Boulevard will run in front of the hotel between it and the Ohio River, with a large grassy area separating the hotel from the river’s edge. The south side of the hotel will face Second Street and resemble the front, with an exterior mixing stone, brick masonry, glass and balconies. The hotel parking lot on Second Street will have 150 spaces and a charging station for electric cars. In a further nod to green technology, the hotel will

have solar energy panels. Bryant said it would be a environmentally green project and Kentucky’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified hotel.

Bryant thanked local elected leaders for insisting on a well-done revitalization plan for downtown.

“They recognized that we need to do it well,” he said. “If we don’t do it well, it’s not worth doing. It’s too competitive out there. Our political leaders have understood that.”

Bryant said the new location of the hotel fronting the Ohio River allows it to take advantage of the community’s greatest asset. Originally, the hotel was planned for the corner of Frederica and Second streets, where the state office building now sits. The plan now is to convert the state building to a bluegrass center.

Mayor Ron Payne, who introduced Bryant, said the hotel design “far exceeds our expectations.”

“We’ve talked about the Wow factor and Malcolm has been the biggest proponent of that,” Payne said. “He certainly followed his own advice. What he has proposed will impress anybody who comes to Owensboro.”

Payne thanked Independence Bank, which is providing a loan to Bryant to build the hotel.

“I want to recognize Independence Bank for stepping up and financing the hotel,” he said.

Local residential developer Benny Clark was at Thursday’s presentation and complimented the design of the hotel.

“I love the architecture and how it blends with the convention center,” Clark said.

Cindy Mulligan, a board member of the Impact 100 organization, said Bryant’s hotel will compare with hotels she has seen in other cities.

“I love the outdoor dining,” she said.

When the meeting ended, a string of people lined up to congratulate Bryant, with several saying they were looking forward to the hotel opening for business.

Steve Vied, 691-7297,

Daviess Co. the next Silicon Valley?

By Dave Kirk


Business Insider magazine has put Daviess County on a 20 county list that could be the next Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley sits in Northern California. It's where Apple computers were born.

"Silicon Valley is really the hub of innovation for the United States," says Madison Silvert of EDC.

What does Owensboro have to do with silicon valley?

Business experts say in the future, Owensboro could be the next Silicon Valley for several reasons.

"They have access to higher education, they have an innovative spirit, they're nice communities, moderately sized. Quality of life is one of those things that you absolutely have to have to be able to attract the talent that is necessary to promote high-tech growth," Silvert says.

Along with lower than average unemployment rates, Hollison Technologies CEO Kevin Humphrey says Owensboro's Center for Business and Research is a big reason why he thinks Owensboro made Business Insider's cut.

"Often entrepreneurs are people with good ideas. May not be um well suited to run their own business yet and need guidance in places and that being available is a wonderful tool."

"We're creating a bio-technology sector here in food and medical in pharmaceuticals specifically plant made pharmaceuticals where you can see some of the advancements that could be made in this kind of high tech environment. The seeds have been planted," Silvert says.

Daviess County was the only county in Kentucky that made business insider's list.