When Mayor Tom Watson took office in 2017, he was determined to get citizen input on ideas that could improve the quality of life in our community but would also be at minimal cost — or even revenue neutral — for city government. He thought it best to engage groups across the community to gather input and ideas — and he called it the OBKY Project.

A series of group conversations occurred over several months in the Commerce Center. One common idea among groups that ranged from retirees to high school students to business leaders and young professionals was the need for things to do in the wintertime. We all know that summer in Owensboro is booked wall-to-wall with programming. We shine in the summer. But went it comes to winter… not so much.

An idea that was repeatedly brought up was to resurrect Winter Wonderland, started under Zev Buffman when he led the RiverPark Center. Ice skating outdoors with the Ohio River and the Blue Bridge as backdrops created a destination for families and people from every generation. Even if you couldn’t skate, you could enjoy sitting by the rink, listening to holiday music and watching people enjoy their time. It created a sense of place. It went away, as things often do with changes of leadership, and it left a void.

When going through the lists of discussion ideas and realizing that the ice skating and winter events were in every session, David Johnson and Dr. Fred Reeves, the OBKY project coordinators, began looking for best practices.

Once they identified an opportunity for the materials, the location and a possible management structure — with the assistance and leadership of city staff and the convention center staff — it was time to determine how to fund the project without taxpayer dollars.

Owensboro is beyond fortunate to be the birthplace of three natural gas companies and the headquarters for one. They are known for their philanthropic leadership and their ability to make things happen. To get the project to the level where it could be presented, great community-focused marketing minds were needed. Dave Kirk from Visit Owensboro quickly got to work on a name, drone shots of possible locations and a presentation... and Energy on Ice was ready for the next step.

Buzz Backstrom from Boardwalk Pipelines, Mark Martin from Atmos Energy and Jimmy Staton, CEO of Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline, were committed from the outset. And when the project total increased, Staton and his wife, Karen, stepped up to fund the remainder with their Staton Family Foundation.

And on Friday — nearly two years after the initial meeting — the official ribbon-cutting was held.

Why is it important to tell this story? Because it is a perfect example of a myriad of partners from public and private sectors coming together to do something special. It is a story of business leadership and personal generosity.

Not every project has to be a multi-million dollar investment. The smaller quality of life projects create a sense of community. And hopefully they present a challenge to create the next idea.

Everything is doable when people from across our great community come together to make it happen.

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