A divided Owensboro City Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to go ahead with plans to construct a 400-foot permanent boat dock near the Owensboro Convention Center, with commissioners in support saying the dock would benefit downtown restaurants and hotels and generate revenue in fuel sales.
Mayor Pro Tem Larry Maglinger and commissioners Bob Glenn and Jeff Sanford supported the project, while Mayor Tom Watson and Commissioner Mark Castlen opposed.
Assistant City Manager Lelan Hancock said the estimated cost of the dock is $9.5 million. The dock plan includes electrical hookups for boats, a fuel station to refuel boats and waste disposal. The dock would have 40 to 60 spaces for boats to moor, Hancock said.
The idea of a permanent boat dock has been around for years, but discussions have become more focused in recent months. The estimated cost was $6 million earlier this year. The city did not receive the federal grant it hoped would cover part of the project costs, and the cost of production materials has increased since the earlier estimate was given.
The city would potentially pay for the project with 20-year bonds, City Manager Nate Pagan said. If the city goes that route, those bonds would also cover the cost of building an indoor sports complex. The financing won’t be finalized for a few months, Pagan said.
Maglinger, who has been the main proponent of the dock plan, said having a permanent dock would draw boaters from Evansville, Henderson and Louisville, and it potentially could serve thousands of local boaters.
“Owensboro has been a boating destination for years,” although that declined after the Executive Inn Rivermont closed, Maglinger said. But now, the private businesses have invested $200 million in downtown, but the city “still does not have access” from the river to downtown, he said.
“We know there are 4,390 registered boats in Daviess County,” Maglinger said, and at four people per boat, “17,500 people could visit our river while boating.”
Having a dock means large boats from Louisville would visit the city and buy hundreds of gallons of fuel, Maglinger said. The dock “will attract tourism and generate revenue for our entire community.”
Sanford said a dock is “a piece that’s missing” from downtown.
In 2015, commissioners and then-Mayor Ron Payne considered building a boat dock, but opted not to move forward. Sanford said the city is in the place where it can afford the boat dock project.
“If we were not in the financial situation we are in, I would not be for it, but we are,” he said. “I think people will use it, and I think people will come.”
Glenn said the dock could be used for city events, such as fishing tournaments, and that it’s logical to assume boaters stopping at the dock would visit downtown restaurants and hotels.
“The cost isn’t ideal, but if you wait and another commission deals with it, it will be even more expensive,” he said.
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Commissioner Mark Castlen said he doubted the dock would be much of an economic draw, and that many of the registered boats in the region are small fishing boats. At the estimated $9.5 million price tag, “it’s just too much money for too few people to enjoy it,” Castlen said.
Castlen said other organizations could benefit from that level of funding, and said, “$9.5 million could so much around this city.
“We had our senior center come to us for money, and we allocated only $3 million for them,” Castlen said, and now the city was proposing to spend three times that for a dock.
The city’s contribution to the proposed senior center project comes from American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Castlen said it seemed the commissioners had “turned our back” on seniors. Castlen suggested a smaller, temporary dock that could be removed from the river.
“There are other options out there that would save money and be nice,” he said, “and I don’t think they have been reviewed.”
Watson said the cost of the project has increased as time has gone on.
“When we first started talking about this, we started at $5 million,” Watson said. “I think it’s a poor return on investment for our community.”
To the argument that the city could afford the project, Watson said, “I think we spend money wisely at the time we need to spend money.”
Watson said, “I feel it’s a bridge too far ... to spend almost $10 million on a transient boat dock.”
After the vote, Owensboro resident Kim Kingsley said her family boats at Lake Barkley, but that she would take advantage of being able to boat closer to home.
“I would love to be able to say, ‘let’s meet on the riverfront,’ ” Kingsley said. “I not only support (the dock) for my family, but for the other families that love boating in this area.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse