The Owensboro City Commission approved a one-year, $80,000 contract with a local consulting firm during its regular meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.
Through a municipal order, which did not require two readings, the city entered into an agreement with Fred Reeves and David Johnson, who own a consulting and strategic planning group called A+ Leadership.
Prior to the vote, Reeves said he and Johnson have been preparing for the task on the chance they were awarded the job.
“We’ve already been thinking, working and talking to people,” said Reeves, who served as the downtown development director from February 2008 to February 2011. “We’ve already been informally putting together some strategies and some ideas of things that need to be explored. But we will begin as soon as the contract is in place.”
As a former city commissioner, Johnson was an advocate for downtown revitalization and voted in favor of the insurance premium tax increase that spurred the initial development.
Johnson said the downtown area has come a long way but there are missing components such as affordable housing.
“In doing this, I’m going to take the same philosophy from when I was an elected official,” Johnson said. “And that’s you can’t ever stop improving. I think we made huge, enormous improvements when we voted the tax in. … But in the beginning, we knew the toughest and most important piece was going to be the housing component.”
A+ Leadership is the same company the city employed to oversee Mayor Tom Watson’s OBKY project in 2018, which came at a cost of $40,000. The firm was hired to find low-cost solutions that further the city's progress downtown.
And one of the priorities that came from the OBKY project was to make the downtown area more residential friendly with affordable housing, shops and other amenities.
Watson said it will take working full-time to make the livability plan happen, but that no one from the city — elected or paid staff — has that time to dedicate to the initiative.
Watson added that Reeves and Johnson have the experience and the connections to help bring about the residential piece that’s currently missing from the revitalization efforts.
“The onus is on them to think about what we can do to finish out this project downtown,” Watson said. “… A lot of times when downtown development is done, it does very well during the day; it does very well during work hours, but people go home. So the thought is can we get some folks to live downtown so we can continue this revitalization project.”
Johnson said he and Reeves will be giving the downtown livability initiative their full attention.
“We are giving up most of outside consulting work,” Johnson said. “We agreed with the City Commission that we wouldn’t take on any other jobs. … We’re not doing it for the money; we’re doing it because we really want to see the community grow, the downtown to continue to develop and reach its full potential.”
Don Wilkins, email@example.com, 270-691-7299