City seeking developers for Gabe's Tower

Lelan Hancock

The city is giving developers one last chance to save Gabe's Tower from demolition.

A legal notice in Sunday's Messenger-Inquirer says the city is requesting proposals "for the acquisition and total rehabilitation of the former Gabe's Tower."

The deadline for proposals is 3 p.m. Nov. 7.

"We're going to give professional developers one more opportunity to do something with it before we move to demolish it," Lelan Hancock, assistant city manager, said Monday.

The building, which originally housed Gabe's Tower Inn, will be 56 years old on Nov. 16.

When it opened in 1963, it was the tallest building in Kentucky west of Louisville, and more than 10,000 people stood in line to tour it on opening day.

But it has been empty since 2005.

Hancock said the city has sent the request for proposals to several development companies that the city has worked with in the past.

"These are several larger groups outside Owensboro," he said.

The building only has a few parking spaces, which causes a problem with redevelopment.

Hancock said a developer would have to purchase additional parking if a project is put together.

"But that is what developers do," he said.

Getting the building redeveloped would put it back on the tax rolls.

Last month, the city took possession of the 13-story silo-shaped building at 1926 Triplett St. from Bob Zimmerman, who had owned it since 2017.

Zimmerman said he received $165,000 after the mortgage was paid.

Mayor Tom Watson said at the time of the transaction that his preference is to demolish the building and move the bus transit station there.

Hancock said the Triplett Twist redevelopment project in that section of the city may make it more attractive to developers.

Gabe's Shopping Center next door to the tower is undergoing an $894,00 facelift as part of that project.

Including the shopping center, the city is spending $2.6 million in federal money within the Triplett Twist to improve the appearance of buildings.

Was a marvel in its day

In its day, the 120-room was a marvel of the age.

It's 12th-floor restaurant -- Gabe's Atop The Tower -- was credited with being Kentucky's first high-rise restaurant.

But once the Executive Inn Rivermont, which was razed in 2009, opened in 1977, Gabe's glory days were over after only 14 years.

Owensboro Business College bought the tower in 1978 and converted it to offices, classrooms and a few hotel rooms for special occasions.

But that didn't last long.

In 1983, the college sold the hotel to two Nashville men -- Frank Davis and Bert Ferguson. They spent more than $100,000 on renovations, got a Best Western franchise and reopened the tower as a hotel.

Then, in June 1986, Senior Adult Ministries Inc. of Asheville, N.C., announced plans to buy the property and convert it to an apartment complex for the elderly. The group, which was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, sought $5 million in tax-free industrial revenue bonds from the city.

In October 1987, the church group reactivated the project with plans to spend $1.9 million converting the hotel into an apartment complex to be called Franklin Oaks. It was to have its own library, music room and arts and crafts area.

But the plans fell through, and the hotel closed in the fall of 1988.

It sat empty for three years.

Then, with a surge in local tourism, Davis and Ferguson reopened the Tower Motor Inn.

But again it didn't last long.

A few years later, it was sold to the National Foundation for Retirement and Housing Preservation, which also had plans to convert the property to apartments for senior citizens.

In 1997, Cyprus Connection Inc., a local group headed by George Christodoulou, bought the tower for $408,000, hoping to bring back its glory days.

Two years later, it became a Knights Inn.

And in 2001, the name was changed to Sun Hotel.

In 2005, Cyprus Connection sold it to Regency Tower LLC and its managing partner, David Mirani, who announced plans to convert the property into luxury condos.

But by November of that year, Cyprus Connection was suing Mirani, saying he had yet to make the first payment on the property.

And Mirani was ordered to stop operating the facility as a hotel because of water and phone service problems. He was later convicted of operating a hotel without a license and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

In 2006, Sherajul Hoque of Madisonville bought the building at auction for $263,000.

He was never able to reopen it as a hotel.

In May 2013, a Levittown, Pennsylvania, group bought the building for $185,000 with plans to spend $6 million to restore it as a hotel.

But that never happened.

And in 2017, Zimmerman bought the building and nearby property for $500,000.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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