The Owensboro City Commission, at its regular meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 19, will be voting on a contract that would hire a local consulting firm to help create a downtown livability plan.
Mayor Tom Watson confirmed that Fred Reeves and David Johnson, who own a consulting and strategic planning group called A+ Leadership, have agreed to the contract, which will pay their company a total of $80,000 for a term of one year.
Watson said that neither the elected city commission members nor the paid staff has the time to figure out how to bring more people downtown to live.
"It just seemed logical; they know Owensboro; they know the people, and they understand what we're trying to achieve," Watson said. "… They'll set the agenda and hopefully have some opportunities we don't know about."
A+ Leadership is the same company the city employed to oversee 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.
Johnson is a former city commissioner and retired in 2016 as chief operations officer of Owensboro Public Schools.
Reeves served as the downtown development director from February 2008 to February 2011. He also worked in the OPS system and retired from there in 1990.
The city commissioners -- Pam Smith-Wright, Larry Conder, Jeff Sanford and Larry Maglinger -- said they have not yet read the finished contract but were aware that it was A+ Leadership the mayor tapped for this latest initiative.
Sanford has advocated revising the Article 21 zoning ordinance that currently prohibits residential living on the first floors of buildings within the downtown sector.
But he would also like to see more affordable housing west of the Owensboro Convention Center.
"People would love to live downtown," Sanford said. "But the price of property … has gone through the roof. So it's a double-edged sword. It's good on property values, but it's bad on livability."
Conder currently lives downtown and rents residential space in the same area.
Conder said he was comfortable with Johnson and Reeves leading this livability initiative.
"I hope that this is the beginning of making sure the energy of our downtown continues in a bigger and better way at least for the next 10 or 20 years," said Conder, who added that he would abstain from voting on any recommendations from this initiative that could be seen as benefiting him.
Smith-Wright said she's in favor of having A+ Leadership to help figure out how to create affordable housing.
But Smith-Wright said a fast-food chain and a small grocery would also help with downtown livability.
"We didn't realize, in hindsight, that property was going to be as expensive as it is," she said. "… But I think one of the other key things we need is like a McDonald's. In bigger cities, they don't have that facade and you don't even know it's a McDonald's. (It's) a place where people can run in and get something to go."
Maglinger said he has confidence in A+ Leadership's ability to bring viable options to the City Commission.
"I'm looking forward to them getting started; I think it's something that will be really good," Maglinger said.
The contract to hire A+ Leadership will be a municipal order and will not require two readings.
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299