Officials confident 2020 will bring strong local economy

Photo by Greg Eans, | local investors bought Town Square Mall in December for $5.15 million with plans to redevelop it with community input. This and other large projects are planned in the future as officials see a strong local economic outlook for the ‘20s.

The '20s in Owensboro are expected to roar, local officials say.

Developer Jack Wells, the incoming board chair of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, is so confident in a strong local economy in 2020 that he joined with several other local investors in December to buy Towne Square Mall for $5.15 million with plans to redevelop it.

"I think the economy in our region is very strong," Wells said recently. "I don't see that changing in 2020. We will have a recession at some point, but I don't think it will be in 2020. We have a pretty diverse economy here. We typically buck the highs and lows in the economy."

Brittaney Johnson, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., agreed.

"We have several active projects that we are carrying into 2020," she said. "There are five existing Daviess County companies we are working with to expand their existing footprint."

That's in addition to Kimberly Clark and Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline, both of which won preliminary approval from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority for their expansion plans on Dec. 12.

And, Johnson said, "We are working with five new prospects that are interested in locating to Daviess County."

"Owensboro is a true gem," she said. "As we approach 2020, we plan to continue collaborating with our community partners in developing a shared vision for the future. Owensboro has great potential for growth related to the business landscape and economic success of people and families. We will continue to help our existing businesses thrive, grow the talent pipeline, recreate the Small Business Development Center, develop an entrepreneurship ecosystem and market the Daviess County region to the world."

"We expect next year to be another year of steady, incremental growth, which is a positive trend that Owensboro has enjoyed for several years," Candance Castlen Brake, president and CEO of the chamber of commerce, said of the new year.

"The real estate market continues to be healthy and several projects will continue to move forward, including downtown placemaking," she said. "We are continuing to hear from people who are in the process of relocating to or moving back to Owensboro. We think it is probable that we will continue to buck the national trend and see additional population growth."

Laura Alexander, general manager of both the Owensboro Convention Center and the Sportscenter, said, "I suspect we will end 2020 with more conventions than we had in 2019."

There were 12 conventions last year.

Alexander said 11 have already been confirmed for 2020 and another four are studying the convention center's proposals.

"2020 is going to be an exciting year for Owensboro and Daviess County," said Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The CVB is proactively selling Owensboro and encouraging meeting and travel planners to look at the unique experiences we have."

He said, "The Owensboro Convention Center and the CVB have increased our intensity in pursuing new events that not only fill the center but create an economic windfall for local restaurants, gas stations and hotels. One new conference is the Kentucky Association for Economic Development in May. This conference will bring economic development professionals from across the state and allow us the opportunity to showcase Owensboro and Daviess County."

Calitri said the CVB is working with the convention center to upgrade the OMG!con gathering in June -- one of the city's largest conventions -- "and improve the marketing, all with the goal of increasing this event's economic impact. It's run by a group of volunteers. We're trying to find a local event manager to work with them."

'Cool national event'

And, he said, "We also are close to announcing a cool national event leading up to ROMP."

The CVB is also working to brand Owensboro as both "Kentucky's Music City" and "the cultural and culinary leader in Western Kentucky."

Sonya Dixon, spokeswoman for Owensboro Municipal Utilities, said several big projects are planned for 2020.

She said the expansion of the William Cavin Water Treatment Plant is a $46 million to $48 million project.

"Probably $17.8 million of it will be next year," Dixon said in December.

Decommissioning of the Elmer Smith power station will be about $15.6 million this year.

"These are huge projects," Dixon said. "And we'll spend about $2.2 million for expansion of our home internet service to an area with 3,800 homes."

Daviess County schools will be spending about $42 million on a new Daviess County Middle School and about $22 million on an expansion of Apollo High School.

In April, Duke Spirits, a company that makes bourbon and rye based on actor John Wayne's 1962 handwritten recipes, will be opening its Duke Tasting Room and John Wayne Experience at Owensboro's O.Z. Tyler Distillery, which crafts the products.

That should be a major boost for tourism, Calitri said.

Mall redevelopment 'big thing'

Mayor Tom Watson said repurposing Towne Square Mall will "be a big thing" in 2020.

The city, he said, is "land starved."

Watson said, "We need to find ways to expand to the west. We need to get businesses to invest in the opportunity zone. If we could put together enough land for a megasite, we could try to draw more industry. The new hotel will be something to hang our hats on. It will create more convention business. And we need to bring in better paying jobs."

Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said 2020 will be a big year there.

He said he's in early talks with producers about developing a cable television series with live music from the Hall of Fame, maybe as early as fall.

Western Kentucky University Public Broadcasting's "Lost River Sessions" taped a concert at the Hall last year for radio.

And they're considering taping more concerts at the Hall for both radio and television, Joslin said.

"The television shows are distributed to other PBS stations," he said.

SiriusXM satellite radio is talking about broadcasting special events live from the Hall in 2020, Joslin said.

And Chris Thile will be taping his National Public Radio show, "Live From Here," which has a 2 million-member audience, at ROMP in June.

Wells said he and Matt Hayden will be working on several projects in 2020.

"We're finalizing the design plans for the new downtown hotel and apartment complex," he said "We plan to start construction in early spring on the hotel. The parking structure will be built with the apartments."

The 120-room Home2 Suites by Hilton and the 200 apartments are expected to rise 10 to 12 stories above Second Street.

"It's a huge project," Wells said.

More retail

Wells and Hayden are also developing The Shoppes at 3800 Frederica on the old Texas Gas property at Frederica Street and Tamarack Road.

"We'll be announcing a convenience store there soon," Wells said. "We're talking to a couple of other businesses about moving to that site. The back of the property near Town & Country subdivision will be apartments. We'll get the apartments downtown built before we start on that."

Between 200 and 250 apartments are planned at The Shoppes.

The old Texas Gas building on the property has already been gutted, Wells said.

"Now, we're ready to start on the outside," he said. "We'll make our own little twist to it like we did the Alorica Building downtown."

Hayden said, "We could have a large announcement there soon."

Wells said, "The mall is a great opportunity. We're looking for the right tenants. It's a great building with 35 acres. We're going to seek community input in what they want to see there."

He said, "Retail on south Frederica is limited. The retail market has changed since 1978 (when the mall was built). At least half of the space in the mall will be repurposed. But it can still be a destination."

Hayden said he expects a couple of retail announcements at Gateway Commons in January and February, followed by a couple of restaurants.

"We pulled off a lot in the past 12 months," he said. "But there's more coming."

Wells said, "I thought 2019 was busy. But 2020 will be even busier."

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301,

(1) comment

Mark Calitri

Great to read about the positive momentum Owensboro is generating-Mark Calitri

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