Owensboro at a Glance
Location: Western Kentucky on the Ohio River
Access: New Interstate 165 spur off interstates 65 and 64; Owensboro/Daviess Country Regional Airport
Hotel Rooms: 1,000
Owensboro Convention Center
Built: 2014, café area complete renovation several years ago
Exhibit Space: 102,000 square feet total meeting space, 44,096 square feet of exhibit hall space
Other Meeting Spaces: 14 total meeting and breakout rooms
Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Owensboro Waterfront
Guest Rooms: 150
Meeting Space: 2,425 square feet
Holiday Inn Owensboro Riverfront
Guest Rooms: 123, including 10 single king suites
Meeting Space: 1,400 square feet, plus a boardroom for 10
Who’s Meeting in Owensboro
Kentucky United Methodists
Kentucky Bar Association
Owensboro, Kentucky, has come a long way since its 1797 beginnings as a cabin on the Ohio River. This contemporary city has undergone a remarkable downtown makeover and is known for its bourbon, bluegrass and barbecue, all of which make it an attractive destination for meeting planners and attendees.
While Owensboro pitmasters have been racking up fans for their barbecued mutton and burgoo since 1834, bourbon and bluegrass in the city continue to carve out their own niches. The iconic Green River Distilling Company, the 10th-oldest in the state, has released a new bourbon that’s making waves, and the city last year was named Bluegrass Music Capital of the World after building a new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum that’s drawing crowds from all over the globe.
All the while, Owensboro’s kudos keep rolling in like the river keeps rolling by.
The $47 million Owensboro Convention Center has earned a host of awards and media accolades, including being named one of Exhibitor magazine’s 2022 Centers of Excellence, honoring North America’s top 30 convention centers for trade shows and events.
The center was part of a 2001 proposal that transformed Owensboro’s Riverfront District at lightning speed. Goals of the urban-mix approach were to build a world-class, user-friendly riverfront; encourage downtown development and business; and promote the city as a riverboat destination. Sculpting a new personality along the way, the project accomplished its goals. One is the expansive $67 million Smothers Park and Promenade along the riverfront.
Not part of the riverfront remake, RiverPark Center opened in 1992 on the Ohio. The nearly 100,000-square foot venue hosts Broadway shows and concerts, has myriad event spaces and meeting rooms, and is home to the Owensboro Symphony.
Voted an All-American City the year the billion-dollar revamp came to fruition, Owensboro has been named a “Top 10 Music City Destination” by Brand USA, and Rolling Stone called it one of seven “Must-Visit Places Country Music Fans Should Flock to Now.”
The city is an easy place to visit and to meet.
“Once you park your car, you can walk to the Convention Center, meet, then walk to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, downtown restaurants, boutiques and breweries,” said Dave Kirk, director of destination management for Visit Owensboro. “Everything you might want to do here is within about a two-mile radius.”
Located across the street from the Owensboro Convention Center, the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum honors the musical genre’s history, regularly features live Bluegrass performances and even encourages visitors to play display instruments. Its multiple meeting spaces include a 2,230-square-foot lobby; a 477-seat theater; an outdoor stage and grassy area for 1,500; and a third-floor, 4,000-plus-square-foot ballroom and 990-square-foot balcony, all with unobstructed river and downtown views.
“Guests can take a guided tour of the museum during breakout sessions or cocktail hours,” said Lindsey Hart, event sales manager.
At Green River Distilling Company, one of the most historic landmarks on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, groups can incorporate bourbon tastings into their event. Established in 1885, the distillery survived a devastating fire, Prohibition, multiple owners and dormancy before reopening in 2014 under the talented eye of eighth-generation master distiller Jacob Call.
Green River Distilling Company has two major gathering spaces. The first is the 9,000-square-foot Bottling House, a rustic piece of distillery history that holds 350 people for seated dinners and balls. The second is an expansive, several-acre grassy area, with room for tents and stages, and the company’s clay-tile rickhouses and distillery as backdrop.
An Owensboro city treasure, the Western Kentucky Botanical Gardens features event spaces that provide a breath of fresh air for meeting attendees. Nestled among 13 specialty gardens are a cottage with varying-capacity suites, an education building with 36 capacity, and a gorgeous 1840s home.
Groups can attend plant-centric programs and classes.
Major Meeting Spaces
Built less than a decade ago, the award-winning Owensboro Convention Center shines with 102,000 square feet of meeting, event and reception space that can host groups of five to 3,000. In the heart of the downtown River District, the contemporary building features soaring ceilings, state-of-the-art technology and acoustics, stunning art, expansive windows and plentiful natural light. A 16,453-square-foot lobby seats 890 for a banquet, while two 13,000-plus-square-foot ballrooms can accommodate 910 guests each.
Constructed on the footprint of the Executive Inn Rivermont, the convention center has an outdoor terrace and the remarkable outdoor Kentucky Legend Pier. Overlooking the Ohio River, this 8,925-square-foot venue is the old hotel’s reimagined lounge stage that once hosted such greats as Ray Charles and the Beach Boys. The structure accommodates 1,000 theater-style.
“Our in-house food and beverage team can customize any menu a planner might be looking for, including dietary needs or restrictions of a guest,” said director of marketing Jeannette Goins.
Owensboro Convention Center recently added an ice rink and a multi-purpose sports floor.
Next to the center on one side is the 150-room, LEED-certified Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Owensboro Waterfront — known as “the nicest Hampton Inn in America,” thanks to local developers. On the other side is the 123-room Holiday Inn Owensboro Riverfront. Across the street from all three, a Home2 Suites by Hilton with about 400 rooms will open in 2023.
With numerous restaurants nearby, attendees can walk, hop aboard a free downtown trolley or stay and eat at the center.
After the Meeting
Summer nights on the Ohio Riverfront rock with free concerts on eight outdoor stages at Friday Night Live, named one of Kentucky’s “Top Ten Festivals.”
Thanks to its three stops on the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail, Owensboro is known as the Barbecue Capital of the World by area aficionados. Included are Old Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que, begun in 1918 by Charles “Pappy” Foreman, whose sixth generation still runs it, and Pappy Bosley’s Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, started in 1963. Ditto for his descendants. Both legendary joints specialize in low and slow, hickory-smoked barbecue — mutton in particular — as well as burgoo.
For folks new to the cuisine, Moonlite’s lunch buffet is a great way to try everything.
After a grandiose facelift, a former elementary school has morphed into Preservation Station Market and Event Center. The building houses 39,000 square feet of antique, boutique and vintage shopping in 60-plus former classrooms. A 100-seat Southern restaurant serves bourbon burgers and a superb Sunday breakfast.
The perfect place for attendees and their spouses to chill, SIP Wine Room offers the opportunity to experience its extensive wine list by the bottle, glass, half-glass or ounce in a bright, contemporary riverside setting. Craft beer is on tap, and the bourbon list is impressive. Guests can sip indoors on comfy couches or on an outdoor patio.
“We call Owensboro the most picturesque bend on the Ohio River,” Kirk said. “Once you’ve been here, you’ll want to bring your family back.”