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Owensboro makes its return

Photos courtesy Owensboro Convention Center

After nearly five years of planning and millions of dollars in downtown investment, Owensboro, Ky., is ready to entertain guests along its river again, and the city expects many of those guests to be meeting delegates.

A preview event in mid-October introduced meeting planners and the media to the western Kentucky city’s new Owensboro Convention Center and other related developments.

Guests took a hard-hat tour of the convention center and adjacent 270-room Hampton Inn, both of which will open in January, and a walking tour of the revitalized riverfront district in the town of 100,000, 40 miles southeast of Evansville, Ind., and 133 miles north of Nashville, Tenn.

Key in downtown redevelopment
When the convention center opens, it will be a milestone in a downtown redevelopment program that began in 2009 with the demolition of an outdated Executive Inn hotel.  For years, that hotel brought meetings and conventions to Owensboro.

“In all reality, we’ve been out of the statewide meeting and convention equation here in Owensboro for about eight years,” said Dean Dennis, the center’s general manager.  “So we have both an opportunity and a challenge to get back into the meetings rotation for a lot of groups.  We’ve already generated more than 250 active leads for meetings through a ‘bring your meeting home’ campaign we’ve done with local business leaders who have ties to professional organizations and conventions.”

Buying the old hotel and demolishing it also has allowed the city to use the riverfront in new ways. In the summer of 2012, a new park opened that stretches from the River Park Center, Owensboro’s fine arts center, to the edge of the convention center’s property.

Park adds life to riverfront
Smothers Park is much more than trees, grass and walkways. Its elaborate play area looks like a mini-amusement park; its fountains too, are designed for play. A permanent stage area accommodates concerts and events tied to the city’s many festivals. A memorial salutes military veterans. There is also a boat dock.

Nearby, in downtown, old storefront buildings are being rehabbed for many uses, including some locally owned restaurants.

The convention center preview was hosted by Global Spectrum, the international management firm that manages the Owensboro Convention Center as well as more than 100 other public assembly facilities. Owensboro’s new center will be among the largest convention centers in Kentucky.

A pedestrian bridge will tie it to the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown/Riverfront, one of the first downtown high-rise hotels to operate under a Hampton flag; by next October, a second new hotel, the 123-room Holiday Inn Owensboro Riverfront, will open on the other side of the center. It will not be physically linked to the convention center.