photography by Craig Schneider, Power Creative
Chapter Gallery of Images

What's Done, What's Next: A Civic Pact
Chapter Two:
Underlying Big Decisions,An Owensboro Operating System That Works, Mostly

by Keith Schneider
August 19, 2011

Big Days Of Governance

Though there were friendly smiles exchanged, warm handshakes, and polite hugs, a current of anticipation and frustration also was apparent on City Hall’s fourth floor when Mayor Payne called the July 20 steering committee meeting to order. Early in the hour-long event, the source of the room’s pitched energy emerged.

Two of the principals from Trahan Architects displayed renderings of an impressive angular steel and aluminum building enfolding contiguous zones of glass. They described publicly for the first time that the convention center’s dimensions had grown again, to 169,000 square feet, and that the cost of construction could be as much as $36 million.

When added to the other expenses – land, design, utilities, equipment, furniture, and fees – Owensboro’s convention center would not only be among the largest in the state, it would  cost $47 million to $49 million.

The following morning, Thursday, the Messenger-Inquirer reported on the new size and cost with a banner headline article. The day after, Karen Miller hosted a Friday morning meeting with Nick Brake and Rod Kuegel from the EDC; Jody Wassmer from the Chamber of Commerce; Brian Smith, the chair of the Convention & Visitor Bureau board; and Rick Hobgood, a local investment advisor.

“I thought we needed to be more vocal,” Miller said. “I think the one piece that propelled me more than anything is that I want this to be a fair process. I want the city to listen to people who have firsthand knowledge. I was determined to bring that information forward.

“My feeling is the city doesn’t need to sign on the dotted line until it has a marketing plan that says who is the audience, how are you going to go about the sales and marketing, and who will do the marketing for this center.”

“We did not meet with the idea of having a press conference,” Miller added. “We met to explore different things that could be done. We felt like this was the best thing to do to really raise awareness. It lasted 90 minutes. “

Will The Mayor Push Pause?

When the meeting finished, Rod Kuegel, who’s known the mayor for years, anticipated that a news conference could prompt Payne and the steering committee to pause, at least for a bit, to consider the growing anxiety about the size and cost of the convention center.

Good governance in a democratic society is about flexibility. Communities need leaders who stand up for principles but not in the way of progress. Payne is a capable leader. Kuegel felt a news conference by the Chamber and the Convention & Visitors Bureau would send the mayor and the committee a strong message without embarrassing or cornering them.

“I know Ron,” said Kuegel. “He pushes everything to the limit, and then he pulls back.”

And that’s what happened. At noon on Tuesday, July 26, the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and the OwensboroDaviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau held a news conference that was a highly visible and rare public display of opposition from the business sector. The two groups strongly endorsed the convention center in concept, but rebuked the mayor for what they described as an overly furtive design review process.

Payne Blinks

Hours afterward, Payne abruptly cancelled the special review committee meeting and announced a news conference of his own for July 27. There, Payne said that the city would work with the Public Life Foundation to sponsor three public events the fourth week of August. The purpose: to provide citizens with ample opportunity to consider the convention center’s new design, and for the city to make its case for the center’s size, utility, and anticipated cost.

Payne acknowledged that he and his colleagues in the city administration had not kept the public adequately informed about the nearly 90 percent expansion in the center’s dimensions and the $30 million spurt, to nearly $50 million, in the projected cost.

But Payne, ever steadfast, vowed to gain closure on the convention design and move to the construction phase. He said the steering committee would receive a report on the public meetings and convene on August 31, when it would vote on the project. The same day, the Industrial Development Authority would decide on authorizing construction bonds.

“I’m confident that after they hear all of the work, all of the information that we have, that the public is going to support this,” said Payne. “We are sending signals out of this community throughout this nation that this little city is on the move.”

Download Chapter Two (PDF)

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Chapter Video

Chapter 2 Video
Public Life Foundation of Owensboro
The Citistates Group
Red Pixel Studios Website Development