Owensboro is on a decade-long run of major construction projects.
And that trend is expected to continue in 2019.
Unemployment is low and business leaders say they could fill 1,000 jobs if they could find the people with the skills they need.
City Commissioner Larry Conder said, “Rising interest rates and inflation will become more of a concern in 2019. But the local economy should continue to grow at a steady pace with unemployment rates hovering around 4 to 4.5 percent.”
A number of capital projects are on tap, he said.
That includes Owensboro Municipal Utilities’ new water plant, Daviess County Public Schools’ new middle school and football stadiums at Apollo and Daviess County High, Gateway Commons, the old Texas Gas property, a third downtown hotel “and maybe infill the old hospital property between Triplett and Breckenridge,” Conder said.
The city is also considering something on West Parrish Avenue similar to the Triplett Twist project on Triplett Street, he said.
Matt Hayden and Jack Wells plan to continue their construction projects downtown, on the old Texas Gas property at 3800 Frederica Street and in Gateway Commons.
“The Enclave (at Veterans Boulevard and Frederica Street) will be finished in the next 90 days,” Hayden said. “The first two condos are sold — counting Jack’s. We’re getting close to announcing the first restaurant.”
He said they’re hoping to start construction in 2019 on a new hotel and apartment complex south of the Owensboro Convention Center.
“We’ll build and lease the first two buildings at The Shoppes at 3800 Frederica,” Hayden said.
Wells said, “It looks like we’ll be able to save the (old Texas Gas) building, but with a more modern exterior. It will be a combination of offices and retail.”
Hayden said they expect more stores to open on the property “in the latter part of the year.”
Construction is scheduled to start on between 160 and 220 apartments on the west side of the property in 2019, he said.
“Placemaking is critical,” Hayden said. “It’s all about amenities these days. We have to have more amenities to bring more people to town.”
Five stores — Hobby Lobby, Kirkland’s, Tuesday Morning, Gabe’s and Shoe Department Encore — opened in Gateway Commons between Kentucky 54 and Pleasant Valley Road this year.
Next year, Hayden said, Second & Charles, Ross Dress for Less and Burkes Outlet will open along with Nick T. Arnold, Malco, Church’s Chicken, TownePlace Suites “and three others we haven’t announced yet.”
“We used to meet for a few minutes and have a half-page agenda,” Wells said of his and Hayden’s projects. “Today, we’ve been at it three hours and have a full page agenda.
Hayden said the community needs to ask itself, “What steps are we taking to compete with other cities? We need more affordable housing. That will help attract all ages. We have to compete for a labor pool. I know that not doing anything won’t work. We have to determine what direction the community wants to go and do it.”
City Commissioner Jay Velotta, who is president of the Greater Owensboro Realtor Association, said, “I think developers will continue to bring in retail. I hope we can reprogram south Frederica Street. The mall isn’t a draw anymore. It’s just not the place it was. We have a vibrant airport and riverport. But they need connectivity.”
He added, “I keep hearing rumors of a large industry that’s looking at Owensboro. But I don’t know anything about it.”
Wade Jenkins, Owensboro market president for Old National Bank and chairman of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., said, “The employment picture for Daviess County looks very good as jobs continue to migrate to the area. Recent gains in employment will continue to boost consumer spending in the local area and the overall housing market should remain healthy as well.”
He said, “Overall, Owensboro was slower to the economic recovery than national averages, but it has recently begun to exceed both state and national averages in several key areas. The growing employment base will lead to higher tax revenue, which will lead to better infrastructure and educational services. Rising incomes will boost consumer spending. Expect favorable trends for home improvement retailers as well as garden and landscaping services. These are harder to purchase over the Internet. Also, stores like Target and Walmart are doing well competing with Amazon by offering same-day pickup of merchandise ordered online.”
Jenkins said, “The positive economic momentum will carry the region into 2019 and favorable trends in employment, wage growth and housing growth should continue for at least the next 18-24 months.”
Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said tourism will continue to be big in 2019 with conventions, tournaments, bluegrass and O.Z. Tyler Distillery’s position on the western end of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The Kentucky 2-A basketball tournament — for both boys and girls — will be at the Sportscenter Jan. 18-20, with eight teams from across Kentucky competing in each tournament.
That means 16 teams and their fans will be in town on what’s normally a slow weekend in Owensboro.
The Grind Session High School World Championship basketball tournament returns to the Sportscenter in March with many of the top high school basketball players in the nation.
The Great Ohio Valley Pickleball Association has a tournament in February, the state All A softball and baseball tournaments will be in town in April, and the NCAA Division II women’s golf regional will be here in May.
“Our sales focus will be directed toward the highest revenue-producing opportunities — meetings and conventions, amateur and collegiate sports and bus tour groups,” Calitri said. “Our sales and service efforts will continue to dominate our focus as we also view this as a prime opportunity to showcase our entire community.”
He said the convention center had record numbers this year and ROMP set a new attendance record, as did the Owensboro Air Show and the Daylilies Festival at the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden.
Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said 2019 should be a big year for both the Hall of Fame and its ROMP Fest.
Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Patty Loveless, Steve Earle and others have already been announced for ROMP.
“The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum will prove to be a differentiator for the Owensboro Convention Center as they compete with Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky and Bowling Green for convention business,” he said.
“When considering location, statewide associations often look for cities that have something unique to offer their members to encourage more people to register and attend,” Joslin said. “Owensboro now boasts something very unique that no other community has. And now we are working directly with Commissioner Kristen Branscum and her team at the Kentucky Department of Tourism to help drive both domestic and international tourism for the state.”
He said, “People who travel are looking for unique experiences that are authentic, and we certainly deliver on both accounts.”
Joslin said, “In 2019, one can expect a full schedule of concerts every month from a broad spectrum of bluegrass and roots music artists. Our brand of entertainment is well established after years of producing ROMP Festival which has grown to one of the most respected outdoor, multi-day events in the country. The secret to our success is diversity.”