Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, says there are 8 million people within a 200-mile radius of Owensboro.
That includes an area bordered by St. Louis, Cincinnati, Lafayette, Indiana, and a few miles into northern Alabama.
And Calitri’s goal is to bring as many of them to town as possible in the post-pandemic era.
To do that, the CVB is focusing on four pillars — a community-wide branding initiative, expanding and improving the visitor experience, maximizing the Owensboro Convention Center, and creating new economic impact opportunities and an indoor sports development.
One of the pushes is to brand Owensboro as the “Bluegrass Music Capital of the World.”
The CVB will still focus on other local attractions, Calitri said.
But bluegrass will be the “brand” that brings people to town.
“The community needs to embrace something we can all get behind,” Brian Smith, the CVB’s chairman, said at a recent meeting.
He said, “We have bluegrass in place and such a great staff at the (Bluegrass Music) Hall of Fame.”
Smith has bought bluegrass instruments for campers at his Diamond Lake Resort to check out and play in the campgrounds.”
“I think it will be a big hit,” he said. “We’re emphasizing bluegrass at our park.”
More bluegrass neededCalitri said there needs to be some bluegrass event happening in town at least once a month for the CVB to promote.
March is taken care of.
Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said the Hall of Fame is bringing the 47th Official Kentucky State Fiddle Championship, presented by Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, to town on March 20.
And he’s expecting musicians from several states to be here.
Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, one of the top acts in bluegrass, will perform two shows in Woodward Theatre the night before.
But the coronavirus pandemic has prevented live music for nearly a year now.
Smith said, “People ask ‘Where can I see bluegrass?’ It’s gotten better, but we still need more. We’ve got to have more music.”
Earlier this month, Andy Brasher and Tamarra Miller announced plans to open Brasher’s Little Nashville at 123 W. Second St. this spring.
It will feature bluegrass, country and other genres of music, they said.
“We have ‘Bluegrass Sundays’ at our church,” CVB board member Claude Bacon said. “They’re popular.”
Smith said, “We need a calendar for bluegrass events that we can hand to people when visitors come in and want to know about bluegrass.”
Lukewarm supportHe said support for bluegrass in the community “has been lukewarm over the years. We need to turn the heat up a notch.”
ROMP Fest, the Hall of Fame’s annual bluegrass festival at Yellow Creek Park, brings in 25,000-plus fans from several countries each June.
But it, like most events, was canceled by the pandemic last year.
The Hall of Fame drew 35,329 people from 47 states and 15 other countries in its first year of operations before COVID-19 hit.
They came from Australia, Netherlands, France, Canada, England, South Africa, Germany, Brazil, Ecuador, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Israel, Switzerland and New Caledonia to visit the $15.3 million facility.
Board member David Johnson said, “Community leadership has to decide how to go forward. Everything has to touch bluegrass. It will be the cornerstone, but, when you get here, we want you to see the other attractions. We have to have more live music.”
Calitri said, “We’re talking to Green River Distilling Company and the Hall of Fame about creating displays on the first floor of the visitor information center.”
Indoor sportsIndoor sports, he said, are “the single biggest opportunity we have, the best way to drive more revenue.”
Bacon said indoor sports is “something that never really went away.”
Owensboro just hasn’t had enough space in recent years.
Bacon said, “We’ve talked about a number of locations” that could be used for indoor sports.
Last year, a group of local investors bought the former Macy’s store at Towne Square Mall with plans to turn it into an indoor sports complex.
Other places are also being considered.
Smith said, “We have never met that demand. We’re ready to market indoor sports. Other communities have done what we’re talking about.”
Calitri said the convention center recently picked up three cheer competitions from Evansville.
“The Brew Bridge said it was the biggest single weekend they’ve had in the past year,” he said.
Getting people to visit the community is important, Calitri said.
‘First date’ important“A visit can be the first date in economic development,” Johnson said.
A number of big events have been lined up for this year in Owensboro.
The Owensboro Air Show will bring the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels to the skies over the riverfront on Aug. 13-15.
Hydroplane racing is scheduled to return to the Owensboro riverfront on Aug. 20-22 for the first time in more than 40 years.
Friday After Five, Owensboro’s free 16-week music festival, returns in May.
On May 28-31, the community will host the Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure, which is expected to draw more than 1,200 geocachers from across the country.
The Great Race, a cross-country race with 120 vintage vehicles, will stop in Owensboro overnight on June 23.
Calitiri said, “The travel and tourism industry continues to face ongoing setbacks and tremendous challenges. Because of COVID, ‘back to normal’ might not happen in 2021. Despite that, the CVB is using this time to envision a new future and looking to open new doors of opportunity.”
Smith said, “This community is in the right position to thrive in the future, if we have the courage to act. Our CVB board is fully engaged in charting the course for success.”
“We can’t just be ready when COVID ends,” Calitri said. “We have to plan and the doors have to be open. This crisis has created an opportunity for those that are alert to them.”
‘Good money’He said the community has to attract “good money” — money from outside the area that visitors spend here.
Johnson said, “Our goal is to get people spending money and accelerating economic development. It involves a vision and creating an environment to drive events. We needed to be chasing good money and improving the visitor experience.”
Calitri said people are increasingly “seeking a unique, authentic travel experience. Owensboro can deliver on this.”
When visitors spend money in the community, he said, “it’s not just the restaurant owner that makes money. Someone must cook the food, serve the food and bus the table. The restaurant must buy the food and beverages. Someone must clean the restaurant, mow the grass, keep the landscaping up and it goes on and on. These wages are earned and spent right here in our community.”
Bacon said, “There’s opportunity in each of the focus areas for a longer-term strategic approach. However, it’s critically important that we address the areas that have the most immediate impact. Many hotels, restaurants, small businesses and others need the inflow of visitors during this time and visitor demand currently exists in a few of these pillars.”