Architects of downtown master plan to speak Thursday: Can plan include all of city?

In 2008, Scott Polikov, president of Gateway Planning Group Inc. of Fort Worth, architect Michael Huston and Jayashree Narayana, who specializes in planning and urban design initiatives, came to Owensboro to create a comprehensive downtown master plan and feasibility study for downtown retail, entertainment and residential development.

It was the beginning of what’s now more than $300 million worth of downtown redevelopment, which includes an internationally recognized Smothers Park, two and soon three downtown hotels, two major office buildings, condos, restaurants, a convention center, a parking garage and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

On Thursday, the three will address the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Rooster Booster Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Owensboro Convention Center.

“Our focus is on looking back at the process, looking at where we are today and looking to the future,” Huston said last week.

The past decade has seen major changes in downtown, he said.

“Oh my gosh, I arrived in Owensboro when I was 4 in 1969,” Huston said. “Downtown was still the retail hub of the region. Then, Towne Square Mall opened and downtown became primarily offices and it was pretty dead during the day. Today, it’s really great.”

He said, “I’m interested in exploring if now that we have this great downtown, we can extend it to other parts of the city. Can we keep building on the success of downtown, but make the whole city like that? It’s about quality of life.”

In 2008, at the start of the project, Huston said that every place he has lived since leaving Owensboro “has had an urban vitality. I want to see that in Owensboro.”

Polikov was back in Owensboro two years ago.

He said then that the downtown makeover worked because of $40 million in federal assistance, more than $100 million in city and county money, and local private investment.

The growing number of residential projects downtown and the “hang-out factor” — people who come downtown to hang out — are proof that the masterplan is working, Polikov said.

Today’s workforce demands a fun environment, he said.

And Owensboro’s downtown is creating that.

“Often, the public sector supports things, but the private sector doesn’t buy-in,” Polikov said. “But in Owensboro, they did.”

What has happened downtown, he said, “is tremendous.”

Candance Castlen Brake, chamber president, said, “There are so many people who we work with on a daily basis who either didn’t live here or are too young to remember” what was happening a decade ago.

Spark other ideas?

“We think it’s a great story of community engagement that will spark ideas to continue the momentum,” she said.

The Gateway plan also called for putting two-way traffic back on Second Street, a downtown farmers’ market, a $5 million arts academy and a streetcar line on Frederica Street.

None of that has happened.

“No plan is ever fully implemented,” Polikov said. “And that’s OK. Second Street is working even though it’s still one-way. A lot of things are slightly different. But they work.”

The one thing that still needs to happen is a public transportation system to move traffic on Frederica Street, he said.

“I think that will happen some day,” Polikov said.

But he said that the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro, Rodney Berry and the late John Hager haven’t received the recognition they deserve for their work to promote the downtown master plan back in 2008.

In 2008, Nick Brake, now superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, was president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

“Attracting people to the community is the key to economic development,” he said then. “Livability is a big part of it. When we try to attract doctors and biotech companies, we find that most don’t want to live here. But most of the people who live here love it.”

Brake said the downtown master plan, which was just starting to develop, “is not just another study. It’s going to be implemented.”

And it was.

Tickets for the breakfast are $12 for chamber members and $20 for nonmembers.

Reservations can be made by calling the chamber at 270-926-1860 by noon Wednesday.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301,