Livability consultants give details on downtown plan

David Johnson and Fred Reeves, owners of A+ Leadership, gave more details Tuesday to the Owensboro City Commission about how they’re going to approach the plan to bring more residential living downtown.

Johnson and Reeves, who were hired last month by the city as consultants, spoke during the City Commission’s work session at City Hall, outlining eight areas of concentration — housing options, parking, walkability, retail, partnerships, downtown events, wayfinding signage and branding.

“This is not another downtown study; this is a downtown implementation project,” Reeves said. “…We’re going to be doing more than looking at housing because housing won’t happen without more amenities and other attractions around it.”

They’re going to consider increasing market-rate housing options, repurposing buildings, taking a property inventory, designing for target audiences, contacting local developers and reviewing and amending downtown restrictions.

Reeves said there is a number of “underutilized properties” downtown that could be used for grocery stores and fast-food restaurants.

“Kroger does have a downtown model but you’ve got to have enough people living downtown,” said Reeves, adding that McDonald’s also has a downtown model. “…We’ll be looking at what kind of incentives are appropriate for a business to locate downtown. …We have developers … on the outskirts (of the city) and we need to see if we can entice them to take a look at downtown also.”

Identifying more downtown parking spaces and educating the public about overlooked parking will be the priorities of the plan.

Johnson said the city doesn’t do a good job of letting the public know what parking lots are open and when they’re available.

“Part of our parking issue is an information and education issue,” Johnson said.

Walkability would be assessing options such as walking, jogging and picnic areas, ensuring safety and connecting major developments.

“There’s lots of vacant space between some of the big projects downtown that doesn’t connect them,” Johnson said. “…People love to come downtown to walk and jog when they feel like they’re safe and there’s a defined route to follow.”

They also want to look at creating a downtown winter destination during December, January and February.

Johnson said he and Reeves will be bringing a winter event recommendation to the City Commission in “two to three weeks.”

“Hopefully, it will not just be exciting for you but for the citizens of Owensboro,” Johnson said.

Their plan also includes a branding campaign to figure out what makes the city “unique.”

The consultants were given a one-year contract and paid $80,000 to guide the city in its goal of establishing a greater residential presence downtown.

Johnson said the success of creating a measurable residential downtown space will depend on the “stockholders” such as city government, Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and the Owensboro/Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“This is going to work if one thing happens,” Johnson said. “And that’s if all the stakeholders can come to the table and play together.”