Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson and the Chief Operating Officer of Gulfstream Enterprises join Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd for In Depth.
Ed Ray and Mayor Watson talk about the proposed 15-story hotel and apartments that are going to be built across the street from the Convention Center.
Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth. When it is built it could become one of the Tri-State’s tallest buildings. A new hotel-apartment development across from the convention center in Owensboro. Joining me tonight are Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson and Ed Ray, he is the Chief Operating Officer of Gulfstream Enterprises, one of the driving forces on a very ambitious project. Thanks a lot for joining me tonight. Let’s talk about the sheer scope of this, we’re looking at a 12 to 15 story tower that includes a parking garage right across the street from the convention center. This is a huge project in the City of Owensboro with about 60,000 people. What is the driving force as far as why this is needed for Owensboro? I’ll let you take this first Mayor.
Mayor Tom Watson: Well, you know, we have this tax increment financing district downtown. Without this landmark, the tax refund from the state for all the money that would be spent in that area would be depleted quite a bit. And we need that TIF money to take care of the notes and debt service that’s gone on with this other building. It’s critical for our economic development.
Brad Byrd: And Ed you were telling me as far as money is concerned another thing you need to build this is how much will it cost?
Ed Ray: Right now, based on the design concept that we have, we’re probably talking an excess of $40 million for the entire project block. That’s a monumental task to tackle something that big in a town of Owensboro. We’ve had a lot of help, the TIF in that district helped a lot, also the federal opportunity zone that is created from a financial perspective.
Brad Byrd: So, you’re really going out and pursuing these potential investors to make this happen and some are contacting you?
Ed Ray: Absolutely. The thought to put capital gains into a project like this and not have to pay those taxes is a win-win for everybody and certainly those in Owensboro and those in the development process.
Brad: What will determine if this will be a 12 or 15 story building? And I know that there’s a big difference in three stories, but it’s a difference, nonetheless. But what’s going into that thinking?
Ed Ray: Well, there are a lot of things that go into that. Certainly, now that the zoning ordinances have allowed us to go more vertical. We’re trying to back into the numbers, getting more than 180 apartment units and on-site parking will really drive the end plan design. And we’ll go as vertical as we have to, to make this project work. And to be the first footprint of residential development in downtown.
Brad Byrd: And to visualize this, to put it in perspective – I don’t have video of the Fifth Third tower in downtown Evansville, but it’s a 15-story building – granted it has two-story first floor. If this becomes a 15-story tower in Owensboro, it’s going to be as tall as the Fifth Third tower in Evansville. And we just had a story today from Realtor.com about the number one city in the country, driving young people to buy homes is Evansville, Indiana and we’re talking about 20-somethings. Are you targeting that audience to fill those apartments up?
Mayor Tom Watson: We’re targeting all audiences. We think the best mix down there are all age groups. I think the young folks that don’t want to really buy a big house, they’re going to fit in perfectly. You got someone who’s had a large house out in the suburbs and they’re tired of mowing the grass, they’re going to fit in perfect and anyone in between there. So, it’s going to be developed for all comers. And that’s what we believe have to happen to create the density that’s needed downtown to make all those other projects move.
Brad: And those drawings we saw there – we’re purely in the concept stage – and there’s a lot of work to be done. With that being said, the Convention Center right across the street, Mayor first I want to ask you, are you pleased with what is happening there as far as the number of events? And based on the hotel rooms that are already available in Owensboro.
Mayor Watson: We’ve been told that we need about 400 hotel rooms downtown and we’re gonna get close to that, to get the larger conventions. Because we have hotels scattered all over the city, but people don’t wanna take a car in, you know how parking is in all downtowns, they’re not very good. So, the idea was to create more hotel rooms in conjunction with the Hampton and the Holiday Inn and therefore we can have enough rooms to get the larger conventions. Therefore, we’ll make more money and therefore the city subsidiary goes down.
Brad – And I’m just trying to visualize how this would be connected to the convention center, because you know, we’re in a day and age of skywalks. Could you see that connecting to the convention center? Which is a beautiful architectural gem.
Ray – It really is. I think one of the beautful things about Second Street and that area is that is was planned. And it was planned to have walkability across Second Street and the sidewalks are large. The distances between stoplights are fantastic and so there’s really good access across to the convention center. That being said, I think we’d love to talk further with the city on partnering on any type of access across the street.
Brad – We’re looking at naming a hotel franchise when?
Watson – Whenever they tell us.
Ray – I think we’ll be able to announce within the next two weeks.
Brad – Okay, so a lot has to happen pretty quickly and there’s tentatively a construction. I’m trying to picture this. A two year contruction period, so this could be up within two years? Is this that really possible?
Ray – Our construction schedule right now shows substantial completion in November, December 2021. And yes, we can do it. We’re a construction company that’s gonna make that happen.
Brad – The money though. You’re trying to raise about 40 million dollars and that’s money from private investment coming from throughout the country. How big of a challenge is that?
Ray – I’ll tell you right now, the framework has been set to make it a perfect storm to be able to have investors come into an opportunity zone like this. It’s really that and a partnership with the city of Owensboro and what the city has done up to this point. We do not believe that’s going to be an issue.
Brad – One thing I love to see are artist renderings.
Watson – We’ll give him first peep, how’s that?
Ray – That sounds like a agreat plan, but I think mid-summer we should be in a position to release those.
Brad -Alright, thanks for joining us.
(This story was originally published on April 17, 2019)