HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) — Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson tells Eyewitness News it’s his understanding that Churchill Downs is pulling the plug on its plans for an Ellis Park extension facility at Towne Square Mall.
“I was prepared to do whatever i could do to get them in the Penny’s building. we even looked at deannexing the building itself and there was no appetite for that either. I hate it,” says Watson.
The extension was to have taken over the old JCPenney store that closed several years ago. It was expected to employ 150 people with a wide selection of horse racing machines, simulcast betting, a viewing area and a new race and sports themed restaurant.
“It was difficult, there was just a bunch of different circumstances that came together as i explained, that wouldn’t allow it to happen,” says Watson.
Mayor Watson says he believes the city commission not amending the smoking ban for the facility may have been the nail in the coffin.
“Churchill Downs Incorporated has shifted plans for the previously-announced Owensboro facility and we are still evaluating new locations that will better enable us to create a premier entertainment destination for all residents of the region,” said a Churchill Downs spokesperson in a statement. “We look forward to creating hundreds of jobs, driving significant economic activity and partnering with the community in which we ultimately choose to develop our Ellis Park extension facility.”
The mayor tells us it’s tough to balance public health with economic development.
“i was prepared to do whatever i could do to get them in the Penny’s building. we even looked at deannexing the building itself and there was no appetite for that either. i hate it.”
With a wide selection of horse racing machines, simulcast betting, a viewing area, and a new race and sports themed restaurant, Churchill Downs says they are still hopeful that a new location can be found in Daviess County. However, the future of the JC Penny site remains up in the air.
“There’s not many options. You could tear it down, create an industrial site there because it’s contiguous with Home Depot. There were two other leases that were going to follow Churchill Downs, so we lost those two leases as well,” says Watson.
Eyewitness News reached out to the mall’s owner’s, Bluegrass Development, but we have not heard back.