March 6, 2021

Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum Opens in Owensboro, Kentucky

OWENSBORO, KY. — This flourishing city of more than 59,000 residents has occupied the high ground on a big bend of the Ohio River so long that its history includes being the winter encampment for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. Owensboro’s famous sons include Johnny Depp, who was born here in 1963. Among its notable achievements is surviving the loss of 6,000 General Electric manufacturing jobs at the end of the 20th century, …

Owensboro Will Build International Bluegrass Music Center

In the week that America expressed its disdain for Indiana’s spiteful political fanaticism, and its new “religious freedom” statute that would allow business owners to discriminate against gays and lesbians, comes a much more responsible story of what’s possible in public policy. On April 1, Kentucky Democratic Governor Steve Beshear teamed up with Owensboro Republican Mayor Ron Payne to advance the economic and artistic interests of the mid-size Ohio River city. The two found a …

Owensboro Convention Center Opens With Big Party; Senators Paul and McConnell Not Among The Guests

OWENSBORO, KY — In February 2009, in the very depths of the Great Recession, seven of the nine commissioners elected to lead this capable city and surrounding Daviess County took a long breath, understood the political consequences, and approved a modest increase in a local tax to generate $80 million to build a new downtown. Though just two of the seven officials remain in office, what they accomplished in a single courageous vote achieved three distinct …

Owensboro’s Big Step Up To Relevance

OWENSBORO, KY — Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky native and Senate Republican leader, took his place several years ago at the head of his party’s pack of ideologues who countenanced disinvestment, lower taxes, and less spending on public projects with public purposes. But here in Owensboro, a small city perched on a high bluff on a big bend of the Ohio River, the senator’s name graces a year-old riverwalk and plaza in Smothers Park, the …

Owensboro’s ROMP Bluegrass Festival: “The Best In Any Real Radius.”

OWENSBORO, KY — When Gabrielle Gray was recruited ten years ago from Somerset, KY to direct the International Bluegrass Music Museum here, and to found an annual bluegrass music festival, this was a comfortable southern city stuck in a mid-American mustiness, a city in need of a fresh scrub. Two hours downriver from Louisville, Owensboro’s populous, 54,000 residents in 2000, was barely growing. Its downtown largely consisted of parking lots and empty turn of the 20th …

Owensboro’s Downtown Development Plan in New York Times

The New York Times today published my article on Owensboro’s downtown development plan, much of it financed by a local tax increase enacted in 2009. Though the public spending has spurred new development and thousands of jobs in the last two years — Owensboro has generated 2,400 jobs in 2010 and 2011, more than any other Kentucky metro area — just two of the seven elected leaders who voted for it are still in office. …

A Civic Pact: Owensboro’s Next Development Strategy

The privilege to spend six months studying an American community is rare in journalism. Nevertheless that was the assignment from Citistates last spring. Immerse yourself in Owensboro, Kentucky and emerge with a clear sense of where the community is, and where it might consider going in the 21st century. Last week, in a series of public events, Citistates described the findings in What’s Done, What’s Next: A Civic Pact. The project found a number of …

Underlying Big Decisions, An Owensboro Operating System That Works, Mostly

I’ve been working in Owensboro, Ky. this summer on What’s Done, What’s Next: A Civic Pact, a three-part project to help the city understand the new velocity of change in the 21st century and suggest ways that will lead to prosperity and a high quality of life. Right off the bat, it’s important to note how different Owensboro’s attitude about the future is from much of the rest of the country. Owensboro is in transition, …

Owensboro, Kentucky: What Works, What Doesn’t

Twenty years ago, in a strikingly perceptive series of articles in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson concluded that Kentucky’s third largest city had the proven capacity to set and achieve big community goals, but that its path to a stronger economy and better quality of life was impeded by related challenges – “some psychic, some civic, some economic and social.” This year the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro asked Peirce, Johnson and …

Heroes of the Ohio River Valley

MARIETTA, OHIO – My definition of a hero is someone who defies convention, dares to challenge the powerful, does well by the public good, and deepens their own sense of purpose. I’ve crossed the paths of a number of these select individuals over the years, written about quite a few of them, and earned sufficient trust to call a handful of them my friends. Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior in the 1960s — one …