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Ground Contamination May Force Move of Planned 150-room Hampton Inn & Suites
in Owensboro, Kentucky to Another Location

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 11, 2010--Contamination beneath the state office building at Second and Frederica streets could prevent the construction of a 150-room Hampton Inn & Suites and an attached events center on that site, developer Malcolm Bryant said Monday.

If that happens, he said, the hotel would move one block west to Second and St. Elizabeth streets.

The soil beneath the state office building property has been contaminated by chemicals released by a downtown cleaners years ago, local officials say. "It's not really surprising to find contaminated soil when you're building in a downtown area," Bryant said. "We just have to find out if we can build there."

The state dropped the price the city will pay for the property by $633,000 -- to $1.107 million -- to cover the cost of an environmental cleanup.

But Bryant said after Monday's meeting of the steering committee that's planning the downtown events center that he's "working with the Hilton people, an environmental engineer and a financial institution" to see if they will approve the site for a hotel. Hampton Inn & Suites is a Hilton property.

"If it can't go there, that may open other, more exciting opportunities for that corner," Bryant said.

Mayor Ron Payne said Monday that he expects to have a deed to the state office building property within two to three weeks.

Bryant said he has to have a deed to the site his hotel will be built on in his possession by June 30 -- only six weeks away.

Whether the hotel goes there or not, the corner of Second and Frederica needs to have "a signature feature," Bryant said. "You need to be wowed by the time you get to Fifth Street."

Bryant is still talking about a five- to eight-story building with a mix of hotel rooms, extended stay rooms and possibly apartments.

He would like to see the events center built in a north-south direction so that one end -- possibly with glass walls -- hangs over the Ohio River on the west side of McConnell Plaza.

It could be built in a way that lets Veterans Boulevard run beneath the northernmost section, Bryant said. "If we have a view of that river from the events center, I think we would have the most 'wow' factor on the Ohio River," he said.

Bryant said the hotel needs 150 parking spaces and the restaurant -- or possibly restaurants -- will also need spaces.

"Parking would probably work better if the hotel is on the west side of St. Elizabeth," he said.

Fred Reeves, downtown development director, told the steering committee that he expects CityVisions Associates of Louisville, the company helping plan the events center, to have a report ready for the May 28 meeting that will project a year's worth of events, the revenue they would bring in and a recommendation on the space needed in the center.

A forum on the plan will be scheduled after that, he said.

Payne said the committee also needs to look at the future of the Sportscenter.

If the events center isn't designed for basketball, the Sportscenter may need to remain open, he said.

"We only get one shot at this," Payne said. "We've got to do it right."

"We have a finite amount of money -- in the mid-$20 million range -- that we can spend," Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire said. "We have to keep that in mind."

But he said, "we want to make sure we're on the front end of technology."

"We need the most bang for the buck for the community," Payne said. "I don't think we can do everything."

"Sports is a huge umbrella," said Sally Knight Barker, a member of the committee. "All kinds of sporting events could fit in the events center. But it's not going to be big enough for basketball tournaments."

If the Sportscenter remains open for some events, a shuttle service could connect it with the downtown hotel and events center, she said.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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To see more of the Messenger-Inquirer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.messenger-inquirer.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

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