Call to Order and Roll Call
The4th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism was held on Thursday, September 16, 2010, at 10:00 AM CDT, at the Julian Carroll Convention Center, Paducah. Representative Eddie Ballard, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Alice Forgy Kerr, Co-Chair; Representative Eddie Ballard, Co-Chair; Senators Denise Harper Angel, Gary Tapp, Robin L. Webb, and Ken Winters; Representatives Will Coursey, Bob M. DeWeese, Myron Dossett, Ted Edmonds, Jim Gooch Jr., Mike Harmon, Melvin B. Henley, Martha Jane King, Adam Koenig, Terry Mills, Tim Moore, and Fred Nesler.
Legislative Guests: Senator Robert “Bob” Leeper and Representative Brent Housman.
Guests: Gayle Kaler, Paducah Mayor Pro Tem; Steve Doolittle, Downtown and LowerTown Development Director; Mary Hammond, Executive Director, Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau; Dr. Barbara Veazey, President, West Kentucky Community and Technical College; and Sam Wright, Board Vice Chair, EntrePaducah.
LowerTown Artist Program
Senator Leeper and Representative Housman welcomed committee members to Paducah and the downtown arts district.
Mayor Pro Tem Kaler welcomed committee members to Paducah and gave a brief overview of the LowerTown Artist Program. It began as a grassroots movement that was conceived as an effort to fight area drug problems and slumlord housing conditions. Many of the LowerTown district historic homes had fallen into disrepair. A local artist and member of the LowerTown Neighborhood Association suggested an artist relocation program. Along with city officials and then-Mayor Albert Jones, the relocation program was created. Thus far, $30 million has been invested in the program and Paducah has become a national model.
Mr. Steve Doolittle, Downtown and LowerTown Development Director, explained that like many cities in the United States, inner-city Paducah was in need of investment. Although state and federal revitalization tools were available, Paducah chose not to use them. While the programs available were well intentioned, many were in the form of housing assistance that committee members felt perpetuated poverty. Due to the large size of many of the structures, the typical $1 million grant would not go very far. By 2000, over 50 percent of the LowerTown area residents were in poverty, 70 percent of the structures were renter-occupied, and the vast majority of the structures were dilapidated. Unemployment was 17 percent and per capita income was less than $9,000. To turn things around, city officials and area residents decided to target artists, galleries, and arts programs because of the ideal living and workspace the area and structures offered. Zoning flexibility, the Kentucky Renaissance Program, and private funding were some of the tools used. The program created over 70 permanent jobs as well as numerous temporary construction jobs. Every dollar invested by the city saw an $11 return in private investment. Mr. Doolittle said the program has energized the entire community and has become a nationwide model.
Mary Hammond, Executive Director of the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau, said projects like the National Quilt Museum and the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center have helped revitalize downtown Paducah. Quilters account for 75 percent of visitor inquiries received. Arts and crafts are a part of the creative economy. With the success of the LowerTown Artist Program, Paducah had to change the way it did business. By participating in the Tourism Cabinet’s Tourism Incentive Marketing Plan, Paducah was able to double its marketing budget. Paducah partnered with other cities including Lexington, Elizabethtown, and Shepherdsville to place ads in publications like the Chicago Tribune, Architectural Digest, and Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival brochure.
Ms. Hammond explained that with the downturn in the economy people are buying less art, but the Paducah School of Art has seen increased enrollment. The Paducah School of Art is recruiting students from as far away as Shenzhen, China.
Ms. Hammond said Paducah has applied to become a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network as an arts and crafts/fiber arts location. There are 25 cities in the network worldwide with two in the United States—Iowa City for literature and Santa Fe for the arts.
Sam Wright, Board Vice Chair with EntrePaducah, explained that EntrePaducah is a local nonprofit business advocacy group that focuses on entrepreneurialism. In 2007, local business leaders formed a think-tank to study local economic development. They determined there was a need for a greater emphasis on small business support and development. An advisory board was created to establish an entity to focus on serving start-ups and existing small businesses. The following year EntrePaducah was created. The organization recruits, guides, and retains entrepreneurs involved with startup businesses and existing businesses. It helps with business plans and marketing suggestions, and it provides a connection with local investors and mentors. While a majority of clients consist of retail and service businesses, last year 20 percent were from the medical, medical technology, and manufacturing industry. The organization recently received an Innovator Award from the Southern Growth Policy Board for assisting small businesses facing challenges due to the economic downturn. EntrePaducah has also focused on industry-specific workshops including the region’s art industry, and it has partnered with the Kentucky Arts Council to host a symposium on the essentials for a strong art business. Mr. Wright said EntrePaducah stands ready to promote economic development regardless of the industry.
Dr. Barbara Veazey, President of West Kentucky Community and Technical College, said Kentucky’s community colleges are deeply involved in economic development and regional growth. Approximately five years ago, the college was approached about developing an arts school in Paducah. After a year of studying the issue, the college decided the school would be successful and the development of the Paducah School of Art began. The city purchased a 50,000 square foot warehouse and in 2007 a director was hired. In 2008, property on Broadway was leased and classes began. In just two years, enrollment has grown from 130 to 369 students. Dr. Veazey said the college is committed to the arts school and they are considering expanding into another facility to offer more workshops and to sponsor out-of-town guest artists and international students.
Senator Webb noted that she has been visiting Paducah for many years and commended the city on the arts district program.
Representative Nesler thanked the presenters for their work with the LowerTown Artist Program.
Responding to Co-Chair Ballard’s question, Ms. Hammond said the closing of Executive Inn has affected conventions but there are still many local events held at the convention center. Occupancy rates at other hotels are at 80 percent, mostly because of local construction. She said leisure tourism is bringing many international visitors. Ms. Hammond said a convention center hotel would help increase tourism. Mr. Doolittle added that in the last three years, five new hotels have been built near the interstate.
Responding to Co-Chair Ballard’s question, Mr. Doolittle said riverboat gambling has affected Paducah immensely. He said McCracken County is the northernmost ice free water port in the United States. Every major barge company in the U.S. has a presence in Paducah with many building new headquarters in the area.
Responding to Co-Chair Kerr’s question, Dr. Veazey said there are plans to expand the art school to include film studies and production, but space and funding are needed.
Senator Winters noted that the reorganization of the community and technical college system has allowed them to respond to community needs more readily, and he recognized the work of the college.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 11:05 AM CDT.
Following the meeting, the committee toured the LowerTown artist district.