Half a Century of Owensboro Development | Editorials


I’ve written about many changes in Owensboro over the past 50 years.

Most of them were good.

Some were not.

But here are five things — some of which are no longer with us — that really changed Owensboro and the way we feel about ourselves.

• Yes, it imploded 13 years ago, but the Executive Inn Rivermont really put Owensboro on the map when it opened in October 1977.

When it opened with its seven-story atrium, people said they couldn’t believe they were in Owensboro.

The Big E made us feel important and believe in ourselves.

Soon people were coming to Owensboro to see artists like Johnny Cash, Tom Jones and Dolly Parton in the Showroom Lounge.

Owensboro went from hosting 20 conventions a year to 125 overnight.

• If you weren’t there when Towne Square Mall opened on March 1, 1978, you can’t believe how exciting it was.

It was the largest enclosed mall in Western Kentucky at the time.

About 5,000 people crammed into the 450,000-square-foot mall on opening day, blocking traffic for 25 blocks.

The mall became the cornerstone of what became “South Frederica”, for a time the largest retail and restaurant area in the city.

And it was the place to go to see and be seen.

• The opening of the RiverPark Center on September 12, 1992 continued what the Executive Inn had begun — making Owensboro feel like a much bigger place.

The Grand Opening Gala, featuring John Denver and Florence Henderson, brought politicians and business leaders from across the state to town.

And that led to the creation of Friday After 5, the 16-week series of free music along the river.

Like the Executive Inn, the RiverPark Center felt like it belonged in a much bigger city.

• The growth of the Kentucky 54 shopping and dining district has been much slower to develop than the tall buildings.

But it changed the way we shop and eat.

The area between US 60 and Philpot was farmland only until 1976 when Thompson Homes began work on Thorobred East.

In 1981, Massie-Clarke Development Co. launched Villa Point, the first shopping center in this region.

Today, Kentucky 54 is the fastest growing area in Daviess County.

And its shops and restaurants have overtaken southern Frederica.

• The city center was practically dead in 1978, when the shopping center opened.

But it has really been transformed over the past decade.

Nearly half a billion dollars have been invested in it.

Two new hotels have been built and a third is on the way.

The Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum attracts fans from several countries.

By the end of the year, they say construction will have started on between 180 and 225 apartments.

The Owensboro Convention Center again attracts large conventions.

Boardwalk Pipeline Partners was headquartered there for a time and Big Rivers Electric Corp. built its new headquarters there.

Downtown basically ended at Frederica Street for many years.

Now it continues to grow westward.

And chances are it will continue to grow in that direction.

We had a lot of two-step-forward and one-step-back moments.

But it was an exciting half-century.

Glad to have been able to see it.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected]


About Author

Comments are closed.