Local tourism to grow in '24, '25

The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 devastated the hospitality industry in Owensboro and around the world.

But Owensboro made a strong comeback in 2022 and 2023.

And Mark Calitiri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he expects both this year and 2025 to be as strong if not stronger.

Churchill Downs’ $100 million Owensboro Racing & Gaming facility, 460 Wrights Landing Road, is slated to open in February, he said.

And the 145-room Home2 Suites hotel across Second Street from the Owensboro Convention Center is expected to open early in 2025.

Both, Calitri said, “promise to elevate Owensboro’s appeal to visitors.”

Ryan Jordan, senior vice president of real estate development for Churchill Downs, said, “We’re eagerly anticipating the completion of Owensboro Racing & Gaming and bringing the extraordinary entertainment experiences Churchill Downs Incorporated is known for to Daviess County.”

He said, “We look forward to partnering with local organizations like Visit Owensboro to ensure the property becomes an exceptional asset, further enriching the community’s growing entertainment landscape.”

Indoor sports complexCalitri said, “Plans for a state-of-the-art indoor sports complex, slated for construction this summer, underscore the community’s commitment to providing top-notch recreational amenities.”

That facility at 600 W. Third St. will have a large sports floor set up for either seven basketball courts, 14 volleyball courts or 28 pickelball courts.

It will also be available for use for archery, cornhole, cheerleading and dance tournaments.

Candance Castlen Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said, “The Most Valuable Recruiter Award that we present each month at our Rooster Booster Breakfast shows our membership how each person can do their part to move our community forward. Regardless of background or profession, each person has opportunities to showcase Owensboro and to make big wins for all of us.”

Jordan Rowe, Daviess County director of parks and public information, said the CVB “has been a tremendous partner, promoting our county and helping to attract new events like ‘Pups in the Park,’ the canine aquatics competition scheduled for Sept. 21-22.”

217% spikeHe said, “Google reported a 217% spike in the number of people asking for directions to Panther Creek Park in April 2024, largely due to the Touch-A-Truck event. Many visitors commented they had never been to Panther Creek Park before or other than Christmastime. So that’s a huge win. Many families stayed after the event to fish and hike the trails.”

Calitri said, “There’s a tremendous amount of positive energy with the collaboration going on. It certainly hasn’t happened overnight, but Owensboro has become a destination town. As a tourism partner, it’s great to be in a community where everyone is rowing in the same direction with the goal of being a tourism leader in Kentucky.”

He said, “Unique programming at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum like the new Jerry Garcia exhibit has captured the attention of national media helping us reach an entirely new audience that loves great music.”

Chris Joslin, executive director of the Hall of Fame, said 1,700 people from 39 states and 14 countries have visited the exhibit in its first two months.

And it runs through 2026.

18 conventionsThe CVB and convention center staff have secured 18 conventions for this fiscal year, which officials said is the highest in the center’s 10-year history.

Jeff Esposito, general manager of the convention center, said, “We are dedicated to maintaining a vibrant calendar of events and are enthusiastic about both the return of favorite programs and the introduction of new experiences to our community. Our commitment to excellence in event management continues to position Owensboro as a key destination for diverse events and gatherings.”

Calitri said, “Owensboro’s allure lies in its ability to deliver exactly what customers seek — a safe riverfront complemented by a nice selection of dining options and recreational activities, all within a vibrant community atmosphere. As Owensboro continues to prioritize a welcoming hospitality and a customer-centric approach, the future of tourism in the region shines bright.”