With word coming this week about environmental issues at the proposed site for a downtown hotel, we’ve been talking quite a bit as an editorial board about our support for the project.

As anyone who reads our editorial page knows, we’ve been supportive of the concept of downtown development and believe it is critical to building momentum in the community and excitement about Owensboro outside of the city. We believe in the idea that those communities that offer quality of life amenities, such as a vibrant downtown, recreational options, etc., have an advantage when it comes attracting economic development opportunities.

That being said, I’d be lying if I said we aren’t starting to have doubts. It’s hard to imagine the city could have handled the issue of contamination at the hotel site any worse. As soon as they knew this was the case, they should have just told the public what was going on, and pointed out that they would continue to study the issue until March 31, which is the deadline for backing out of the deal with the state.  Any reasonable person would have understood that, but of course, that’s not what happened.

But worse than that, some city officials even posed the possibility that moving the hotel and convention center to another site wouldn’t be that big of a deal – this after telling the public for months that the site of the state office building was paramount to the downtown plan.

Think of it this way: If the hotel and convention center are the centerpiece of the plan and everything else is being built around that, what happens when you move that centerpiece left or right? Everything else is then out of place. Essentially, if you move the site of the hotel and convention center, you really no longer have a plan left at all – you just have a bunch of ideas that you’re then trying to piecemeal together.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it; what’s happened this week is a big blow to downtown development. Let’s hope city officials can learn from this and get back on track. Otherwise, they’re going to lose the support of those who’ve believed in the project all along, and that will likely include this newspaper’s editorial board.

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I want to say thanks to the students in Jayne Johnson’s class at Cravens Elementary School for the wonderful thank you letters they sent to me today. It was a nice surprise and really made my day.

I visited the class last month as part of a community reading day and shared a book about George Washington with the students. Afterwards, we talked about the book, about the importance of reading, and I answered some questions about the newspaper.

The questions were great, and it was so nice to see how interested the students were in both the book we were reading and what goes on here at the Messenger-Inquirer.

Thanks to Principal Chris Gaddis and Mrs. Johnson for including us in their program. This was a tremendous event that involved the entire school, and I’m sure it required a great deal of planning and coordination throughout the school. From my perspective, it went off great, and really highlighted why reading is important in any career that these young people might consider. The administrators, teachers and students at Cravens should be proud.

Steve Vied’s front page article in the Wednesday, Feb. 17 Messenger-Inquirer about the proposed committee to oversee planning and construction of the downtown convention center has generated several interesting comments from readers on our Web site.

Virtually all are against the idea in some manner, but what really caught my attention were the comments from a few readers that the M-I has been silent on the issue. I disagree.

On our news pages, we’ve reported about this idea every step of the way. In fact, we first broke the news about this plan on Jan. 21 – before it had even gone before the Fiscal Court and City Commission for first reading.

And on our editorial page, we stated our opinion about the idea on Jan. 26. While we’re not opposed to the idea in general, we believe that the scope of the committee is too narrow, and that more voices should be included. In that editorial, we wrote, “in an effort to avoid a committee too large and cumbersome, Payne and Haire have missed the opportunity to bring more expertise to the table for this important project. The new committee should be expanded to include people with expertise in hosting sporting events and recruiting conventions and other large tourist draws.”

The idea that we’ve fully supported this committee, or remained silent on the issue, simply isn’t true. I will say, however, that we should be stronger in speaking out against the idea of the mayor and judge-executive having two votes on the committee. While we said the committee needs more voices, we didn’t say that the mayor and judge-executive have too much authority, and that’s an editorial that we’ll likely write in the coming days.

That said, it seems that some believe that because we’ve supported the overall concept of the downtown project, we’ve also supported everything that goes with it.  That’s not the case at all. We’ve said in the past that it’s a mistake for officials to continually make changes in the plan that was presented to residents, and such changes will cause people to lose confidence in the project, and rightfully so. And we’ve said it’s wrong to have such a small group of people for a committee that will oversee such an important project.

We believe it’s possible to support the overall concept of downtown development, while still questioning certain aspects of the project, and we’ll continue to do that throughout the process.

I’ve received several calls the last couple of days from readers expressing their displeasure over the photo of Lady Gaga at the Grammy Awards that we published on the front page of Monday’s Messenger-Inquirer.

There’s no question that the photo is bizarre, and Lady Gaga’s outfit could certainly use some more material. But I have no problem the decision to publish it, and I strongly disagree with one caller, who compared it to pornography.

Like it or not, Lady Gaga is a compelling figure in today’s pop music scene, and her performance at the Grammy Awards was important enough that producers decided to open the show with it. By publishing the photo, we were reporting on one of the more anticipated performances of the night. I think she certainly pushed the envelope, and I can see why some don’t care for her music or her outfit, but I don’t think it crossed a line to the point of being an unpublishable photo.

All that being said, it’s never our goal to intentionally offend people or publish something simply for its shock value. Instances like this are a good learning tool for us, as we’ll talk more about this photo and remember the complaints as we make decisions about similar images that will surely arise in the future.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’d be interested to hear how more of you feel about this issue.

I’m always open to feedback about what we do here at the newspaper, but one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to do as editor is explain to people why we changed the crossword puzzle last year.

We actually had no choice. For years, we purchased the crossword puzzle from Tribune Media Services, but last March, TMS announced it would no longer be offering puzzles from long-time Crossword Editor Wayne Robert Williams.

We tried a couple of different crosswords, but none were as popular as the TMS crossword. And I heard more complaints about the crossword than any other change we’ve made in recent years.

But I’m happy to announce that we are now once again publishing the crosswords of Wayne Robert Williams. Wayne has branched out and started his own business, and the M-I will be one of his first customers.

I expect that the crosswords will be similar to what you came to enjoy for years in the M-I. But I don’t regularly do the crossword, so I hope to hear from those of you who do.

Today’s edition of the Messenger-Inquirer marked the return of four sections on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Last year, we decided to go to a two-section paper on Monday and Tuesday in an effort to better control newsprint costs on the days of the week when advertising is generally at its lowest.

The reality is, however, that the papers were almost always the same size as before – 20 to 24 pages – but they were packaged in two sections rather than four.

The primary complaint I heard from readers was not that the paper contained less news than before (because it didn’t) but rather people liked the four sections because it makes the paper easier to share with the rest of the family.

We will also begin a new section on Tuesday called “The Link,” which will focus on how technology is impacting our daily lives. We hope you enjoy the changes.