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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