Last month, Owensboro saw two major state conventions with 1,000 or so attendees each.
But the Kentucky United Methodist Conference and the Kentucky Bar Association didn’t just decide to bring their conventions to Owensboro.
Conventions, trade shows, events, meetings and social gatherings have to be recruited by the staffs of the Owensboro Convention Center and the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Mark Calitri, president of the CVB, said the two organizations are constantly working to persuade state associations to hold their conventions in Owensboro.
“We’re working with Tim Ross, the city’s public events director, to create unique experiences for them,” he said. “Things like block parties with games, music and food trucks.”
The proposals submitted to the associations include such things as block parties and other amenities, a list of hotels and their rates and prices for using the convention center.
“We’re competing against Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky,” Calitri said.
But Owensboro has two things that conventions really love, he said — the riverfront and the safety of downtown.
In 1993, that safety brought a major truck show to town.
Gary Case decided to move his Stylin’ Concepts Sport Truck Nationals from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to Owensboro’s Executive Inn Rivermont that year because of how safe the city was.
He saw the Kentucky Mirror Mosaic on the wall of a downtown building.
‘’That wouldn’t have lasted a week in Cleveland,’’ Case said. ‘’It would have been destroyed. They told me it had been here for years.’’
Then, he visited Holiday in the Park, a Christmas village at Legion Park.
‘’They said they leave it up all month,’’ Case said. ‘’It wouldn’t have lasted a night in Cleveland. You people don’t realize what you’ve got here.’’
So, he brought his truck show with scores of expensive vehicles to town.
All-time room night record
Calitri said 2022 is on track to set an “all-time room night record.”
He said the OMG!con gathering of cosplay and anime enthusiasts and the ROMP bluegrass festival were on the same weekend last month.
And local hotels saw an occupancy rate of 91% that Friday and Saturday nights.
Calitri said the success of OMG!con has the CVB and convention center setting their sights on such things as a GI Joe Toy Expo and an anime gathering.
The CVB and convention center also pursue wedding and family reunions because they bring people to town.
Calitri has three large wall calendars in his office — one for 2021, one for 2022 and one for 2023.
The idea is to tell at a glance if a certain weekend is open for new events, he said.
The two organizations also pursue indoor and outdoors sports tournaments.
Calitiri said Jeff Esposito, who started in May as the center’s general manager, has hit the ground running and is working to bring more events to town.
The CVB’s 3% tax on hotel room rentals provides the money to operate the agency.
“We meet every Tuesday with them to go over prospective business, tentative events and definite conventions,” Calitri said.
The Executive Inn Rivermont, then the largest hotel in western Kentucky, had been drawing steady convention business until it closed in 2008.
The convention center didn’t open until 2014.
And Owensboro lost a lot of momentum during those six years, Calitri said.
But it’s coming back strong now.
Calitri said he’s hoping to get the the Hemmings Motor News Great Race, which brought 115 vintage vehicles into downtown on a 2,300-mile road rally from San Antonio to Greenville, South Carolina, last year, to return in 2023.
And he’s expecting to hear next month if Owensboro will win GeoWoodstock XX, the world’s largest geocaching festival, which will be somewhere on Memorial Day in 2023.
Calitri said the event could bring 5,000 to 7,000 geocaching enthusiasts to town from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
And he said the International Bar-B-Q Festival will be adding bourbon and bluegrass elements next year to attract more people.