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Owensboro ‘a showcase of America,’ world renowned photographer says


Carol Highsmith poses for a picture while touring the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum last week in Owensboro.

Photo courtesy Owensboro-Daviess

County Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Carol Highsmith has traveled America for 40 years, preserving its towns and countrysides on film and digital formats.

Today, roughly 100,000 of those images are on display in the Library of Congress and on its website.

Last week, she was in Owensboro for the first time.

On Tuesday, in a conference call with the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Highsmith said, “I’m not easy to impress, but you impressed me.”

She said, “Everything is so well done there. Your playground by the river, your bluegrass museum. You’ve got it all together. You’re a huge showcase of America.”

Mark Calitri, CVB president, said, “Owensboro should be proud to be selected by someone of Carol Highsmith’s national prominence and notoriety to be featured in this project.”

Dave Kirk, destination management director, said, “Endorsements like this from a national influencer carry a lot of weight in a potential visitor’s mind. Highsmith is also letting us use her incredible photos featuring Owensboro for future marketing efforts at no cost. We’re incredibly grateful for this wonderful gift.”

Her photographic journey began at the abandoned Willard Hotel in Washington — a block from the White House — in 1980.

From there, Highsmith said, she’s traveled to every state, capturing images of modern America, gleaming new buildings, abandoned steel mills and the ruins of Southern plantation homes, storefront churches, drive-in theaters and a lot more.

“I’m doing it for the ages,” she said. “Two hundred, 300, 400 years from now, people will be able to see what America looked like in our time.”

Highsmith has photographed Jay Leno, Ronald Reagan, George and Laura Bush, and other famous people.

But it’s the everyday people she’s most interested in photographing, she said.

“It’s about us,” Highsmith said. “Americans.”

In the early years of her work, she said, “I saw what a mess America was.”

Since then, Highsmith said she’s seen a lot of improvements.

But, she said, “Some towns have really gone bad.”

Owensboro’s downtown, Highsmith said, is “gleaming. You must have some money there.”

She said she was impressed with the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum with its extensive collection, the barbecue and “Oink for Owensboro” — the collection of fiberglass pigs downtown.

“When you think of Kentucky, you think of bourbon, horses and bluegrass,” Highsmith said. “And you’re a big part of that.”

One of the things she photographed at the Hall of Fame was the late Pete Seeger’s banjo, whose strings once rang with such songs as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

That was for the Library of Congress’ Folklife Center, Highsmith said.

She said the photos she took in Owensboro last week should be on the Library of Congress’ website in about three months.

There is no copyright, she said.

People can download the images and use them.

Her works can be seen at and

Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301


Mark Calitri speaks: Sports tourism leads a post Covid economic recovery for Owensboro… Old Macy’s may become sports complex


A group of local investors — Owensboro Indoor Sports LLC — has bought the old Macy’s property at Towne Square Mall for $1.25 million.

Jim Estes, spokesman for the group, said, “We’re willing to do whatever the city wants out there.”

Macy’s announced in January that it was pulling out of Owensboro, leaving the 80,000-square-foot anchor location empty.

Estes said the local group began working to buy the store and the seven acres that Macy’s owned there.

Mayor Tom Watson said the project will require “some government help. It’ll need to be remodeled for indoor sports. But I couldn’t be happier. I’m excited that we’re keeping it in local hands.”

In December, Jack Wells, Matt Hayden and others bought the 35-acre mall site from Kohan Retail Investment for $5.15 million.

The sale did not include the Macy’s property, which the retail chain owned separately from the mall.

In 2018, the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau approved a $12,500 contract with Pinnacle Indoor Sports of Louisville for a study of the community’s needs for sports facilities.

It recommended, among other things, that a 60,000-square-foot indoor sports facility be built.

The study suggested that an indoor facility have four hard-floor courts, with room for basketball, volleyball, archery and any other sport that could be played indoors.

The Owensboro Convention Center was originally to be used for sports as well as conventions and trade shows.

But, for the most part, that didn’t happen.

CVB officials have had their eyes on the mall for two years.

Mark Calitri, CVB president, said Wednesday, “I’m looking forward to hearing more.”

Estes said the Macy’s building meets the height requirement for indoor sports and is larger than the study recommended.

He said a lot of people think Frederica Street is becoming a “ghost town.”


Visit Owensboro is the official destination marketing organization for Owensboro and Daviess County Kentucky. Mark Calitri serves as President/CEO.


Calitri reports pandemic hits hard, predicts strong 2021!
OWENSBORO, Ky. (WEHT) – The pandemic has hit industries ranging from restaurants to manufacturing. The nation’s hotels are also taking a major hit. A national lodging group says the hotel industry is “on the brink of collapse”.
“You could probably go to a bunch of the hotels in the local areas and see the parking lot will speak louder than words,” said Nita Patel, the owner and operator of the Super 8 in Owensboro, just off of Frederica Street. After the pandemic started, so did reservation cancellations.
“For example, in April, we had $86,000 in reservations. As the pandemic was announced in March, literally, you could see calls coming and cancelling all those reservations and it trickled down to about 5 maybe 6% in the month of April,” she said.
“The virus has definitely been devastating to our tourism industry. It’s not just the hotels that have been negatively affected. We’ve had restaurants close,” adds Mark Calitri of Visit Owensboro.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association says 2020 is expected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy, and experts believe occupancy won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022. An Oxford Economics study showed nearly 4 million hotel and hospitality workers were either furloughed or laid off, and the industry could lose of up to half of its revenue for 2020.
Calitri says occupancies city wide are down 50% and room rates are down 26%.
“So, you combine those two together, and that’s created the substantial never before seen drop,” he said.
In a letter to congressional leaders, the AHLA is asking congress to help hotels by extending paycheck protection programs, protect workers and guests through tax credits for PPE, and start a new travel tax credit to get Americans travel again when it’s safe. Patel hopes things improve in the fall and winter, but will control costs to keep the rooms open.
“You just do whatever it takes to keep yourselves open at this point,” she said.
For the latest breaking news and stories from across the
Tri-State, follow Eyewitness News on Facebook and Twitter.
(This story was originally published on May 26, 2020)
Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Visit Owensboro is the official destination marketing organization for Owensboro and Daviess County Kentucky. Mark Calitri serves as President/CEO.


Calitri speaks tourism: ROMP canceled this year, 2021 loaded with big events

Calitri speaks tourism: ROMP canceled this year, 2021 loaded with big events
In April, the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum postponed ROMP indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the time, there was hope of moving the June 24-27 event to the fall.
But the pandemic is still holding on.
And Chris Joslin, the Hall of Fame’s executive director, said the festival that draws more than 25,000 people from several countries to Yellow Creek Park each summer is canceled for this year.
It is now scheduled to return on June 23-26, 2021.
Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “ROMP is important to our community’s identity, as Owensboro continues to carve out a reputation as the Bluegrass Music Capital of The World.”
He said, “Although the event is tremendously important, thank goodness the success of the Hall of Fame is not tied solely to ROMP.”
Joslin said earlier, “It is fortunate that the Hall of Fame is much more diversified today than we were just a few years ago. While virtually everything is at a standstill for us currently, we entered into this crisis much stronger than we would have a few years ago.”
“ROMP will return and will continue to have a significant economic impact for our community,” Calitri said.
Kentucky tourism’s TV commercials this spring have featured shots of the Hall of Fame.
Visit Owensboro is the official destination marketing organization for Owensboro and Daviess County Kentucky. Mark Calitri serves as President/CEO.


Owensboro launches new COVID-19 recovery task force

Tourism, specifically, has been hit hard by the pandemic, as the city saw hotel occupancies decrease by more than 60%.
“When I say tourism – we’re talking about hotels, restaurants, our bourbon distillery, our museums and arts organizations have all been greatly affected,” Mark Calitri, president and CEO of Visit Owensboro said.



Calitri speaks tourism: Chamber, EDC, Visit Owensboro create recovery task force

Chamber, EDC, CVB create recovery task force
The Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. and the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau have created a 17-member GO Forward Economic Recovery Task Force to help with the community’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Mark Calitri, CVB president, said, “Our tourism partners, including hotels, restaurants, museums and attractions, were the first and hardest hit by the pandemic. Now that our reopening process is in full swing, it is time to demonstrate that Greater Owensboro is open for business and that we will get through this time and become even stronger than we were before.”
The task force includes members of local government, the hospitality industry, the Owensboro Riverport Authority, Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, agribusiness, health care, school systems, higher education, workforce development and nonprofits.
Candance Castlen Brake, chamber president, said, “The three of us have been working together for several weeks to collectively address issues. But we want to work with others to address any gaps.”
She said, “We had some major momentum in March, and we need to recapture that.”
Brake said she hasn’t heard from any chamber members who are thinking of closing their doors.
But many of them are struggling, she said.
Brake said, “There was a big sigh of relief when they were able to reopen. But they’ve had a deluge of new guidelines. One described it as like standing in the middle of a fire with a garden hose.”
She said the task force needs to look at child care, so parents can get back to work.
Visit Owensboro is the official destination marketing organization for Owensboro and Daviess County Kentucky. Mark Calitri serves as President/CEO.


Mark Calitri speaks tourism: 3 ways to build guest confidence

According to author Jena Tessa Fox and the most recent Price Waterhouse Coopers survey—travelers will make travel decisions based on safety. The PwC survey found some definite bright spots as almost 40% of consumers plan to travel by this July.
Mark Calitri, Visit Owensboro, President/CEO, indicated that for the tourism industry to begin recovery two things must happen simultaneously…first the government must ease travel restrictions and lockdowns. Second, the consumer’s confidence in safety must improve.”
Calitri said, “People are scared and it’s difficult to find clear and non-politically motivated Covid 19 information. This process of easing restrictions will slowly allow consumer confidence to return.”
Calitri said, “Visit Owensboro is working hard to postpone events and reschedule—not cancel. We are taking a positive outlook for 2021!’
The article listed 3 key takeaways and what it will take to improve consumer confident and make sure their customers and guests feel safe when away from home:
1. Cite the CDC, not private companies
More than half (59 percent) of respondents rated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first among sources they will consult before traveling. In fact, they are 70 percent more likely to trust the CDC than the federal government (36 percent), which ranks fourth on the list of trusted sources, after state governments (49 percent) and other health organizations (37 percent). In turn, only 10 percent of respondents said they trust the safety guidelines of private businesses like hotels, restaurants and airlines.
To reassure their customers, travel, transportation and hospitality companies should communicate clearly and cite trusted sources to help guide their safety policies.
2. Build trust
This is a moment for branded hotels to shine and make the brand synonymous with safety and security. More than double the number of consumers surveyed said they would avoid spending the night in a short-term rental property (37 percent) compared to a brand-name hotel (16 percent).
Hotels can capitalize on that trust by sharing their safety standards and making sure guests understand how hard the property’s team is working to keep everyone safe. Almost 75 percent of respondents said employees wearing personal protective equipment and third-party certified sanitation reviews offer them a sense of security.
At the same time, almost 85 percent said their travel decisions will hinge on communications they receive from hotels and airlines about safety. (This is an opportunity to reach out to former customers and guests detailing a hotel’s CDC-recommended initiatives: Approximately 40 percent said they were unsatisfied with the communications they’re currently receiving about safety protocols.) Hotels also can communicate their efforts to current guests by having dedicated COVID-19 sanitation workers wearing a dedicated uniform.

3. Upsell safety
Travelers want control of their surroundings: Nearly half—43 percent of respondents—said they were likely to spend more to confirm physical distancing on their next flight, with 60 percent of families with children willing to pay more. Fifty-five percent of consumers aged 18 to 40 years also said they would spend more to feel safe when traveling. In other words, while hoteliers should certainly not look to abuse their guests’ concerns, they should not fear making sure the price is commensurate with the steps taken to maintain safety.
The desire to stay safe can be a boon for hotels in certain markets: Respondents also said they would want easy access to testing at their destinations, and would be more likely to select destinations that are past the peak of COVID-19 infection and have adequate contact tracing and hospital capacity. Businesses in these areas can mention these factors in their marketing to help ensure guests that the destination is a safe one.


Mark Calitri reports: Hospitality industry slammed by pandemic

Hospitality industry slammed by pandemic
The nation’s hospitality industry — hotels, restaurants, attractions and events — has sustained massive losses in the past two months.
A new report from the U.S. Travel Association says the industry has lost more than $157 billion in business since March, when compared with 2019.
The week that ended May 9 alone saw a $19 billion loss, the report said.
In Kentucky, it said, revenue for the travel industry was down $172 million for that week alone.
“Visit Owensboro has not been immune to COVID-19,” Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently.

“With the government-mandated business closings and lockdowns in place, the next 60 days are not looking much better as we are estimating a 60% occupancy decline in May and June,” he said. “These are not just numbers. They represent losses to real people in Daviess County who are suffering and negatively affected across a broad spectrum of businesses.”


Great Race postponed until August. Vintage cars from five countries.

Great Race postponed until August. Vintage cars from five countries.
The Great Race won’t be rolling into town on June 24 with 120 vintage cars from Japan, England, Germany, Canada and all over the United States after all.
But, so far at least, it’s only been postponed to Aug. 26.
“I’m pleased to announce that all of our grand champions, as well as a majority of the race teams, volunteers and staff, have agreed to the new schedule and we look forward to having a full field for the start of the 2020 Great Race in front of the Alamo on Aug. 22,” Jeff Stumb, event director, said in a news release.
The 2,300-mile race, which features $158,750 in prize money, ends in Greenville, South Carolina, on Aug. 30.
Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said if things have returned to near normal by Aug. 26, the event will be a big boost for the local economy.
When the event was expected in June and no one had heard of coronavirus, Stumb said in a news release, “When the Great Race pulls into a city, it becomes an instant festival. Last year, we had a couple of overnight stops with more than 10,000 spectators on our way to having 250,000 people see the Great Race during the event.”
This week, he said, “The Great Race will follow all CDC, state and local guidelines, and officials have been working closely with cities to have spectators line the streets on the way into the venue to ensure social distancing rather than in large groups.
“As the entire United States is opening up again, we will continue to monitor the situation for any changes we may be able to make in either direction,” Stumb said.
He said the race committee and sponsors have set July 1 as the official “go” date — as long as conditions are favorable.
Calitri said, “We are thankful The Great Race organizers are putting the health and safety of their drivers and spectators first. The new date allows us to better prepare for the event in terms of keeping everyone safe while still enjoying the event.”
He said local hotels have been able to rebook rooms for Aug. 26.
“The Great Race is a phenomenal event that has sold out our downtown properties and stretches to some of our other hotels,” Calitri said.
He said the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum is planning outdoor music that evening to welcome the racers.
“It will look a little different and we do not have all the details yet,” Calitri said. “How different will be determined by both our state and local governments. We plan to release more details as we get closer to the event and have a better understanding about what regulations will need to be followed to have a safe and successful event.”
He said, “This highlights that the return to travel is not going to instantaneous, but a slow methodical process, until the consumer has confidence of their safety. Travelers are looking for safety and cleanliness, which have always been part of the foundation of the hospitality business, but now with COVID, it’s under a microscope. Owensboro has always been a resilient community and I think we are well-positioned for the best possible outcome as travel restarts.”
In Kentucky, the race will stop in Paducah, Owensboro, Bardstown and Georgetown.
All vehicles have to be manufactured before 1975.
The race, which shares its name with a 1965 movie about another race, ran for the first time in 1983.
Older cars frequently complete the event.
In 2011, it was a 1911 Velie that won.
The following year, a 1907 Renault and a 1914 Ford Model T both ran the entire course.
And last year, a 1909 Buick completed the journey.
Each car has a driver and a navigator, and they can change places as often as they want.
The Great Race is not as speed race.
It is a time/speed/distance race.
Dave Kirk, the CVB’s destination management director, said earlier that the drivers and navigators “are given precise instructions each day that detail every move down to the second. They are scored at secret checkpoints along the way and are penalized one second for each second either early or late. As in golf, the lowest score wins.”
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301,


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