History, architecture and new business were the talking points of many conversations in downtown Paducah on Saturday.
Paducah Main Street and the Paducah Board of Realtors hosted the first Showcase Paducah with some 30 open houses in downtown and Lower Town to increase interest in vacant properties.
The event exceeded expectations, said Steve Ervin, Paducah's city planning director. Ervin said the event organizers had to print additional copies of tour guides, as all of the 200 original copies were gone before the showcase ended.
"It's been great to see excitement and interest in downtown," he said.
Visitors who signed in at the Paducah Main Street tent at Second Street and Broadway came from western Kentucky and places far beyond, including Chicago, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.
While Ervin wasn't sure if any property sales were made at the end of the event, several property owners told him they had serious interest from potential buyers.
The organizers are already planning on hosting another showcase.
"I think the event will grow, but hopefully the number of buildings on the tour will decrease," he said.
The event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., drew interest from both potential residential and business buyers. At the corner of Broadway and Water Street, representatives from Re/Max Realty Group were showing off the luxury River Place Condos and first-floor retail spaces, which range in price from $100,000 to $600,000.
George and Joan Manganaro, owners of Main Street Italian Grill in Marion, were in Paducah on Friday looking at a property to open a restaurant in the city when they heard about the Saturday open houses. George Manganaro said he was impressed with the location at 100 Broadway.
"This is an awesome building," he said.
Tom Dunn of Benton, who owns the former Michael Hardware Building at 203 Broadway, has plans to renovate the ground floor of the building for an interested restaurant owner. He's also beginning to renovate the third, fourth and fifth floors as two-bedroom, 1,200-square-feet condos in the $170,000-$180,000 range.
Contractors have already replaced the roof, and Dunn has plans to put in a new elevator and create an outdoor area on the roof for residents. The building's history includes its connection to the Underground Railroad through a tunnel in its basement.
Some visitors who stopped in Dunn's building Saturday included local residents considering moving downtown following retirement.
Two blocks away, Rebecca Ausbrooks, owner of the former Watkins Department Store at 422 Broadway, has a business owner interested in the location but said downtown parking is an obstacle. She was using Saturday as a chance to both give tours and do some work on the former store.
"My husband and I believe in this town, we can do this, we can make something happen," she said.
Randy Bridges, president of the Paducah Board of Realtors and an agent with Re/Max showing the 100 Broadway property, said he thought the showcase generated a lot of interest in downtown. He credited agents working together and the initiative of Melinda Winchester, director of Paducah Main Street, for making the event a success.
"It is amazing ... it's good to see everyone work together," he said. "The cohesion has been good."
James "Scotty" Scott, a Paducah ambassador, said about a dozen ambassadors were volunteering downtown as part of their regular Saturday service and to help with the showcase.
"It's been hoppin', there's been a lot of people looking at residential properties," he said.
Residential properties in the Lower Town district were also host to open houses.
Tim and Leslie Moore with Century 21 were showing off 335 N. Sixth Street, the Egg & I Bed and Breakfast building, which has been on the market for about two months. The home, which includes an upstairs apartment and bed and breakfast suite, is priced at $434,900.
The Moores said they saw some decent prospects Saturday and were busy non-stop throughout the tour with visitors. Those visitors included Nick and Alexandra Quigley, who recently moved to Paducah from St. Louis. Alexandra Quigley, a costume designer, stopped in at the Sixth Street property after viewing a nearby house. She's looking at locations for potential studio space.
"That's why we came down," she said. "We're trying to hit up as many places as we can."
While developers, real estate agents and volunteers were showing off vacant and available spaces, the showcase doubled as a opportunity for new businesses to open their doors to a crowd Saturday. Susan K. Edwards opened her new shop, Wildhair Studios' Rock Shop at 209 Broadway, on Friday.
Edwards owned a shop downtown about five years ago but had to close her doors. She said recent development in the area is what drew her to re-open at the new location, which offers handmade jewelry and rock collections she's gathered from around the country.
"I'm more than happy," she said. "It's very exciting to see all of the juice come back into downtown."
Edwards said she thinks increased interest in downtown Paducah can trigger redevelopment.
"It's a critical mass situation," she said. "You've got to have enough stores and business that it creates a snowball effect."
Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.