The Robert Cherry Civic Center’s future came up for discussion Tuesday evening, as Paducah Mayor George Bray shared information about how the city is looking to “repurpose” the facility and move the Parks & Recreation Department there from H.C. Mathis Drive.
The civic center, 2701 Park Ave., was closed more than a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the city. It’s located by Noble Park and people use the city facility for various events, such as banquets, dances, trade shows, family reunions and other types of gatherings.
Meanwhile, the Parks & Recreation Department is located at 1400 H.C. Mathis Drive, and the site used to be the West Kentucky Industrial College. The Paducah-McCracken County Senior Center is also housed in the building.
Both buildings were talked about at Tuesday’s Paducah City Commission meeting, as part of an agenda discussion item.
“Currently, the Parks & Recreation Department is housed in a facility that is very expensive to maintain. The heating, cooling, the energy cost around that building, ... I’m told it exceeds a $100,000 a year just to be in that building,” Bray said.
“In addition to that, the Robert Cherry Civic Center has operated at a loss for the last several years — anywhere from $35,000 to $65,000, depending on the year and depending on who uses it.”
Bray said user fees for the civic center “really just don’t take care of the expenses.”
“The combination of those two things has led the city to make the decision to repurpose the Robert Cherry Civic Center, and the plan is for the Parks & Recreation Department to move into that facility,” he added.
Bray described the decision as being one of economics, and said it makes “good financial sense” to repurpose the civic center.
“It’s a good economical decision for the city,” he said. “There was no intent to displace people in any way that have been utilizing the facility, and we feel, and have confirmed, that there are places around town that would like to host groups of different sizes.”
City Commissioner Raynarldo Henderson said he appreciates Bray talking about it and “bringing it out into the open,” because he’s been approached about the civic center and the city’s plans to repurpose it.
“Some of the things that I’ve heard as to why we’re doing it, obviously are not true,” Henderson said. “Many have not heard what (Bray) said tonight about the financial challenges that the city faces when it comes to just operating the civic center.
“And the perception again, ... from those who use the civic center on a regular basis, the thought is that — you know, ‘Pushing us out. Pushing us out, and forcing us to use other places,’ and that’s not true. We know that’s not true, but talking about it now and helping people understand what it is that we’re trying to do, why we’re trying to do it — I think does make a difference.”
The civic center would need to be renovated and prepared for the Parks & Recreation Department to move there, and a “community room” would be part of the renovation, Bray said. It’s not known yet how large that space will be, or how much the civic center’s renovation would cost.
“The idea is that there would be a community room that people could come in and use, but much smaller than the civic center as we have it now,” he said.
Parks & Recreation Director Amie Clark was also at the meeting. She said they have met with PFGW (Peck Flannery Gream Warren) about the civic center, and noted there’s a lot of “moving pieces” overall.
“Maintenance — we have to figure out where maintenance is going to go. We’re working with the Senior Center,” she told the commission.
“They’re actually looking at another facility of the city’s, potentially, for their relocation, so there’s a lot of moving parts, but I’m kind of like the mayor, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. There’s a lot of moving parts that we’re considering as we move this forward.”
In an interview with The Sun, Clark said there had been a facility study done and the Parks & Recreation building is “in the millions” for needing repairs, including a roof replacement and window replacements.
The study indicated more than $300,000 in needs for the civic center, such as for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility improvements, and replacement of doors and windows. Back in March, the city commission adopted city facilities and developing a plan for the Parks & Recreation building and Fire Station 4 as two of its top 12 priorities.
“We get calls everyday about the civic center and people wanting to reserve a space,” Clark told The Sun, after the meeting.
“And so, there’s a lot of rumors flying around, but it is very much on our radar to make sure that we have banquet space to serve things like the quilt show, and the unions that come and have workshops and that kind of thing. We are looking at as much banquet space as we can, as well as the prep areas for catering and that kind of thing, because we do a lot of wedding receptions as well.”
According to the city, the next step is to get a cost estimate for proposed renovations for the civic center, and the Senior Center is looking at other options that would “be more economical,” for its operations.
The entire discussion and commission meeting can be viewed online through the city’s YouTube channel, @paducahkygov.
In other meeting business:
• Kathryn Byers, the city’s business development specialist, gave a presentation to the commission about a proposed remote workers incentive program. The program is a top priority of the city commission.
According to the presentation, the proposed program would include different incentives to remote workers moving to the city from 100 or more miles away, such as relocation expenses, internet access, and a payroll tax waiver for a 12-month period. The city has allocated $100,000 for the incentives and marketing. The plan is to present a final draft of the proposed program in July.
• The commission approved the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Under the overall budget, the city’s General Fund budget is $40,383,175. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
• The commission approved a municipal order that authorizes temporary closure of the street on the west side of the Market House downtown, allowing for outdoor dining. The city closed that area of Market House Square last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to help accommodate more outdoor dining space for businesses.
• The commission approved an ordinance for a budget amendment for the current fiscal year’s budget for $2.9 million. It will used as matching funds for the floodwall rehabilitation project, involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.