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Convention center to be 'green'

HENDERSON — Local officials are seeking $5 million to build a convention center near Audubon State Park that would heavily incorporate green design principles.

Architect Tim Skinner has drawn up floor plans, which were recently submitted to Gov. Steve Beshear's office. The Gleaner of Henderson obtained a copy of those plans, which also give a brief description of the project.

"Sized at approximately 22,000 square feet, the center is capable of hosting events seating between 350-400 people," Skinner wrote. "Areas are multifunctional and can be arranged in various configurations to meet required needs ... .

"A Sustainable Energy Activities Center is a focal point in the design that will serve to educate the public and to promote developing energy practices."

Skinner said the building would be an example of "sustainable building design" that will incorporate elements that would allow it to obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The idea, Skinner wrote, is to provide "an example of the region's ongoing efforts to promote and develop sustainable energy as an economic development strategy."

Although the project is a group effort, three people are spearheading it: state Sen. Dorsey Ridley, Judge-executive Sandy Watkins, and the Rev. John Dunaway, the governor's field representative for this area.

Skinner's drawings depict the building as adjacent to Audubon State Park, but Ridley said he doesn't want "to get too particular about the location. That could drive costs up significantly. We have more than one location we're looking at."

All three men said the building would serve a function currently not met by private enterprise.

"It's not a competitive thing with anybody," Dunaway said. "If we can provide something that's connected with Audubon State Park, and if it were green, it would offer something unique to this area of the state."

They noted that none of the public meeting spaces in the community are large enough to host a regional convention or conference.

"We have the Fine Arts Center (at Henderson Community College), but you don't have facilities for breakout sessions in that building," Dunaway said.

"We're not going against any entrepreneurs in Henderson," Watkins said. "We're just talking about a convention center. It would be on state property. And I'm not talking about putting any county or city funds into this."

Ridley said he envisions the building as a public-private partnership, especially with energy companies.

"We feel like that's the sector of our economy that's moving and doing well," he said.

But it could also be partly private in that there might be a lease to a private entity to manage it, he said.

The election of Gov. Steve Beshear provided the spark for the idea, Ridley said, but the recent election of Barack Obama and his intentions for an economic stimulus program have provided new urgency to the idea.

"We've made some initial contacts," Watkins said. "I think there are some people who are going to look at it, both in Washington and Frankfort."