The Paducah Board of Commissioners meeting was held at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, January 12 with Mayor George Bray and Commissioners' Sandra Wilson, Raynarldo Henderson, David Guess, and Carol Gault. Also in attendance was City Manager Jim Arndt and the city clerk.
There were several items on the agenda tonight up for a vote. The first was the appointment of the Mayor Pro Tempore and various board members and reappointments. The second was the decision regarding the Lose and Associates, Inc. contract for the Indoor Recreation and Aquatic Center. Third, was the alcoholic beverage license renewal municipal order.
As expected, the commissioner with the most votes was unanimously voted in by the city commission as the Mayor pro-tem. Commissioner Sandra Wilson received the most votes in the November 2020 election. Other board appointments and various reappointments took place as well.
Next on the agenda was the decision on whether or not to continue with the design project with Lose Design for the Indoor Recreation and Aquatic Center. Last year, the project was placed on hold and a decision on how to proceed was to fall on the incoming city commission.
Discussions took place before the vote. New commissioner's Guess, Gault and Henderson all agreed the timing was off for this particular project, partially due to the effects of COVID-19. Commissioner Henderson went on to say it wasn't a concept issue but one of timing.
Commissioner Wilson said, " The Wellness Center project was affected by COVID-19. It was the hardest of times. There were major decisions that needed to be made. We had no idea what it would do to our city." Wilson said she appreciated the new direction the new commission was taking and agreed that the timing for the project wasn't good.
There was discussion about the possibility of a YMCA coming to Paducah and if this was the case, they would want to use their own design firm.
Mayor Bray said, "COVID has had an impact on this (the project). There may be opportunity to work with the Y." He said the structure would need to be totally rethought. More partners would need to be identified; those with 'skin in the game'. The city would look for the right partners going forward.
In the end, the Paducah Board of Commissioners approved the municipal order to terminate the professional design and construction management agreement with Lose and Associates, Inc. for the Indoor Recreation and Aquatic Center. The City entered into the agreement in August 2019 with the agreement paused in August 2020. Each member of the Board stated that this is not the best timing for the project.
After voting on the Aquatic Center, an emergency ordinance was introduced. The order related to the waving of fees pertaining to alcoholic license renewal. Bray said, "Paducah is known as a restaurant town." He said we want the industry to know how important they are to our community and to our economy. By waving the fees for the upcoming year it would act as a "signal from the city that these restaurants are very important to us," explained Bray.
Commissioner Henderson said, "Anything we can do to lighten the load." The Paducah Board of Commissioners approved the emergency ordinance to waive the 2021 renewal fees that are due January 31, 2021, for certain alcohol license types.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Executive Orders from the Governor’s office, many businesses were required to either close or operate at a diminished capacity with restaurants and bars seeing a substantial financial impact. The Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has allowed for a 12-month fee waiver for certain license types. This action by the City of Paducah mirrors the State’s action and provides a benefit to the businesses totaling approximately $97,000. In Paducah, 108 business which have a total of 201 licenses (some businesses have more than one license) will benefit from the renewal waiver.
Rick Murphy jumped on to discuss some of the ordinances that were inherited from the previous commission as well as the introduction of several ordinances as first time readings.
At the end of the meeting, each commissioner was asked if they had further comments. Mayor Bray discussed vaccine distribution and COVID-19. He said he gets calls everyday about the vaccine and citizens wanting to know when they would be eligible for their inoculation.
Bray said in a report today from our local health department, McCracken County has seen 4,500 positive COVID-19 cases and 75 deaths. Bray said, "I personally have lost two friends to COVID." He said the process needs to be accelerated and those over 70 years of age need to be vaccinated. Bray said that the city is willing to do whatever it takes to help. "The state of Kentucky allocates the vaccine and we're expecting more this week and next week." said Bray. He continued, "I know how important it is."
Paducah City Manager Jim Arndt will not seek to renew his contract that expires June 30, 2021. The city manager told the Board of Commissioners and team leaders of his intentions this week. Arndt and other city leaders have been battling the effects of COVID-19 on city finances and controversial projects like the Paducah Aquatic Center and the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district for nearly a year.
Arndt has been city manager since July 2018 and is originally from Charleston, Illinois. His plan is to open a local government management consulting firm to be closer to his grandbabies and family.
“The dream of opening my own consulting business has been in my mind for years. I feel that I’m ready to pursue it and share with other government leaders the knowledge that I have gained while working as a professional city manager. Being a member of Team Paducah and this incredible city over the past few years has provided me with a wealth of information and experiences, best practices, and treasured memories. I will miss this warm, inviting community and the incredible city employees,” said Arndt in a news release by the city.
Mayor George P. Bray was surprised and disappointed to hear the news. Mayor Bray said, “I wish Jim and his family the best. He has clearly made an impact on Paducah, and during my first days as mayor, I have developed the utmost respect for his professionalism, positivity, and drive to excel.”
Arndt went on to say that COVID-19 has made him realize how important those special moments are with family. He and his wife Kim, would like to move back to Illinois to spend more time with the twin grandbabies.
Over the past year, the pandemic is one of several major issues facing city leaders. Coming up for a vote in the first city commission meeting of the new year is the fate of the aquatic center. The project has been on pause since July and deciding if the center will move forward or be permanently halted will be on the table.
If the aquatic center is voted down, the city will have to find a different way to invest the $20 million dollars slated for the project. Both sides, the ‘for the aquatic center’ and the ‘against the aquatic center’ have their reasons for wanting to see the project either advance or stopped.
Dr. Shiraz Patel is an orthopedist in Paducah and a volunteer coach on the Paducah Swim Team. He and others have discussed the need for a ‘YMCA” type facility for years and this was an opportunity to see it to fruition. He explained in previous interviews that a town with two major hospitals and a premier art center could benefit from the use for their ‘everyday grind.’
Those against the aquatic center would like to see the money put to use by fixing roads and infrastructure. They want the newly-elected commission to do what they said they were going to do and improve/fix the city’s stormwater problem.
Arndt has been in the storm of controversy with the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district project. TIF would allow the city to divert future property tax revenue generated within that district toward economic development projects. The agreement with Weyland Ventures of Louisville was to create a boutique motel, residential property, and commercial spaces. Those for the project see potential for economic growth and the revitalization of the downtown area. Those against say the city will be taking on more debt and the loss of parking spaces would affect city festivals. The project is currently influx.
Arndt has offered to stay after his contract ends to assist with the transition if needed. Mayor Bray added, “We will begin an immediate search for a new city manager, and Jim has committed to remain 100% engaged through July 1."
The community of Paducah is invited to a virtual listening meeting regarding the City Block Project on Monday, November 9 at 5 pm. The public space at the foot of Broadway is being sought after by a private investment firm, Weyland Ventures, to the tune of $21 million dollars. The project includes multi-use development that's bounded by Broadway, 2nd Street, Jefferson Street, and Water Street. The center of the project's design would resemble a Town Square including off-street public parking, green space, and a promenade. A boutique hotel is also planned in the mixed-use space and would face Jefferson Street.
Paducah Main Street Director Katie Axt said, “The design team at Weyland Ventures is working to gather input and feedback on how the community would like to see this public space activated. During this listening session, the team will be asking questions and guiding discussions to learn more about how the public will use and enjoy this Town Square.”
If you're interested in participating, you may do so virtually November 9, at 5 pm. It's a listening session on the Town Square portion of the City Block project. Be sure and request to participate by email to Axt by noon on Monday. Axt email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Once the email is received, you'll get link for the virtual session. The session will be recorded. The public may submit comments on the Town Square to the same email address through November 16.