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Paducah Mayor Talks Rec. Center, Food Truck Festival, More at Community Idea Event

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless covered a range of topics from recreational centers to food truck festivals in a community listening session Tuesday night. The event titled “Informed & Involved” was designed by high school student interns working with the city government. About 50 people attended diverse in age, race and gender identity.

People put sticky notes on the wall separated out by generation: Millennials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. Millennials wanted to know about youth involvement with government, how to pay for college, mentoring programs, social justice, equality and healing the partisan divide. Gen-Xers inquired about how to be healthy, small business incentives, how to help their kids enter the workforce upon graduation and support for the LGBT community. Baby Boomers were concerned about opportunities for youth, staying healthy, parks and recycling services.

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Kicking off a blitz of answering questions placed in a basket, Harless said in the seven months she’s been on the job as mayor her biggest surprise was to find out how flexible city government was in trying new things. "One of the biggest surprises for me has been how easy it is to change things. I did not expect that to happen," Harless said.

She answered numerous questions including incentives for small business owners, a recreation center for youth (see below), improving streets and sidewalks in the Fountain Avenue neighborhood (possibly using capital improvement funds), a food truck festival (see below), a study underway analyzing the potential for bike lanes on downtown roads and preliminary neighborhood revitalization efforts in the city’s south side.

A question regarding a future city-county merger came up. Harless said she doesn’t think a merger is the "magic bullet" but rather cooperation with county government. She said she regularly meets with Judge Executive Bob Leeper and plans on announcing some collaborations within a few months. "I don't necessarily want to spend all of my time working on a merger when I can spend my time working on the relationship." A merger was a hotly debated topic in 2012.

A few of the topics on sticky notes weren't addressed like support for the LGBT community and recycling programs. After the meeting, Harless told WKMS the city is still figuring out what support for the LGBT community means for a city government and what the involvement would be. As for recycling, Harless said this came up during a recent budgeting period and the city manager has come up with ‘creative ways’ to test curbside recycling.

Vaysaa Burton is a transgender woman who attended the event. She says she was hoping to hear LGBT support from the city and ways to get an event started. She says support “is not very good right now” and wants to see the LGBT group more involved in the community with assurance that “there is something for them, too.”

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS
"Informed & Involved" at City Hall on August 1, 2017


A question as to whether Paducah could have a food truck festival came up. Harless, smiling, said, “Yes.” She then followed with "I guess the next question is, who’s going to organize it? And I say: the interns!" She and the audience both laughed. But then in a more serious response, she described the recent city ordinance outlining parameters for food trucks to operate in the city as an example of a catalyst for growth, by changing policy and opening up opportunities for businesses. Citing a food truck currently in operation in the city (Boss Burritos), Harless said she hopes that will serve as an inspiration for others. Expressing openness to the possibility of a festival, Harless said, "And I think a festival is probably better suited when we have more of a ground swell of those food trucks in town before we want to put a festival on."


Questions about increasing an investment in youth recreation and mentoring services came up. Developing a large community sports complex was a campaign topic mentioned by State Representative Gerald Watkins in 2016 as a ‘most needed project.’

Answering this, Harless asked, “What do we already have?” She said that question hasn’t been exhausted yet with regards to a rec center. She said schools and facilities with space exists and wondered if there was a way to further open them up for groups to access. Identifying where the barriers are and what can be done about them, she said, should precede building something new.

"When people talk about doing the TajMahal of sportsplexes like Elizabethtown I get a little nervous because I understand that the real operation barrier to places like that mean the city is subsidizing the operating expenses and we're putting ourselves at risk having to spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize the operation of those things,” Harless said.

She said her administration is considering forming a recreation or sports commission to identify potential, but added that it probably wouldn’t be until next year before this effort is organized.

Credit Kentucky Blue Thunder, Facebook
Kentucky Blue Thunder representatives with Mayor Brandi Harless at the "Informed & Involved" event.

Kentucky Blue Thunder

The youth rec center questions were contributed by members of Kentucky Blue Thunder, an Amateur Athletic Union boys basketball group. Coach Jeffery Lowery manages this group. With him was Anthony Ellison, a group of young men and several awards.

The team consists of 40-50 kids from around the region, including Marshall, Graves, Fulton Counties, Paducah, Mayfield, Cairo and Metropolis. The group has traveled to tournaments in Atlanta and Cincinnati.

He said the team is looking for a consistent place to practice as well as a place for young people to do their homework and learn soft skills. “We struggled for a whole year of just finding practice places. We went from church to church, we used the rec center for a little bit. But there’s other organizations that doing other things too, as well. So if we just had a facility big enough for everybody to do everything then i think it will serve its purpose for our kids," Ellison said.

Lowery noted that existing facilities are either too expensive or don't allow enough time to give all the kids involved a chance to practice. The group relies on donations to pay for facility time, travel and tournament fees. Currently, they are using space allocated by the Parks Services, Lowery said.

Lowery is hoping the city can help find them a more permanent space in the city. “It’s sad that we go to Owensboro and Bowling Green where their Boys Club or YMCA has two courts or track/field, indoor soccer and all this work. We’re the only city in this area in western Kentucky that doesn’t have an actual community center,” he said. “It’s a constant battle not knowing ‘are you going to be able to practice this week?’”  

Ellison said it's about more than just basketball, it's about mentorship and giving young men a chance to talk about personal issues they can't talk to others about. Lowery said giving kids a feeling of accomplishment and encouraging them to believe in themselves is a worthy investment. As Paducah is looking to expand, and considering the next generation in those plans, Lowery said, "Invest in us, too."

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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