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Thursday, June 1, 2023

City considers changes to Ellis Entertainment’s smoking policy

The city of Owensboro is considering revising its citywide smoking policy after a conversation with Ellis Entertainment, a representative for Ellis Entertainment told city officials that the current policy could negatively impact the company when it opens.

Ellis Entertainment is still in the early stages of opening a new entertainment venue at Owensboro’s Towne Square mall, specifically at the former JCPenney site. Officials have previously said the venue plans to offer a variety of Historic Racing (HRM), simulcast betting and viewing areas when it initially opens, as well as a new race and sports-themed bar and grill.

Ownership of the project was eventually acquired by Churchill Downs. Officials from Ellis Entertainment or Churchill Downs were not present at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Instead, city manager Nate Pagan addressed the issue, saying Churchill officials contacted the city to express concerns about the smoking ban currently in place.

“Churchill explained that they believed the ability to smoke in the facility was integral to their success,” Pagan said. “While discussing the issue, the council appeared to be open to their request. As a result, staff began negotiations with Churchill Downs on potential changes to the smoking regulations.”

Commissioners did not vote on the ordinance, but are expected to do so later this month.

Pagan said the amendment would allow “limited-scale smoking in projects that meet various criteria”. He said the criteria included:

  • The project or location must have at least 50,000 square feet of space and represent a capital investment of at least $30 million.
  • Smoking is only permitted in a limited portion of the space that does not exceed 15% of the total space accessible to the public.
  • Smoking areas must be separated by a full wall and vestibule or double doors between smoking and non-smoking areas.
  • A separate air purification system is required.
  • This location does not allow patrons under the age of 18 to enter.

While no action was taken against the smoking ordinance, the city government did approve a municipal order amending the incentive package with Ellis Entertainment.

“During the negotiations, we also reconsidered and opened up the incentive agreement,” Pagan said.

The initial incentive agreement was approved in April 2022. It provided Ellis Entertainment with a 5-year, 50% general fund career tax rebate.

The unanimously approved municipal order modifies the agreement by inserting the required payroll amounts for the first years the historic horse racing facility will operate.

Pagan said the company will forfeit or lose the year’s incentives if the total wages offered to the facility’s employees fall short of the required amount.

“We’re doing this to help ensure that this project has a substantial employment and economic impact in our community,” he said.

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