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Veterans organization enters Gabe's Tower fray

Messenger-Inquirer - 6/20/2018

June 20--The president and CEO of a veterans resource organization in Bowling Green says he intends to transform Owensboro's iconic Gabe's Tower into a multiuse veterans living facility.

Ron Georgette briefed the Owensboro City Commission Tuesday night during a public comment period regarding his plans. Georgette, who said he is a U.S. Army veteran, is the leader and founder of Operation Stand Down Kentucky, which works on behalf of some local veterans as their fiduciary for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. Georgette said the organization is turning its focus toward affordable housing and transportation for veterans, which is bringing his work to Owensboro.

But what his relationship with the building's current owner, Bob Zimmerman, will be still remains unclear. Although Georgette claims he is negotiating with Zimmerman to purchase the building, Zimmerman is refusing to comment on his plans, throwing what city officials are calling a confusing wrench into the ongoing saga.

Georgette said he envisions the blighted 13-story tower on Triplett Street as a self-sustaining, all-in-one resource for veterans that will provide affordable housing, assisted living and hospice care in addition to both reintegration and transitional living opportunities for male and female homeless veterans.

"It's going to be a multifunctional building that will provide many different services for veterans in Owensboro and the surrounding counties," Georgette said. "We're going to do everything that we can to create the best services here in Daviess County and the surrounding counties, because many of these services just aren't available here."

He told the commission that he and his colleagues often refer to Daviess and the surrounding counties as "the black hole of no help for veterans," which drew immediate and sharp criticism from Mayor Tom Watson and another member in the audience Tuesday night.

Specifically, Georgette referenced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing, Supportive Services for Veteran Families and Public Housing programs, which provide qualified rental assistance, permanent housing location and public housing authority preferential treatment services for veterans in several larger counties. According to published HUD resource data, none of the three programs are currently offered in Daviess County.

"When a veteran is facing eviction in Lexington, Louisville, Paducah (or) Bowling Green, they can get immediate assistance as long as they have (the proper documentation)," he said. "Here in Daviess County, the demographics are the same as they are in Bowling Green -- there's about as many veterans, down to within a few hundred -- so it's been frustrating to come here and visit the resource fairs and have homeless veterans or veterans that are struggling reach out, because we've got to relocate them out of this community."

He offered no specific timeline on his project proposal and said he would finance the Gabe's Tower revamp with a combination of state and federal grants, private donations and other nondescript funds. He said Operation Stand Down Kentucky intends to work alongside other veterans resource organizations and government bodies in Owensboro and Daviess County as an active partner.

"We thought, as a courtesy, we would first approach the city, hoping the city would embrace this," he said.

In an earlier interview with the Messenger-Inquirer Tuesday, Georgette said he is negotiating with current Gabe's Tower owner Zimmerman to purchase the building. Zimmerman himself has been public about his intent to repurpose the former hotel into a veterans resource center, but despite Georgette's claims, Zimmerman repeatedly declined to comment Tuesday night when asked if he did intend to sell the building.

According to both the Daviess County Property Valuation Administrator and clerk's offices Tuesday, no deed transfer has taken place at the property, 1926 Triplett St.

Zimmerman has filed a federal suit against the city, alleging improper arrest on multiple occasions when he was leasing the property from its former owners. As of Tuesday, the suit had not been dropped. The city commission has declined to hear from Zimmerman on issues surrounding the tower during public comment periods due to that suit.

City Attorney Steve Lynn said he is unclear and confused by the sudden turn of events at the site. He said Georgette has reached out to him via email about his intent and possible purchase of the building, but there has still been no official word about the nature or time of that sale from Zimmerman.

Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, aramsey@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @austinrramsey

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(c)2018 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

Visit the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.) at www.messenger-inquirer.com

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