As we prepare for the 20th anniversary of The Center for Rural Development and the grand opening of a new Courtyard by Marriott hotel in a joint celebration on Dec. 12, we look back at another milestone in the history of The Center.
Our grand opening: Twenty years ago
On June 15, 1996, U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), Gov. Paul Patton, University of Kentucky (UK) President Charles Wethington joined local, state, and federal dignitaries to celebrate the grand opening of The Center for Rural Development.
The celebration, which attracted thousands of people from across the state, came three months after The Center first opened its doors to the public.
Hilda Legg, The Center’s first executive director, told the Commonwealth Journal in a special edition announcing the grand opening that the event will be “our opportunity to share the beauty, versatility, and technical capabilities of The Center and to help the public understand how the facility will serve the community and the region.”
Guided tours and technology in action
Originally known as The Center for Kentucky Rural Economic Development, The Center provided guided tours of its state-of-the-art 100,426-square-foot facility during the grand opening celebration.
The public, many for the first time, viewed The Center’s 760-seat performing arts theatre, break-out meeting rooms, 25,000-square foot Exhibit Halls for banquets and conferences, impressive television production studio, and witnessed technology in action with a live videoconference from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The videoconference with U.S. Undersecretary of International Trade, Stuart Eizenstat, demonstrated the high-tech technology now available to Southern and Eastern Kentucky—thanks to The Center.
“This $16 million facility was financed to be a model for the rest of the nation on how to bring economic development to a rural region,” Congressman Rogers wrote in a letter to the Commonwealth Journal on May 21, 1996. “It will serve 40 counties throughout Southern and Eastern Kentucky.
“With the most modern two-way teleconferencing and computer equipment, The Center will link all the counties in our region to the entire world,” he said. “The Center will also house numerous agencies that promote job recruitment, tourism, training, farm income, and other development projects.”
Among the regional development groups housed at The Center that first year were the Southern Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED), Southern Kentucky Tourism Development Association, Southeastern Kentucky Agriculture Development Corporation, and the Small Business Development Center.
Spectacular light show
The 1996 grand opening celebration ended with a spectacular light show. A beam directed from the control room at the rear of the theatre simulated the cutting of a large red ribbon draped across the back of the stage.
Keep watching for more information on the 20th anniversary celebration and the grand opening of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and a look back at some of the other historical events at The Center.