While nearly 2,000 people will venture downtown Saturday for the opening of the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, business owners say they are really looking forward to long-term benefits of the facility.

Opening night features a sold-out performance by country music artist LeAnn Rimes and Orchestra Kentucky.

Downtown restaurants, for instance, anticipate an influx of customers Saturday night and for future performances.

“Our reservations are pretty good,” said Tom Holmes, one of the owners of 440 Main.

Holmes said the restaurant has been spruced up in preparation for opening night, and a computer system has been installed to help people get in and out quicker. The restaurant also has a limited theater menu for before and after shows so customers will get faster service.

Mariah’s manager Jodi Fleming hopes people will come to eat before the show, leave their cars in the parking lot and then return for dessert and drinks after performances. Mariah’s will extend its hours until 11 p.m. Saturday and see how it goes from there.

Customers will get a stamp on the back of their receipt that will give them either a free dessert or a discount if they return to the restaurant within 24 hours.

Mariah’s also is debuting a new menu this week and will have weekend specials. Anyone who shows a SKyPAC ticket will get 10 percent off their food.

Fleming said the long-term influence of SKyPAC on the downtown scene has many business owners excited. “It will get people downtown and help them to remember to return downtown,” she said.

Theresa Shea, owner of Tea Squares, agreed.

“I honestly believe that with the growth that Fountain Square has had ... it will surprise a lot of people who haven’t been here in a long time,” Shea said. “And hopefully they will remember the next time they go out shopping or to eat that we have a variety of restaurant and new retail downtown. They should be excited to see that we have almost 100 percent occupancy on the ground floor around the square.”

Shea plans to stay open a little later than usual Saturday – until 7 p.m. – so people can grab a treat or cup of tea before heading off to the show. She also will be baking about 2,000 cookies to sell at SKyPAC for its community day March 18, which will include performances, artwork and other activities to show off the facility to the community.

Michael Barron, the owner of two downtown businesses, Morris Jewelry and Candle Makers on the Square, said he sees it as an opportunity for Bowling Green residents to “rediscover” downtown or for people from around the region to see it for the first time.

“It’s pretty exciting to have (SKyPAC) open,” Barron said. “And having the parking garage (at College Street and East Eighth Avenue) will be important for folks visiting downtown.”

Danielle Labold, owner of Labold and Sons Salvage at 320 E. Main Ave., is sprucing up her store for the opening by installing a new awning. Labold last year kept her store open late for after Bowling Green Hot Rods games and Concerts in the Park and she will be doing the same thing for SKyPAC performances.

Her eclectic store features clothing and many other reclaimed finds as well as artwork from more than 30 artists. Labold hopes to collaborate with SKyPAC, particularly on the community day March 18, so that her artists can have a chance to showcase their work.

“Just having more things to do downtown will benefit the entire area,” Labold said.

According to SKyPAC, other downtown restaurants are offering opening night specials and discounts as well.

Brickyard Café is offering 10 percent off dinner prior to the show and will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight. Reservations are recommended.

On the Bone is featuring a special opening night menu and is open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations recommended.

Verdi’s is offering 10 percent off dinner and drink specials with your opening night ticket. Reservations are recommended with dinning open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Bistro is offering concert-goers 15 percent off their food and will be open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with the bar open until midnight. Reservations are recommended.

Entourage Tapas Bar and Lounge is offering drink specials from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a DJ starting at 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended for dinner at 270-781-8366.

The Twisted Tap is offering drink specials for concertgoers and entertainment following the concert featuring the Fender Benders.

— For more information about opening night events, call these restaurants or SKyPAC Donor Liaison Erin Biggers at 904-5003.

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