Day 1: 'This isn't your father's Covington'

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An artist's rendering of the completed Duveneck Square project

Energy at Pike and Madison contagious

In honor of National Economic Development Week, May 7-12, Covington is calling attention to its aggressive efforts to work with its business community and other partners to generate jobs, attract investment and create a vibrant commercial and tourist economy. Today’s article focuses on the area around the Pike Street Corridor.

Something exciting is taking hold in the area around Pike and Madison in Covington.
  • Familiar facades are boasting facelifts and new and interesting uses.
  • Sidewalks are busy even on weekday evenings as residents and visitors alike converge on restaurants and trendy bars.
  • Apartments and condos of all prices are being leased or purchased.
  • And publications as varied as Teen Vogue, Thrillist and Main Street America are praising the City’s “brimming art scene,” “hipster enclave” and “hub of business innovation.”
“Downtown has sort of lit up,” said Rebecca Weber, senior sales executive, Realtor at Huff Realty. “People want to be there and hang out and it’s cool and vibrant.”
That vibrancy is about to grow.
In the span of one recent week, an array of milestones was celebrated for one of the projects driving Covington’s surge - a $70 million development called Duveneck Square that is bringing apartments, restaurants, retail shops, offices and a parking garage to either side of Washington Avenue just south of the 7th Street-Pike Street merge. For apartment information, CLICK HERE
On May 1, residents began moving in to some of the 110 luxury apartments built as part of Phase 1, even as the ground-floor Alto Pizza Kitchen + Bar moved toward its opening date. The week before, the City approved design plans for the 84,000-square-foot office building (which includes 9,000 square feet of retail space) and 700-space parking garage that represent the first components of Phase II. A few days later, long-armed trackhoes began demolishing a large vacant building on the site.
Northpointe Group partner Lisa Scovic said the developer was “extremely happy” with the lease rates for the apartments, an attraction driven by “the complete redesign of the fabric of the area.”
The area isn’t the only place in Covington where City is focusing investment and attention, of course.
In the Roebling Point area to the northeast, the rehab of historic buildings into luxury condos is creating foot traffic for restaurants and bars near Greenup Street, and plans call for developing the old jail and courthouse into apartments once Kenton County moves out. In MainStrasse Village, the massive John R. Green Lofts and RiverHaus developments are changing entire blocks. In Latonia, an influx of small businesses represents the beginning of City efforts to boost the business center of that residential neighborhood. And focused conversations are starting to explore the future of areas like the western end of ML King Jr. Blvd./12th Street and 20th Street around the old hospital.
But the Pike Street Corridor area - with an energy that is turning the heads of residents and visitors alike - is a microcosm of how development is revitalizing the City.
“It’s fascinating to see how all these projects in that area are feeding off of each other to create a dynamic, walkable environment where people of all ages want to live, work and play,” said Tom West, Covington’s Economic Development Director.
“From a brewery to a $21 million hotel to live music to eclectic restaurants to a group of high-tech accelerators, we have a lot of things going on just in this small, concentrated area. This is what urban living is about.”
City officials aren’t the only ones touting the excitement - if anything, the voices outside City Hall are even more enthusiastic. Among the flattering coverage in the last year or so:
  • “Covington is second-to-none in terms of unique restaurants, gorgeous architecture, and thriving businesses. It isn’t on the verge of anything; it’s already there, with much more to come.” - Cincinnati Refined, an online magazine covering culture and contemporary society
  • “Over the past decade, downtown Covington has evolved from a historic neighborhood to become a hub of business innovation that attracts small businesses and startups.” - Main Street America
  • “(Covington) has a hip flair while still beholding its historic grace, and Madison Avenue ideally illustrates that.” - Teen Vogue
Is it any wonder that local on-line news outlet The River City News produced an almost 3-minute video in late January on what it called the “stunning comeback” of the Pike Street Corridor? For video, CLICK HERE
“We’re loving the attention, and Covington deserves it,” Mayor Joe Meyer said. “The area around Duveneck Square is indicative of the momentum coursing throughout our downtown.”
And Covington officials are working aggressively and strategically to sustain and accelerate that momentum.
Some of the work - such as marketing sites and collaborating with developers and real estate agents on massive, multi-use projects - brings large-scale pay-off. But with less fanfare, City officials are also taking steps that are small but thoughtful.
For example, recently the Covington City Commission voted to allow restaurants and general retail to open in some areas of downtown zoned a certain type of “industrial.”
The City is also considering whether to relax its alcohol regulations in a small way on either end of the Pike Street Corridor to allow existing businesses to sell wine or liquor by the bottle as a small accessory to their primary business. This would allow them to showcase locally or regionally produced wines or bourbon and to build off the fact that Covington has a few bourbon-themed bars that are recognized nationally and that Kentucky is getting international attention for its craft bourbons.
The change would be limited: In the Central Business District to the east, the change would apply to restaurants and general retail stores. In tourist commercial area featuring MainStrasse Village to the west, it would apply to restaurants and taverns.
“Nuanced proposals like these are an acknowledgement that what worked for Covington businesses and residents historically might not necessarily work for us today,” City Manager David Johnston said. “We’re constantly searching for ways to modernize and align our regulations and classifications.”
The City is also collaborating with various organizations - including the Covington Business Council, Renaissance Covington, Southbank Partners and the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau - to begin creating streetscape design standards for public spaces in order to streamline and bring consistency to evaluation of downtown economic development proposals.
“This will save both developers and the city time and money,” West said.
Meanwhile, the tangible impact of City Hall’s collaborative efforts to bring energy to the area around Pike Street is visible in the influx of new businesses, apartments and condos, trendy bars and restaurants, and other attractions.
Just south of Duveneck Square, a custom identification manufacturer named Road ID invested $4 million into renovating the historic former home of H. Johnson Moving & Storage. For story about ROAD ID, CLICK HERE
Just to the north is Innovation Alley, a public alley whose name was changed a year and a half ago to reflect the concentration of businesses designed to help startups, including life science incubator Biologic Corp LLC; small-business accelerator Aviatra Accelerators; and a tech accelerator for data-driven startups, Uptech Inc.
Innovation Alley is also home to the regional office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, the state agency that nurtures entrepreneurs.
When it comes to living downtown, a long list of projects within a few blocks of the Pike Street corridor - some completed, some under construction, some in the planning and financing stages - are creating living options ranging from studio apartments to townhomes worth half a million dollars.
Realtors say the new residents - along with even larger crowds of visitors - are drawn to the Pike and Madison area by an array of daytime and nighttime attractions, many of them new.
Within a block or two of the Pike and Madison intersection are:
  • Coppin’s Restaurant & Bar at the $21 million Hotel Covington.
  • The ever-changing variety of local brews at Braxton Brewing Co.’s taproom on Seventh Street.
  • Live music at the Madison Theater (recent shows included the Indigo Girls, They Might be Giants and Cleveland’s Mushroomhead).
  • New bars like the Hannaford at Pike + Madison; Octave, which offers live music; and The Globe. They join Pike Street mainstay Olde Towne Tavern.
  • An informal international restaurant district, with Agave & Rye, Inspirado, Wabi Sabi, the House of Grill and long-timers Amerasia and Riverside Korean Restaurant, with Peppe Cucina on the way. Offering more traditional American food is Frank’s Old Town Café, and the new Midway on Madison Avenue and McK’s Chicks BBQ.
  • Four event halls of various sizes: The Madison Event Center, The Grand (in the historic Odd Fellows Building), Finesse Events, and The Frock Studio + Event Space.
  • And an eclectric assortment of new shops like Cutman Barbershop, Handzy Shop & Studio, Rooted Yoga, Covington Clay, Karla Louise Bridal Designs and Accessories, Grainwell Market Home + Gift and personal trainer Body by Bree, which join Pike Street mainstays like Frank’s Men’s Shop, Point Perk coffee shop and Klingenberg’s Hardware & Paint.
The combination of new housing and entertainment has created a whole new image for Covington, said Lee Bledsoe of Pivot Realty, who has lived in the City since 1995 and is the local agent for the developer of the massive John R. Green Lofts project in the MainStrasse area.
“Covington is really clicking with what we have going on here,” Bledsoe said. “Remember that 1980s car commercial that concluded ‘Not your father’s Oldsmobile’? Well this isn’t your father’s Covington.”