Shoreline transformation (finally) to begin

The existing shoreline just west of the Suspension Bridge does little to encourage interaction with the Ohio River – but that’s about to change.

$6.5MM Phase II of Riverfront Commons to bring amphitheater, pier, trails 

COVINGTON, Ky. - Years from now, the “before” and “after” pictures of the Ohio River shoreline between Greenup Street and Madison Avenue will convey the transformation like words can’t.
BEFORE: Driftwood lodged against the tall “dolphins” to which the Covington Landing floating entertainment complex was once anchored. Along the shoreline, tall weeds and brush which block access to the water, and ankle hazards created by loose riprap and river rock.
(In short, visually and physically, little to encourage interaction or connection with the region’s defining geographic feature.)
AFTER: A 1,350-seat amphitheater where crowds watch musicians and others perform with the Cincinnati skyline as a backdrop. ... Two concrete paths - totaling 2,800 feet -- used by walkers, bicyclists, and runners to travel either near the water or along the floodwall murals. ... A cobblestone “pier” where anglers cast and paddlers launch kayaks and canoes. ... Upgraded overlooks where photographers and sight-seers enjoy the river, boats, and the lights.
In about a month, those features will begin to take form when Prus Construction begins construction of the $6.54 million Phase II of Covington’s part of Riverfront Commons, the 2006 proposal from the regional agency Southbank Partners to link six river cities with an uninterrupted 11.5-mile path stretching from Fort Thomas to Ludlow.
“This is the project toward which we’ve been working for 13 years,” said Rick Davis, Covington’s Public Works Director. “This will introduce Covington back to the Ohio River. Obviously we’re a ‘river city,’ and we’ve built along the river, we’ve embraced the river, and we’ve been enjoying river views. But now we’re going to make it walkable, bikeable and more inviting to utilize.”
The Covington City Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday night to contract with Prus Construction, which submitted the lowest of three bids. After a series of pre-construction meetings, the company will begin work near the end of August with the goal of finishing by the end of 2020, Davis said.
“The funding is available, approved and allocated,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”
Work on Phase II alone required nine different permits from agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Davis said, and obtaining them was a long, complex, and convoluted process.
For this phase, $4.2 million came from federal grants, with the rest from previously allocated City bond funds.
The plans
Numerous and wildly expensive ideas have been proposed over the years - including water jets in the river, a kayak flume, a sculptural canopy, digital projection lighting, and a plaza made of mosaic. But after a lot of practical discussion, the City scaled down the proposals in December 2017 to create the final plans. They include: 
  • Two concrete ADA-compliant multi-use paths - totaling about 2,800 feet - stretching from Greenup Street to the Madison Overlook, where they will link up with a sidewalk that leads west to a previously built paved path. The lower path will run along the river’s edge; the upper path will follow along the floodwall murals.
  • A cobblestone “pier” jutting out into the river underneath the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. Anglers will be able to fish off of it, and paddlers can use it to launch their craft.
  • A redesigned foot of Greenup Street, creating a cul-de-sac with an inlaid, compass design and limited nearby parking.
  • Renovated overlooks at the foot of Madison Avenue and just east (where an extended Scott Street would hit the river) with lights, benches, new railings, and pavement overlays.
  • A 1,350-seat terraced-step amphitheater between the overlooks. The oval-shaped structure will face the river and include an area (and electrical hookups) where musicians and others can perform.
  • Greenspace, including 4,100 plants and grasses designed to hold dirt in place and survive any floods.
  • The area will also include amenities like bike racks and fire hydrants, which can be used by crews to blast away mud left by periodic flooding of the river, Davis said. 
The existing parking lot underneath and around the Suspension Bridge will be removed. This area will be open to pedestrians only.
Davis said the project is a major undertaking that will require 3,400 vertical linear feet of steel “H” piles to stabilize the bank and amphitheater, as well as 20,000 tons of riprap.
Private involvement
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said he will be thrilled to see the transformed riverfront take shape after so much delay and debate.
“When this plan was first presented, it was a wonderful plan, but its cost was far, far in excess of our available resources. We’re talking $50 million to $60 million, and we had 6 (million),” Meyer said.
But the mayor said the more extravagant ideas for Riverfront Commons aren’t necessarily off the table. After construction is complete, he said the City will leave the door open to private donors and foundations to step in.
“This is just the beginning,” Meyer said. “We want to build a foundation and then bring partners together to talk about the potential for raising private funds to add facilities.”
The complete trail
All told, the completed Riverfront Commons in Covington will be about 2.7 miles long: 
  • At its eastern end, the trail connects with Newport via the Fourth Street Bridge, and then uses sidewalks on Greenup to get to the river. There it meets up with Phase II, which is about to begin.
  • West of Phase II, the City previously built Phase I - a concrete multi-use path that’s about three-fourths of a mile long and stretches to the Brent Spence Bridge. Users can access the path at the Madison Overlook or off of Pete Rose Pier.
  • West of Phase I is Phase III, which is currently being designed. Using federal funds, the Commission on May 14 voted to hire Integrated Engineering for $109,520 to design the path from the Brent Spence west to the Ky. 8 sidewalks at Swain Court, including a “bridge” that will cross a ravine. Construction is scheduled for next year.
  • And finally grant money has been awarded (and will become available in two years) for Phase IV, which will take the path from Swain Court to River Road at the Ludlow border, or as close to it as possible. 
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