‘More than a building’

From about 1900 until 1970, a joint City-County building sat at Third and Market (Now “Court”) streets.

BeSpoke report: Future City Hall needs to be a 'hub'

COVINGTON, Ky. - When the City of Covington one day builds a permanent home to end its 50-year “nomadic existence,” City Hall should: 
  • Be in a visible, accessible, central, and prominent site that is “both symbolically and physically important to Covington.”
  • Not be a “single-purpose fortress” dedicated only to government offices but one with regular community events and programming.
  • As a true civic commons, include “a place for community voice, debate, and demonstrations.”
  • And celebrate the City’s architectural diversity and history.
Those were some of the conclusions of a 16-member task force that met for 10 months to undertake - as Mayor Joe Meyer described - “a thoughtful, theoretical, abstract conversation of what a City Hall means for this community.”
The privately funded effort - called “BeSpoke” after the word that means both to speak out and to do so in a tailored fashion - presented its final report to the Covington City Commission this week. That report can be found HERE.
The purpose of the BeSpoke effort was not to answer “when” or “where” a new City Hall would be built, nor to estimate its cost, design its look or estimate its size. It was to get the community thinking about the role of the building.
To engage the public, the task force sent out multiple surveys, had City staff compile daily journals explaining how they interacted with the public, created a web site, sponsored a summit and a picture-sharing marketing campaign, and established social media presences.
Consultant Joe Nickol of YARD & Company, which oversaw the process, pointed out that 70 percent of respondents said they had never been to City Hall and one-third said they rarely saw a local government presence in their neighborhood.
“The way citizens interact with City Hall has changed,” he said.
With that evolution in mind, Nickol said BeSpoke recognized and discussed ways to improve how residents interacted with: 
  • Each other to solve problems and change neighborhoods.
  • Elected officials to establish values and priorities.
  • City government functions.
  • Covington’s culture, “story,” and history. 
Task force Chairwoman Lori Eifert said the visioning effort thus organized its findings into five principles designed to integrate a future City Hall into the community both physically and socially while meeting the day-to-day transactional needs of people who walk into its doors:
  • Create multiple, connected venues for broad civic exchange (with better connections between City Hall and its residents and partners).
  • Locate a new City Hall at the hub of Covington public life (at a central, accessible, and visible site).
  • Provide many reasons to come to City Hall (with community events and programming, as well as meeting space for the public to use).
  • Build Covington’s Public Square (with an area where, for example, demonstrations and public events can be held).
  • Be a Center of Design and Culture (celebrating Covington’s historical architecture).
The report explains in detail the basis and elements of each principle.
At the meeting, Mayor Meyer thanked the BeSpoke task force for its work and noted that no taxpayer money was used. It was funded by the R.C. Durr Foundation and The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr. Foundation. The task force was composed primarily of Covington residents. He said the report would serve as a helpful guide for architects and designers when it came time to build a City Hall.
The current reality
The City has been leasing space for administrative employees at 20 W. Pike St. - a converted department store - since moving out of a separate, converted department store in 2013. Last year it signed a four-year lease extension.
Despite a retrofit, the building is inadequate for government functions, lacking office space, meeting rooms for large groups, technology, a lobby area, and even a lunchroom. Desks are jammed into hallways, closets, and common areas. People who work closely together are physically separated. And citizens who come to pay bills or apply for permits must conduct their business out in the open. Furthermore, the Commission chambers is poorly lit and has terrible acoustics.
As a temporary building that also lacks any plaza or exterior area that could be considered a town square or civic commons, City Hall is uninviting and uninspiring to business prospects, out-of-town officials, visitors, and citizens, the task force concluded.
‘Nomadic existence’
Meyer said the City needed a building that made government relevant and effective for the people it serves and that created a sense of community.
“With five homes in 50 years, City government in Covington has lived a nomadic existence, forced time and again to throw the public’s belongings on its back and move to a hastily prepared location, often one poorly equipped for the critical mission of public service,” Meyer wrote in the BeSpoke report’s introductory letter.
“But we have a unique opportunity. ... We have the benefit of time to thoughtfully chart a course for a renewed investment in our civic commons and government building.”
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