Bulldozers, Biden, & the ‘5-billion-dollar mile’

2023-in-review: A summary of transformational events, energy in The Cov

COVINGTON, Ky. – A startling sight set the tone for 2023 in The Cov mere days into the new year: President Joe Biden giving a speech on the banks of the Ohio River.

The theme of the Jan. 4 speech was bipartisanship, but more importantly for Covington and the region was the reason for Biden’s visit. The president was delivering what many others had only promised – federal funding for construction of the long-awaited $3.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project.

The visit – the first by a sitting president in 84 years – kicked off a year of energy whose events will transform life in The Cov for generations to come. Among them:

  • Families’ never-ending search for the skills that will land them good-paying jobs was buoyed with the opening of a new construction trades school in Latonia, along with related classes on “heritage trades” needed to work on Covington’s historic buildings.
  • 27,000 cubic yards of dirt was trucked to the cleared 23-acre former-IRS site, while a new fly-through video gave a visual sense of the new neighborhood to come in the middle of what is being called the “5-billion-dollar mile.”
  • Collaborative work with state highway officials yielded new visions for major thoroughfares that run north-south (Scott and Greenup) and east-west (4th Street).
  • Compassionate use of federal ARPA funds gave nearly three-quarters of a million dollars of direct aid to residents beset by utility bills and the cost of buying a home in certain neighborhoods.
  • And in a year full of ribbon-cuttings, the biggest opening happened on one of Covington’s most visible corners: The expansion of Hotel Covington and new event space at Pike and Madison.

Meanwhile, 2023 also saw more embracing of the “unapologetically Covington” brand, with a 3D “alien” coming out of a parking garage and an array of attention-grabbing public art.

“If you follow Covington on social media or subscribe to our City e-mail news service, then you already know that momentum is accelerating here,” Mayor Joe Meyer said. “Stay tuned, though, because progress will only accelerate in the months to come.”

Here, in summary form, is the City’s annual year-in-review release that highlights some of what happened in 2023 to strengthen Covington’s economy and opportunities for residents. (Note this report only hints at the stellar service delivered day-in, day-out by City employees who patrol streets, put out fires, plow snow and fix potholes, help businesses create jobs, help the vulnerable find places to live, and protect the health and safety of residents by keeping neighboring buildings and properties up to code):

Economic Development

23 ACRES: It was largely invisible to the public, but work continued in 2023 on the transformation of the closed IRS tax-processing campus from a fenced-off “island” into a mixed-use neighborhood fully integrated into the seemingly disparate areas around it – including the downtown commercial district, the Ohio River, MainStrasse Village, Roebling Point, and the historic Mutter Gottes neighborhood. In 2023, the City worked with a consultant to subdivide the site and market parcels, arranged site tours, marketed a few plots, sought bids for construction of horizontal infrastructure, began negotiating with interested developers, and lobbied legislators for funding. In spring 2024, dirt will be moved.

‘DYNAMIC MOMENTUM’: Borrowing from the manifesto that drives its mission, Covington’s Economic Development Department began 2023 by releasing its “2022 Impact Report,” which laid out how doing things “of The Cov … by The Cov … for The Cov” culminated in a year that saw the city’s trajectory stay the course of an already dynamic momentum. Plus, there’s this cool video designed by Covington’s AGNT. The report highlighted nearly $44.3 million in private capital investment, more than a dozen City-organized ribbon cuttings, over $1 million in City incentives that returned 19 times that amount in private investment.

LATONIA MOMENTUM: All sorts of excitement surged throughout Latonia in 2023 with Keller Logistics moving into the old Value City and Burlington Coat Factory space … ground broken on a $17.6 million industrial building, the first in The Cov in decades … the opening in the Latonia Commerce Center of both the Enzweiler Building Institute campus and the new Covington Academy of Heritage Trades (see below) … the arrival of a widely (wildly, too) popular tie-dyed retail shop Dicey Dyes at Ritte’s Corner … not to mention plans for a new library branch at the Commerce Center. Latonia also welcomed the Fairhaven Thrift Store and, just to the south, a celebration of community and affordable homes for families at Cambridge Square Community.

RIBBONS AND SHOVELS: North of 12th Street, the City cut ribbons on an array of new businesses and restaurants in 2023. Most notable was the opening of North by Hotel Covington in the historic space at Madison Avenue and Pike Street once occupied by the YMCA and Gateway Bookstore. The expansion of Hotel Covington includes 53 luxury suites and lofts, the new Knowledge Bar & Social Room, the 500-guest Lightwell event and space and more intimate Duveneck gathering space. The City also celebrated the long-awaited opening of its first rooftop restaurant at Opal at 535 Madison Ave. … DeanHouston’s global headquarters in the First District building at 525 Scott St. … a ground-breaking for the OneNKY Center … the re-opening of a Covington “warehouse” called The Urban Garage at 429 Greenup St. … a new home for Kealoha’s Kitchen in the former Dee Felice location in MainStrasse Village … the relocation of Del Gardo’s Cannolis from 5th Street to 621 Madison Ave. … the new Ye’Sab Event Center at 732 Greenup St. … Dimitridon Studios at 714 Madison Ave. … Ernst Cowork at 405 Garrard St. … Durham Studio at 523 Madison Ave. … Juniper’s in MainStrasse Village … Honey Uninhibited in the Towers of RiverCenter … The Well bar at 8 W. 7th St. … and Dewey’s Pizza at 43 W. Seventh St.

STILL KEEPING IT REAL: Calling the event a “mashup of serious purpose and Covington craziness,” the City’s Economic Development Department turned the alley next to KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia restaurant into a red carpet event on a Friday in May, then handed out a series of recognitions. One set was the annual Authenti-CITY awards given to five businesses, places, events, people and organizations that “keep it real.” The winners: Latonia Bait & Tackle, D’Amico’s Tailor Shop, Blank’s Pharmacy, Glier’s Meats, Richard Webster’s Holiday Extravaganza.

HISTORIC EXCELLENCE: Another set of recognitions came through the resurrected Covington Preservation Excellence Award Program, which honored five rehab projects that highlighted the City’s historic fabric. The winners: the House of Beauty at 611 Madison Ave., Covert Design + Build for 256-258 West 8th St., Orleans Development for the Bradley House at 627-629 Greenup St., Hub + Weber Architects for the Monarch Auto Building at 722 Scott St., and developer Al Haehnle for The Monarch Building at 109 East 4th St. Also, the first-ever Victor J. Canfield Preservation Stewardship Award went to Jim and Donna Salyers of The Salyers Group and Guy van Rooyen of The Salyers Group and vR Group.

SMALL BUSINESS HELP: The City continued using its award-winning Small Business Program to help fledgling businesses with first-year rent and to inspire façade improvements of commercial buildings. In 2023, seven incentives were awarded for each purpose, and another business got help fixing a historic lighted sign. That brings to 132 awards since the program started in 2017, with 47 of the businesses owned by minorities, women, military veterans, or members of the LGBTQ community. The Commission approved the awards en masse, once in each three-month period: one incentive, three incentives, six incentives, and five incentives.

THE RIGHT TOOLS: The City also used other tools in its economic development toolbox to help projects that will attract investment and jobs. For example, its rarely used vacant property incentive helped activate the historic building at 401 Scott Blvd. And job development incentives were passed to help attract a tenant to a historic train station and smooth the way for a possible new central office for Kenton County schools.

TIME TO SHINE: More than 200 statewide economic developers, job creators, and policy makers got an up-close look at Covington’s dynamic momentum when they came to town for the Kentucky Association for Economic Development’s annual Kentucky Forum. As always, host Covington made the most of the opportunity to show “… the impact of more than $200 million in private capital investment and nearly 5,000 new jobs in just three years.”

Workforce Development

SKILLING UP IN CONSTRUCTION: With household income one of the biggest single determinants of a family’s “success,” the City in 2023 continued efforts to expand opportunities for its residents, as both the Covington Academy of Heritage Trades and the new Enzweiler Building Institute campus began holding workshops and classes.

NEW PARTNERSHIPS: In addition, the City partnered with the Northern Kentucky Area Development District to begin Covington Works, designed to help residents who are unemployed or under-employed develop or enhance their skills. The City also established a partnership with the Esperanza Latino Center of Northern Kentucky designed to help match the Latino/Hispanic population of Covington with job openings and build greater community understanding and awareness of City programs related to business start-ups and opportunities.


BIDEN IN THE COV: Several presidents have visited the region to talk about the beleaguered Brent Spence Bridge over the years, but President Biden’s visit in January 2023 was historically significant for two reasons: He stood on Covington soil (the first sitting president to do so in over 80 years), and he came bearing money. The announcement set the stage for a years’ worth of steady steps moving the region closer to breaking ground on the $3.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, which will include a new companion bridge and which – because of Biden’s Infrastructure Bill and the work of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear – will NOT require tolls.

BESHEAR ENGAGED: Beshear visited Covington frequently in 2023 for Brent Spence-related announcements, including with the President in January to announce funding, in July to announce Walsh Construction/Kokosing as the projects design-build team, in September to award $15 million for a new underground parking garage near Kenton County’s administrative offices on 12th Street, and in October to announce a pilot project for transparent noise barriers on the east side of the interstate this spring to see if they could block traffic noise without blocking the famous view of the Cincinnati skyline.

CALMING TRAFFIC: After years of public input, the City signed an agreement with state officials in December that will move the Ky. 17 highway corridor from Scott and Greenup streets – parallel one-way streets that run north-south as a “couplet” – onto two-way Madison Avenue nearby. Greenup and Scott streets will be converted to two-way traffic in front of densely populated homes and apartment buildings between 12th and 20th streets. The goal is to calm traffic, improve safety, reduce speeds, expand walkability, and increase development in neighborhood business districts, and it implements a stated goal of the surrounding neighborhoods as far back as 2016.

MORE INVITING: A key part of downtown will see significant improvements this year as the City will use federal funds to give three blocks of Madison Avenue and three blocks of Seventh Street a major refresh. In November, the City approved contracts with Adleta Construction to pour new sidewalks, move utility lines underground, resurface streets, build more-efficient parking, etc. By upgrading public infrastructure, the City aims to brighten the “look” and “feel” of the area to encourage private investment.

NEW VISION FOR 4th STREET: Fourth Street will be reconfigured from three lanes to two lanes to make way for a dedicated bike lane and wider, more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks under a plan worked out between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the City. It’s to begin this year. The street fronts the 23-acre Covington Central Riverfront neighborhood project and is book-ended by the Brent Spence Bridge and the Fourth Street Bridge into Newport.

CARS OF THE FUTURE: Thanks to a $500,000 federal grant and a partial local match, the City plans to install more electric vehicle charging stations at four locations in Covington.  City leaders said the EV infrastructure will move Covington further down the path of being a 21st Century community even as it benefits the environment by reducing carbon emissions.

BIKE FRIENDLY: Wanting to take a strategic and feasible approach to making Covington more bike friendly, the City in early 2023 voted to partner with the advocacy group Tri-State Trails to create a bicycle transportation plan for Covington and its neighbor, Newport. Meetings and surveys were organized throughout the year to gather public’s suggestions and feedback as the framework of that plan took shape. The completed plan will be presented soon to Commissioners.

ENERGIZING A GATEWAY: As a mini version of the Madison and Seventh streetscape projects mentioned above, the City used TIF funds to energize the gateway off the Suspension Bridge and in the process expand outdoor dining in the Roebling Point District. The work involved widening and enhancing the sidewalk on Court Street, making the nearby restaurant and bar district more conducive to visitors and investment.

SMOOTHER DRIVING: As part of the never-ending and constantly expanding mission of keeping streets in shape, the City took on two projects in 2023: First, it hired a contractor to tear up, reset, and level brick pavers at three places in and near MainStrasse Village: on Philadelphia Street at Sixth Street, on Sixth Street at Bakewell Street, and where Sixth, Johnson and Craig streets come together. Second, it approved a $927,000 contract with Riegler Blacktop to resurface all or parts of 29 streets in 13 neighborhoods. Note: Partly because of asphalt supply issues (the plants shut down in cold weather) a few of those streets will be done in spring.

TAKING UP ROOTS: Brandstetter Carroll, Inc. and Elevar Design Group spent the middle part of the year designing a permanent City Hall that better serves residents and businesses. The work moves City government a step closer to ending a 50-year “migratory existence.” With a location on Scott Boulevard already secure, City leaders are figuring out next steps.


DE FACTO HOTEL DISTRICTS: After months of heated debate, public hearings, hundreds of comments, and a six-month moratorium on new applications, Covington joined cities around the country in revamping its regulation of short-term rentals. The goal of the new chapter in the City’s Code of Ordinances was to bring moderation to what had become an out-of-control “Wild Wild West” environment, thus protecting the residential character of historic neighborhoods while also giving property owners the opportunity to create businesses and make money. The regulations may see further tweaks in 2024.

$500K IN HOMEOWNERSHIP HELP: Since 2014, Covington has helped about 400 families buy homes with forgivable loans – now reaching $10,000 – for down payments. In 2023, it added to that help by using federal ARPA money to create a one-time $500,000 mortgage assistance program that helped more than 30 families buy homes in qualifying neighborhoods. City federal grants staff called the program “an instant hit” whose funds were snapped up in just four months.

UTILITY BILL $$$$: A second program through which City leaders used federal funds to directly benefit families was a $239,000 program for overdue utility bills. Working with the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, the City gave 625 different households an average of $383. But the impact was actually greater because it helped halt the often-cumulative impact of late payments.

BRINGING IDEAS TO LIFE: Recognizing that neighborhood groups want to improve their neighborhoods but often lack funding, the City gave funding to seven such groups for projects ranging from adopt-a-pot landscaping enhancements to welcoming banners to dog waste stations. The Center for Great Neighborhoods helped administer the program.

PUBLIC ART: Covington has personality and that personality oozes through its public art. That “scene” expanded in 2023 through a Quality of Place grant program that funded Book Benches, the 3D Clive the Alien, a giant Shogun Sanders, the colorful “Everybody’s Bench,” a Latonia mural, “Rooted Hands” mural, the Pike Street gateway art, and more. Also, stay tuned for Southbank Partners’ 12-foot-high “Love The COV” sculpture to overlook the riverfront.

KINGDOM OF FUN: Every year, Covington Parks & Rec tries to outdo itself with new programs, events, offerings, and locations. To that end, last year saw a new summer camp for grades 3-5, the formal opening of the SFC Jason Bishop Memorial Dog Park ... the debut of the archery program for youth … and the inaugural Independence Day Dog Parade. But of course the year was filled with program and events, including swimming, the Fishing Derby, Soccer Camp, Jack-O-Lantern festival, ‘Pups at the Pool,’ and a Christmas family dinner through which over 100 letters delivered to Santa on behalf of Covington children.

A CLEANER COVINGTON: The City’s Solid Waste & Recycling team continued work to clean up Covington’s streets, protect the environment, and reduce the amount of trash – especially hazardous materials – going into landfills. In 2023, that work included a brand-new partnership that recycles hard-to-recycle plastics in addition to the continued focus on curbside recycling, the annual Great American Cleanup, and an array of familiar events, programs, and partnerships that targeted e-waste (and other items), old tires, household hazardous waste, holiday lights and trees.

Y’ALL MEANS ALL: In Covington, DEI – aka diversity, equity and inclusion – is not an HR buzz-phrase but a directive to take steps to welcome and accommodate all, no matter what they look like, who they love, and where they come from. So in 2023, City Hall called an official holiday on Juneteenth and then flew flags and sponsored a community celebration … hosted the annual NKY Pride parade and festival (and continued to earn top scores on the national Human Rights Campaign’s LGBTQ+ index) … and continued the ongoing effort to provide better services to the City’s growing Latinx community.

GREENING THE CANOPY: Trees not only beautify a community but also offer numerous environmental and health benefits, from filtering out air pollution to providing shade to – according to studies – improving mental health and lowering high blood pressure. The City improved its canopy with a variety of events, including tree plantings in Eastside and Latonia and a tree giveaway.


NEW LEADERSHIP: Even amid a soft hiring freeze, the work of government must go on, and 2023 saw changes in the people who lead that work, what with retirements, promotions and new hires. New leaders include Director of Special Projects Elizabeth Wetzel, Budget Director Joel Baker, Assistant Police Chief Matt Winship, promotions in the Fire Department command staff that elevated Corey Deye to Deputy Chief and Joe Vance and Jimmy Adams to Assistant Chief.

RECRUITING: To combat the increasing difficulty of recruiting for public safety positions, the Fire Department created a new fire cadet program and the Police Department worked to offer an on-line testing option as well as to expand participation in the state-passed retire/rehire program that returns to the street retired officers with more than 20 years’ experience.

AT THE TOP: “Breaking news” headlines also brought immediate and future changes in the five-member body that serves at the top in the City of Covington, when Commissioner Nolan Nicaise announced plans to step down. The Commission sought applications and then picked Steve Hayden, a neighborhood leader from Historic Licking-Riverside, to fill out the term. (And then, at year’s end, Mayor Joe Meyer announced that he would not run for re-election in 2024, meaning Covington will see its first new mayor since 2016.)


MAKING PENNIES COUNT: Covington’s finances took a sudden blow in early 2023 when the City found the root cause of ominous signs that had begun popping up in payroll tax revenues, the major source of funding for the General Fund. The impact of the work-from-home trend is large and doesn’t appear to be going away soon. After months of trimming discretionary spending and living with a soft hiring freeze, City leaders at year’s end were forming a more definite plan to tide the budget over until the Covington Central Riverfront and other development makes up the gap.


Various City of Covington Departments and officials received independent kudos in 2023 from outside professional organizations, including:

  • Economic Development, which received two Special Merit Awards from the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association – for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and for Outstanding Master Plan for the Covington Central Riverfront (CCR) strategic master plan.
  • Parks & Rec, named best in its class from the Kentucky Recreation and Parks Society.
  • Steve Webb, named Finance Officer of the Year by the Kentucky Government Finance Officers Association, which promptly then elected Webb its president for the coming two-year cycle.
  • The Finance Department, which won two Certificates of Achievement for Excellence, first for its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (for the 30th time in 31 years) and later for the City’s first-ever Popular Annual Financial Report.
  • Susan Ellis, named Outstanding Municipal Clerk by the Northern Kentucky Municipal Clerks Association.