COVINGTON - Fred Hollis stood behind a security fence Tuesday and watched a crane gobble up what was left of a vacant three-story brick Covington house on East 12th Street.
Hollis has lived in Covington all 70 years of his life and smiled as debris was loaded into dumpsters to clean up the Eastside area.
"Blight has a very direct effect on our neighborhood," the former Covington city employee said. "When you have blight, the residual effect starts happening. People stop taking care of their property."
The East 12th Street building is one of 55-60 vacant structures that Covington leaders say are beyond rehabilitation and are creating a safety issue for the city. All of them are coming down.
"We feel like these are the worst 55 or 60 in the city," said Community Services Manager Mike Yeager. "This is going to make a big dent and hopefully let other property owners know that if they don't keep up with their property and it's vacant, this is what is going to happen."
Twelve of the buildings are located on Pleasant Street. Three are on 16th Street, two each are on 11th, Banklick, Forest and Martin streets.
Other properties are on West 9th, East 13th, East 17th, East 29th, Clark, Eastern, Herman, Holman, Madison, Montague, Orchard, Pershing, Russell, Trevor and Wood streets.
According to Yeager, many of them have become magnets for crime.
"There's drug activity for sure in these areas and definitely copper theft," he said. "We've seen siding theft, too."
Yeager added that other people have dumped junk on the properties, knowing that the city has to clean it up. He cited one case where an old hot tub was scrapped at a vacant house.
Once the demolition is finished, the city plans to engage neighborhood groups and citizens to determine new uses for the land.
"We're going to circle back and figure out what works best -- whether that be parking or a pocket park or transferring the land over to the neighbor so they maintain it," he said.
Bennie Doggett, of the Eastside Community Council and the Oasis Center, said she was glad to see the demolition process start, but wants to make sure the neighborhood has a strong say in what's to come.
"All I'm asking is to simply have a bidding process to where some of the people that's in our neighborhood that are wealthy and that have money will be able to have some of the land," she said.
JP Excavating of Glencoe, Kentucky, has a contract for much of the demolition work. The cost to knock down each building is around $5,300.
Yeager said that if each structure had been bid individually, the cost per unit would have been around $10,000. The money is coming from the city's general fund and federal grants.
Harold Leblang was operating the crane on East 12th Street Tuesday. It was a tight fit with the house to be demolished sandwiched between two occupied homes.
"Wide open is fun. This is not too much fun," he said. "This is nerve-wracking right here."
Leblang worked the controls flawlessly with his bucket just five feet away from existing buildings and utility wires overhead.
"It's pretty tough not to hit anything," he said. "You got to watch all the windows, the gutters and everything on each side of the house.
Hollis watched the work and said it's a win-win situation for the city and citizens.
"The more we can keep property up, the better the city," he said. "People want to locate in the cities where the value is up, rather than deflating."
Yeager added, "That's the intent of what we're doing -- trying to improve the quality of life."
Those properties slated to be demolished include the following:
View List of Covington's blighted houses slated for demolition in a larger map
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