In Covington, the next wave of development is flowing into its southerly neighborhoods

Trying to connect riverfront with rest of the city

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Slowly but surely, development unfolds in South Covington

When it comes to Covington, the riverfront has stolen the show in recent years -- and rightfully so, with newcomers like Braxton Brewing Company, Riverfront Commons, Hotel Covington and Innovation Alley moving in.

But city officials say there's more where that came from, and the next wave of development will focus on communities farther inland, such as Latonia and South Covington.

"One area of focus is making the riverfront more accessible," said Covington representative Mike Yeager. "(Recent and upcoming) projects are designed to bring people in rather than block them off. We're trying to open the entire city up as a destination."

The following are just some of the plans organizers say will soon begin to connect residents of Covington's riverfront with neighbors to the south.

Hands Pike roadway realignment

Last January, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced plans for a safety-driven realignment project along a one-mile stretch of KY 17. Those plans are now delayed due to a backlog at the state level, but officials say the project is still moving.

"Hands Pike is a state route, so it's listed in the state's six-year plan," said Covington Development Manager Don Warner, who explained that once the backlog is reprioritized and funding reauthorized -- a process that could take anywhere from one to three years -- right-of-way-acquisition and construction can begin.

"The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is working diligently to prioritize key road project investments," said cabinet representative Nancy Wood via email.

South Covington mixed-use development

Last June, the City of Covington approved a zoning map amendment reclassifying land along that same stretch of Hands Pike and KY 17 for commercial use.

"That approval was for the construction of 217,900 square feet of commercial retail/service space," said Kenton County Planning and Development Services representative Emi Randall. "(The amendment) includes a grocery or department store anchor, restaurants, and small and specialty retail shops."

That news was cause for excitement for local residents, who have long expressed need for a grocery store or another large retailer in the community.

It's now up to the Franxman family, which owns the property, to take the next steps in developing the land. Robert Franxman, who presented his family's case to the city commission last year, could not be reached for comment.

Latonia Small Area Study

In 2009, the City of Covington conducted a Small Area Study to collect demographic information and identify strategies to improve an area of Latonia bordered by Madison Pike (KY 17) to the north, Licking River to the east and Taylor Mill and Fort Wright to the south and west.

As a result of those findings, the city is now working with a consulting group to analyze traffic flow on Decoursey Avenue (KY 16), which currently consists of five lanes fronting on two major shopping centers whose tenants include Burlington Coat Factory, McDonald's and Kroger among others. The traffic study will help the city identify ways to make the thoroughfare more pedestrian- and bike-friendly without causing congestion or delays.

Another component of the study involves collecting market research based on credit card transactions to measure type and demand for prospective retail tenants.

"We're just a conduit. We can't tell them what stores to put there, but we're working with the shopping center's owners and potential businesses to see what would work and what wouldn't," Yeager said.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has offered recommendations on initial study findings, and the city is in the process of altering the study in the lead-up to its final meeting with the cabinet.

Ritte's Corner/Latonia Business District revitalization

Historic Ritte's Corner is another area of Latonia slated for major improvements in the coming years. Planners want to conduct a streetscape beautification project that would involve burying unsightly utility lines and make the area more aesthetically pleasing to businesses looking to expand or relocate in South Covington.

"Just like here in the central business district, Latonia has great bones, particularly Ritte's Corner," said Warner. "People are very much into that historic vibe and look. It's also very walkable, so you have tremendous residential opportunities just blocks away from the business district."

Warner expects the Ritte's Corner proposal to be included in the city's next round of grant applications, which will be issued this fall at the earliest, with project funding, if approved, granted a year or two from that point.

Meanwhile, the city has extended a number of support programs to businesses along Ritte's Corner with benefits that include rent subsidy, facade improvement grants and upper-floor residential rehab assistance.

Licking River Greenway project

Subsequent phases of the Licking River Greenway master plan will go to bid within the next two to three weeks, officials say. The project's first phase established gravel and paved trails for biking, walking and running along approximately two miles of the Licking River, from Levassor and Eastern Avenue to Randolph Park.

Phases II and III will connect the Austinburg neighborhood with the areas near Holmes High School via paved trails from Oakland Avenue all the way to 5th Street.

"We were hoping to get the bidding process out this month, but the people in Frankfort are kind of swamped, so my best guess is that it will be advertised in February," said Yeager. "Work will begin in March and it will be constructed this calendar year. End of summer, early fall, it will be done, I'd say."

Once completed, the trail system will span 12-14 miles along the Licking River.

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