Taylor Creek Overlook Park makes newest destination on NKY riverfront trail

It's been described as a miniature version of Riverbend Music Center's lawn section, but that wasn't always the case for one portion of Northern Kentucky's burgeoning riverfront.

The Taylor Creek Overlook -- split between Newport and Bellevue's riverbanks, located on Riverboat Row near Fairfield Avenue -- had gained a reputation, over the last few decades, as a liability.

"When (engineers) got under there, they found some stuff that was really pretty ugly," said Jack Moreland, president of Southbank Partners, the development collaborative behind multiple recent Northern Kentucky riverfront projects. Deterioration of and surrounding a culvert draining into the river beneath the road had gotten to levels that needed to be addressed in order to preserve existing riverfront space, Moreland said.

Thanks to Moreland and other stakeholders, that's changed: City, county and state officials last week held a ribbon-cutting, officially opening the new Taylor Creek Overlook Park.

"(The park) turned a liability into an asset," Moreland told WCPO. "We're really proud of that."

Part of the larger Riverfront Commons project -- an 11-mile walking and biking trail connecting Fort Thomas on the east side to Ludlow on the west, backed in large part by Southbank Partners -- Moreland said the space will serve as a destination along the trail, and carries significant event space potential.

"The slope reminds me of the lawn section of Riverbend," he said.

Moreland said some have already expressed interest in using the space for their wedding, and requests were coming in before the park was even completed.

Northern Kentucky leaders hope Taylor Creek Overlook Park, here photographed Dec. 1, 2016, will serve as a gateway between Newport and Bellevue along the riverfront. (Courtesy Jody Robinson)

The roughly one-third-acre space sits directly between Chart House and Joe's Crab Shack, with about 80 percent belonging to the city of Newport, and the remaining 20 percent to neighboring Bellevue. Prominently a grassy space -- for now -- the overlook faces Riverside Drive and the base of Mount Adams in Cincinnati.

"To us it created a really neat green space," Moreland said. "It has arguably as good a view of Cincinnati as there is."

The overlook park cost about $3.8 million to shore up and construct, Moreland said. That's about double what was originally estimated, due to engineers' discovery that the condition of the riverbank was worse than initially thought. A portion of the landscaping costs was covered by a grant from Duke Energy.

"It was successful thanks to Dennis Keene," Moreland said. Keene, D-Wilder, represents the Kentucky House of Representative's 67th district in northern Campbell County. As an outspoken supporter of the Riverfront Commons project, Keane also spoke at the park's ribbon-cutting.

The General Assembly ultimately included the project in its 2012 biennial budget, under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Bellevue Mayor Ed Riehl hopes the park will serve as a gateway into the small but rapidly developing river city.

RELATED: Riverfront trail will unite NKY river cities, leaders say

"It's really going to be a jumping-off point for us as far as making a better connection (with Newport)," Riehl told WCPO. Until recently, the primary point connector between Bellevue and its neighbor to the west was the busy and often congested Dave Cowens Drive/Fairfield Avenue corridor, with a particularly problematic intersection near Party Source and New Riff Distillery, Comfort Suites and Joe's Crab Shack.

Riehl hopes that, along with the completion of the Riverfront Commons walking and biking trail and the cities' mutual participation in the Red Bike bike share program, people will have multiple options for moving between Newport and Bellevue.

"Hopefully we can incorporate better connectivity at the park into Bellevue," Riehl said.

But even with last week's ribbon-cutting, there is still work to be done.

First, the space, while structurally sound, is still lacking a number of the features included in the initial renderings -- elements known as "hardscape" features, such as paved pathways. Moreland said the budgeted funding for the overlook wasn't sufficient enough to cover these costs.

"I think that's going to be the role of the cities," he said.

Riehl also said he hopes to make the park more universally accessible in the future: "Moving forward, I think we need to find a funding mechanism to make it accessible to everybody."

And then there's the larger issue of incorporating the rest of Bellevue's riverfront into the larger Riverfront Commons project.

"One big hurdle is that we have some private property owners right up along parts of our riverfront," Riehl said. It will take working with these property owners to ensure the riverfront trail isn't interrupted.

Despite these challenges, stakeholders remain optimistic.

"I'm satisfied that we're making real progress," said Moreland. "People are using the product that we're putting out."

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and development for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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