BELLEVUE, Kentucky -- With its charming tree-lined streets, quaint eateries and well-preserved Victorian homes, it’s no wonder Bellevue’s Fairfield Avenue historic business district is one of the region’s best-loved neighborhoods.
“Bellevue is both a hidden gem and a place that’s a known entity for small-town charm within the urban core,” said Assistant City Administrator Jody Robinson. “The people who venture beyond the Party Source are often surprised to learn there’s an entirely different sense of community just a few blocks away.”
That community spirit is alive and well in Bellevue, and a current wave of development is bringing considerable energy -- and attention -- to the once-sleepy community. The challenge now will be for leaders and residents to manage the change without losing its signature charm.
One group helping Bellevue strike that balance is the team that introduced the Old Kentucky Makers Market craft fair and street festival to Bellevue last year.
“We might be just five minutes from downtown (Cincinnati), but Bellevue is all Kentucky,” said craft fair organizer Anna Hogan. “Bellevue residents love their community and are working to attract new businesses, new neighbors and visitors to a unique part of Greater Cincinnati.”
The fair kicked off again June 17 with food from Eli’s BBQ and craft beer from Bellevue newcomers Darkness Brewing as well as Braxton Brewing Company, which recently launched a second location at The Party Source. The summer festival will resume with events Aug. 11 and Oct. 7 featuring popular local bands, food, drinks and more.
The Bellevue Urban Renewal Community Development Agency is another group making significant investments to preserve Bellevue’s unique identity while attracting visitors and new residents. The group has worked to rehabilitate aging building facades along the main Fairfield thoroughfare and support the Bellevue Neighborhood Association in installing planters and hanging baskets along the picturesque corridor.
Fairfield Avenue businesses range from secondhand and novelty stores to curbside cafes and professional firms such as Mackey Advisors, which in 2012 scaled a LEED-certified transformation of the company’s historic headquarters at 601 Fairfield Ave.
“There’s a very positive relationship between new and old along Fairfield Avenue,” said Robinson. “There’s a synergy that brings character to the district and encourages owners and employees to share ideas and recommendations and to basically look out for each other.”
In addition to fostering collaboration between the residents and business owners who call Bellevue home, leaders express a strong desire to strengthen relationships with the neighboring river cities of Dayton, Newport and Covington.
A major opportunity arrived in that regard when in February the city ended a yearslong litigation, resulting in the purchase of a parcel of riverfront land known as Harbor Greene. Bellevue resident and regional planner Kevin Wright was part of the team that led a series of public forums called Engage Bellevue to gather community concerns and ideas for developing the land.
“Our residents have diverse needs and interests, and for that reason it’s important to make sure we’re not making decisions in a vacuum,” Wright said at the initial March 22 forum. “While we want Harbor Greene to be something our community can enjoy, we also want it to connect us with our neighboring communities. Bellevue’s families should be able to easily get from Fairfield Avenue to Newport On the Levee and enjoy all the shops, restaurants and green spaces in between.”
Wright’s team released its Engage Bellevue findings last month, and while preliminary planning and budgeting phases are still in the works, Wright says leadership is on pace to begin searching for a community-focused developer later this year.
“The ideal partner will be someone who is committing to showcasing Bellevue’s riverfront as a destination for residents and visitors with vibrant, accessible public spaces and food and retail that exemplify our local culture,” said Wright.
Fairfield Avenue’s wave of momentum -- along with its residents’ patience -- may soon be tested, however, based on last week’s announcement that a major intersection at Fairfield and Taylor avenues will be closed for four weeks as Sanitation District 1 works to repair a crumbling sewer pipe.
“This will be a challenging time for all our residents, as well as Dayton’s, and our entire business district, which correlates directly to the health of Bellevue,” said Robinson. “But at the same time, we suddenly have space to activate in an interesting way -- a ‘living room,’ a park, a place to bring people together. This could be the type of place and opportunity we heard about in our Engage Bellevue interview process.
“Experience and placemaking are the new reality of retail health. We have an opportunity to activate the street during this closure. Fairfield businesses who want to participate can expand into the street, making for a totally unique visitor experience. It will take collaboration, but collaboration builds community and creativity.”