The little riverfront city that could: Ludlow is ‘kind of the perfect location'

New vibe, new businesses and a new future
Posted at 7:00 AM, Nov 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-05 07:14:54-04

LUDLOW, Ky. -- New businesses and new residents are popping up in a local city. The “best-kept secret in Northern Kentucky,” according to the city’s mayor, may not be that way much longer.

Ludlow recently announced a proposed mixed-use riverfront development, but that’s not the whole story of what’s going on in the city, say business owners and residents.  

“I love it,” John Winkle said of the revitalization of the city’s business district. Winkle, half of Jeff & John Winkle Studio, a mixed-media visual arts company, are twin brothers who were raised in Ludlow. John has seen changes in the city over the years, and likes what he is seeing now and for the future.

The proposed mixed-use development site in Ludlow. The development would pay homage to the city's railroad ties. (Photo provided)

“It’s one of the reasons we bought a place back down here,” he said. “Ludlow is kind of the perfect location. It needs people with a vision, and I think there are several here.”

Indeed, that vision is shared by city leaders and other business owners on Elm Street.

“We’re creating a buzz down here, and we want to reach our goal of a thriving business district, more home ownership and riverfront development,” said Mayor Ken Wynn.

Wynn also owns Wynner’s Cup Café on Elm Street. He said the business serves two purposes for him: He wanted to own a business, and he “wanted to show as mayor I’ve made a commitment to this town.”

Matt “Catfish” Williams, co-owner of Folk School Coffee Parlorand Ludlow City Council candidate, said Ludlow’s future is what brought him to the city five years ago.

“Nine new businesses have opened in the last two years,” Williams said. “Everything was already here. There’s an awesome independent school system, cool little parks, it’s a walkable city, it’s quiet and people are super loyal to it.”

“I’m from the West Side, and you know the neighborhood pride there,” Williams said. “It’s similar in Ludlow. What struck me is how badass this business district is. Because of the loyalty and pride it’s kept, it has a small-town feel. City leadership in the past had the foresight and strength to preserve that.”

Williams -- who with his wife, Mary, lives in the flat above his business -- has been persuading friends to join him in the river city. One of those friends, Casey Campbell, also helps run the Folk School Coffee Parlor and purchased a home in the city.

“Nobody’s trying to redo how this town operates,” Campbell said. “The vibe of the community … reminds me of how my neighborhood was growing up 30 years ago. We want people to come down and be a part of it.

“There is a very traditional vision of Ludlow, people who were born and raised here, and we want to work with that, too.” 

One of the things that draws Winkle to Ludlow: “There’s something about a small town. People hang together -- and they crave that.”

There are challenges in continuing growth, however. One of them is to not lose the very feel that is attracting people to the city in the first place.

“You have to have some change to survive,” said Wynn. “The difficulty is in trying to find balance. It’s important to preserve your heritage and bring the change necessary to survive and thrive.”

“With (city administrator) Elishia (Chamberlain) and the economic plan we’ve put together with City Council, we’re doing something right, because people are noticing,” he said.

“The citizens and business owners need to step up and make this city what we want,” Williams said. “The city has safety, public works, all those things to worry about -- we’ve got to get back into ownership of the community.”

In addition to the proposed Ludlow Yards development, a new brewery, Bircus Brewing is close to being funded and brewing beer for residents’ entertainment. Williams’ shop offers live music, and Wynn has plans to do the same starting next month -- which provides reasons for residents to stick around for entertainment.

“You can get a drink, a nice meal, see live music or an art show – and you can walk everywhere,” said Wynn.

“Why would you ever leave Ludlow?”