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New City Hall, Crime, Developments Discussed at Mayoral Debate

The two candidates for Covington mayor discussed some wide-ranging issues at their final debate on Thursday. In part one of RCN's coverage you can read the views of candidates Sherry Carran and Steve Casper, both current city commissioners, on the best path for Covington to attract jobs, which developments the city should focus on, and more by clicking here.

In this second part of the coverage, the candidates discussed the increase in crime in the city, potential developments along Martin Luther King Boulevard near the new St. Elizabeth Hospital campus, and where the new City Hall may end up going.

Adequate emergency services?

Covington's recent struggle with an increase in heroin-related crimes that are also the catalyst for other criminal activities that are on the rise such as prostitution and metal theft is one of residents' top concerns. Covington Police Chief Spike Jones has reorganized the department to put more officers on the streets but could still probably use at least a couple more. Meanwhile, the fire department is also stretched thin. The mayoral candidates talked about how the city can provide the appropriate level of emergency services for all the growth each would like to see in Covington.

"We took a step to try to control the budgetary considerations relative to dispatch," Casper said. "It was a monetary decision but it was also a service decision. We needed the ability for people to call 911 and get connected to where they needed to be as opposed to multiple venues. That may be a model we need to look at relative to police and fire so that we have more fluid response from the different areas. South Covington in some cases is a lot closer to Independence than our own force."

"I think maybe some people feel because I don't have it in my campaign literature that (police and fire) are not important and that's not the case," Carran said. "It's a typical soundbyte for campaigns and I don't know of anybody who doesn't support police and fire. I am concerned they are stretched very thin right now. They are quality people but when demands become so strong that they get stressed, it's not a good thing." 

Carran hopes that recent organizational changes at City Hall will lead to budgetary reviews that may free up more money to hire additional officers while Casper said his focus is on jobs to bring in more revenue to put more police on the streets.

Development on MLK

Martin Luther King Boulevard, formerly known as Twelfth Street, underwent a massive reconstruction and widening over the past few years and is now ripe for development, particularly in the area around the new Saint Elizabeth Hospital medical campus. 

"That starts with filling up the Jillian's brewery, that's the cornerstone of that intersection." said Casper. "Ultimately it would be wonderful if it were filled with boutique restaurants and retail." Casper noted that the new German-themed restaurant Wunderbar is an island by itself, but because of its reputation is "thriving". He also said that the success of the corridor would rely on "bookends" to help fill the center with the old Jillian's and St. E on one end and development around the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption at the other.

 

Carran pointed out that there is a small area study for the corridor, possibly referring to the Linden Gateway small area study. She would like to see more medical facilities to enahnce what was developed at St. E. "But the other thing we need is more quality living spaces for people who want to work at those places," Carran said. The city purchased several pieces of property in an area nearby known as Jackson Square and it is teaming up with the Center for Great Neighborhoods for an ambitious housing development project. Carran said it "would create shotgun homes to be turned into artist homes". The Catalytic Development Fund of Northern Kentucky is also expected to be involved and Carran pointed to Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine as being such a success that most of its living spaces have been filled and people wanting to live there will look elsewhere. "We have the bones for them, but we don't have the spaces that have been rehabbed so they can move in right away."
 
Where will City Hall move to?
With last week's announcement that the Coppin's building, which currently houses Covington City Hall, is to be developed into a boutique hotel, the city will be moving. But where? That question has not been answered but the candidates offered some hints Thursday.
 
Casper suggested the former Duro Bag building near MLK & Madison Avenue. "It would be magnificent if we could develop a city campus," he said. "The age of our main firehouse and police headquarters, both are headed towards obsolescence. It would be a perfect opportunity to develop a campus similar to what Newport has done to have all our entities in one location." Casper also suggested that Kenton County's government could also have a building on campus. 
 
"We've discussed Duro Bag," Carran said. "It's historic, it's large and it would be neat to see something there in the center of the city so we can get some energy there." Carran also noted other possibilities including the former Lincoln-Grant School building on Greenup Street and the Mutual Insurance building on Madison Avenue across from the current City Hall. "That's a beautiful building and you could take advantage of the new energy created by the boutique hotel," she said. "The engineering department is reviewing about six spaces right now to see which will be the best for us."
 
Casper added that while the City may be considering the Mutual Building, another possibility for that structure is to serve as an incubator for businesses.

In closing

The candidates spent their closing statements making the case for why they would be the best choice to lead Covington for the next four years. "I have a keen understanding of the issues facing the city and region and I already have a network in place," Carran said. "I've made a difference and I've created some good relationships. Those relationships exist now. I didn't have to set up meetings with people in Cincinnati to introduce myself." That was a counter to Casper's remarks that he has been meeting with leaders across the river and around the region. Carran emphasized her relationship with Cincinnati City Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls and Councilman Wendell Young with whom she worked on a strategy to keep the Brent Spence Bridge in safe shape while the region waits for the new bridge.

"I represent the city on the area planning council," said Carran. "That group elected me to represent them on the area planning commission. The people in cities and counties respect me enough to give me that opportunity." She also emphasized her relationships with county leaders through her role as a representative for the city on the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and said she has a close relationship with Kenton County Commissioners Beth Sewell and Kris Knochelman. 

Carran said one part of her focus will be on helping others to succeed, including city staff. "I want to keep politics out of city decision making and serve the public and the citizens' prosperity as a whole," she said. "You can see through my involvement that I am the best choice for mayor, not just for a few but for the larger community and my ability to create a network of positive energy."

 

Casper reiterated his call for a focus on economic development and outlined his goal of having a year-round community center in Latonia that would serve Covington's youth. "To me, the logical location to be considered would be in the (Latonia) Shopping Center itself, potentially the Value City location," said Casper. "It happens to be contiguous to four vacant acres also owned by the Schottensteins (the Columbus, Ohio-based family that owns the Latonia Shopping Center which Value City Furniture vacated last year). 
 
"I'm solution-oriented," Casper said. "An idea has to begin somewhere. It doesn't mean that I'm the one, but it may be the beginning. We are facing a housing dilemma and it needs to be addressed. For over a year I've been asking that the city develop a comprehensive housing strategy. We had a meeting last Monday to address the problem."
 
"Up until this point we've allowed the tail to wag the dog and now it's time for the city to take control," he continued. "My plan would involve landlords, tenants, section 8, the Housing Authority, for a cohesive approach."
 
Casper also called for the redevelopment of the City Heights housing project as part of a housing strategy. He noted endorsements of his candidacy from Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders, Kenton County Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus, the Fraternal Order of Police, and former Mayor Denny Bowman.