Game Changed: Gateway Unveils Downtown Covington Campus Plans

More than a decade after the idea surfaced in the mind of the former president of Gateway Community & Technical College, the current president announced the vision would become reality. "Ladies and gentlemen, the urban campus of Gateway Community and Technical College is going to happen," bolsted Dr. Ed Hughes to a crowd gathered at the former Two Rivers Middle School in Downtown Covington Wednesday afternoon. The very building in which the announcement was made is already being used by the school and is part of nine buildings in the urban core slated to undergo a massive renovation as the central city prepares to welcome the 5,000 students expected to attend the Downtown campus.

The nucleus of the ambitious project is estimated at more than $80 million, the nucleus of which will dominate a six-block area between Fourth and Seventh Streets north and south, and Greenup Street to Madison Avenue east to west. The college will seek to integrate itself aesthetically into the historic business district in the style of the College of Charleston, the Savannah College of Art & Design, and George Washington University, all cited as inspiration for the campus's design. Gateway is in the process of acquiring or has already acquired the nine properties that will become part of the campus.

“Today’s announcement has been 10 years in the making. It is the culmination of many hours of collaboration, negotiation, discussion, and visioning by dozens and dozens of community leaders, government officials, concerned citizens, Gateway’s board of directors, faculty, staff and students, the Gateway Foundation board, and our planning consultants,” Hughes said. “We were encouraged early by the community to think big."

“The Urban Campus not only will change the lives of the students who find new hope within its streets and walls, it will create as yet unimagined economic development potential for the river cities and the whole region,” he added.

The Gateway campus announcement comes on the heels of the news that Covington City Hall will be transformed into The Hotel Covington, a $25 million development deal also deemed a catalyst for real change in the struggling Downtown area. Together, the two projects represent more than $100 million in new development in the urban core. In fact, some elements of the planned campus aim to play off the expected success of the boutique hotel.

 

“We are building a complete campus that will meet the unique needs in the urban core,” said Hughes. “For instance, we envision an Urban Spa and Wellness Center in one of the buildings, which can provide services to the residents and guests of the proposed Covington Hotel." That urban spa will go into a building directly across the street from the expanding Kenton County Public Library (another $13 million in Downtown development in its own right). Most recently it housed a modern furniture store called Abode but has sat empty for more than a year. 

Also on the horizon: a Barnes & Noble student bookstore available to the general public inside what was once the Citizens Bank builsing at Seventh & Pike Streets, a Technology & Design Center inside the former Marx Furniture building on Madison Avenue, the Eva & Oakley FarrisChild Development Center  on Pike Street inside what used to be the YMCA, the Kaleidoscope Center for Urban Outreach (which also house a performing arts center) inside the First United Methodist Church on Greenup Street, a Technical Classroom Center inside the former Senior Citizens Center on Fifth Street which suffered extensive damage from a fire and has sat boarded up since. The Two Rivers building where Gateway's urban campus is situated now will also undergo an extensive renovation.

 

Hughes said the goal of the plan was to create a framework that would imbed the college into the community and enable greater collaboration between the two. A key element of the plan is to work with existing community partners like the library, Northern Kentucky Convention Center, Baker Hunt Cultural Center and Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center. “Our plan complements what is in the community and doesn’t duplicate what is here already,” Hughes said.

One piece of new construction is planned: the Science and Allied Health Center on Scott Boulevard where the Point events center, the former Mad Hatter concert venue, and the former Dressman Health Center (which houses the Northern Kentucky Emergency Shelter currently) are located. The plans also call for what has been dubbed "Electric Alley", the stark area behind the Two Rivers building that will be transformed into attractive circulation ways for cyclists, pedestrians, and limited vehicle access.

City Manager Larry Klein called the project the most ambitious development in Covington since the arrival of the skyscrapers built on the riverfront in the early 1990s. Mayor Chuck Scheper also spoke with high optimism about what the plans mean for the city. "This is going to be truly transformational for the urban core," the mayor said. "The increase in students, faculty and staff will boost the local economy with more jobs, retail and restaurants. It will invigorate Covington’s Madison Avenue corridor and restore it to the vibrant district it once was."

The plans will not be fully realized overnight. Hughes plans to request $60 million from the General Assembly in Frankfort during the January 2014 session (the January 2013 session does not involve budgetary appropriations). In the meantime, Gateway is moving forward with its five-point plan where administrators find themselves in the middle of Phase Three, the acquisition, design, and renovation of key properties. Phase Four will take the entirety of 2013 and includes the sale of the school's campus in Villa Hills, the proceeds of which will be entirely reinvested into the urban campus. Phase Five stretches from 2014 to beyond and includes the renovation of the Two Rivers building and fundraising.

The Gateway Foundation, the school's fundraising arm, will be busy. “Eleven years ago, when Dr. Hughes asked us to form a foundation for a college that didn’t even have a name, I never envisioned a day as historically significant as today,” said Lee Flischel, chair of the Gateway Foundation board of directors. “I’m just glad that the foundation has grown to a point where we’re able to lend a hand and make the Urban Campus a reality. I believe the positive economic impact of this campus development on the city of Covington, and the community as a whole, will be felt for many years to come."

The creation of the urban campus is more than a significant economic development tool. Its primary focus, naturally, is education. Eighty-three percent of residents in the Northern Kentucky river cities of Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Ludlow, Dayton, and Bromley have little or no college education. The number of residents that are college educated is less than half the national average. "We have to change that statistic," Hughes said. 

See a slideshow of all the planned buildings by clicking here.

PHOTO: Design of new Science and Allied Health Center on Scott Boulevard/RCN