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Latonia's Wish List: Redeveloped Shopping Center, Sidewalks, Historic Designation

Residents of Latonia are hopeful for a redeveloped shopping center, reduced traffic issues on Winston Avenue, new sidewalks on a pair of streets, and a possible placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Members of the Latonia Small Area Study Group presented some of this information to the Covington City Commission last week.

"Some of our main goals are to celebrate past," said Rachel Hastings of the Center for Great Neighborhoods, which assists the Latonia Small Area Study. "Latonia has a strong history of being an independent city and is now part of Covington. (Also) enhancing and celebrating Ritte's Corner, the fountain, and making sure folks on the east and west sides of Latonia can walk easily on each side."

A long term goal includes the redevelopment of the shopping plaza, something Hastings said the Schottenstein family, which owns it, is interested in pursuing if a development partner can be found.

"As more vacancies happen on that shopping plaza, something needs to happen," Hastings said, though she admitted that it does not seem likely anytime within the next two years.

"The shopping center development could be a TIF (tax increment financing) district," said Clare Norwood, a member of the group. "We think that would be a great tool to entice other outside developers to come in."

The City of Covington this year implemented a TIF district Downtown to help spur development.

Hastings said that the most likely scenario would result in the current shopping center being razed and replaced. "The rooms are narrow and deep and cost more than what people want to pay to cover the Schottensteins' bottom line," she said. The Schottensteins are based in Columbus, Ohio and are the family behind Value City, the retailer that closed both its furniture and retail stores in the center in recent years.

Any new action on securing development partners would likely have to start in Covington, Hastings said.  "It's really up to folks here in Covington to push that forward."

Remembering the past, looking to the future

          photo rittescornersnow_zpsdb6beca4.jpg

Ritte's Corner/RCN file

Buildings much older than the shopping center are also a focus of the small area study group. 

The Ritte's Corner business district is being nominated as a historic district for the National Register. "It's super exciting," Norwood said. "Having an area on the National Register is huge. There is a fantastic tax credit opportunity should you rehab your home using National Register guidelines."

The group his working with Covington's historic preservation officer, Beth Johnson, on the effort and expect to hear about the nomination's success in the spring.

"Folks usually don't know about it," Hastings said of the presence of historic homes in Latonia. The large neighborhood is also home to a wide range of affordable housing of all ages, something the group hoped to highlight with the production of a video called, Latonia: Everybody's Neighborhood.

Norwood said the group has organized regular luncheons for real estate agents in the neighborhood and the topic at the next luncheon would focus on 203k loans which help homeowners rehab their properties.

Improvements sought for recreation, sidewalks, and busy road

Neighbors also want safer streets with slower-moving cars and new sidewalks. One recent achievement was the making of Church Street at Holy Cross School a one-way street. "It not only made it much safer for students, I think it visually made the campus a whole lot more attractive and a real addition to Latonia," said Donna Horne, a member of the group.

While Latonia is slated to be one of the earlier spots targeted for sidewalk repair, part of a city-wide effort announced earlier this year, a pair of streets have never had sidewalks, 42nd & 43rd. "Both streets have incomplete sidewalk infrastructure and it is often a problem for residents on those streets," Norwood said. To solicit feedback from neighbors, a survey was distributed and an ice cream social was held. City engineer Mike Yeager was able to answer a lot of residents' questions, Norwood said.

Bill Wells, the outgoing president of the Covington Neighborhood Collaborative, led city leaders on a walking tour of the streets in June. "We are promoting our city to be walkable and since 1960 when this community was built there, there have been no sidewalks," Wells said. He added that plans for new sidewalks there are in the works. "In the very near future, 43rd Street will be getting sidewalks and this would be a good opportunity to finish a project started fifty-three years ago."

Wells also asked the city commission to consider a road diet, or lane reduction, for busy Winston Avenue. Better medians, pedestrian sanctuaries, promotion of cycling, and cross-lanes could increase safety, Wells said.

The road is a frequent site of accidents and is also a danger to elderly pedestrians in nearby senior housing who may not have enough time to cross the street. An older woman was struck by a car and killed in September near the Latonia Shopping Center.

"At the very least, I would urge the commission to work with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to move the road diet one block south to 40th Street and give people more time to cross the street," Wells said.

Celebrating success in Latonia

Meanwhile, neighbors boasted of several achievements and expressed enthusiasm at a high profile rumor that the city's hoped-for community health center would be located there. The so-called healthy living center was mentioned as a priority in the community investment plan announced in June by City Manager Larry Klein.

"We hope the success of the Latonia Cardinals community park will encourage that to take to root in Latonia," Norwood said.

The neighborhood also hosted its annual 5K race, a sort of return of racing to Latonia where a horse racing track once operated. Families also gathered to help clean up the park at 29th Street & Decoursey Avenue. "One thing we hear from young families is they are looking for more places for recreation and this was a good place to start," Horne said.

Another project for volunteers is coming up next year. Paint The Town will be in Latonia in the summer of 2014 and residents who are disabled or in a lower income bracket and have need for assistance with the painting of the exterior of their homes will get that help.

Residents are also using funds from a Place Matters grant to plant flags at Ritte's Corner.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Latonia Shopping Center/RCN