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Parking Spaces Turned Play Places Face Opposition in Covington

Five Covington parking spaces - four downtown and one in Mainstrasse Village - will be transformed into active spaces for pedestrians and visitors.

The so-called "parklets" will occupy the spaces near five businesses that competed to be part of the Curb'd project brought to town by Renaissance Covington, the Mainstrasse Village Association, and the Haile/US Bank Foundation.

Renaissance Covington director Katie Meyer presented the project to the Covington City Commission last week. "It's crucial that we embrace walkability as a key strategy," she said, noting that bringing parklets to town allows the city to jump on a trend. Major U.S. cities like Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco have embraced the idea of turning a vehicle space into one for casual leisure.

Renaissance Covington has previously jumped on similar national trends, such as pop-up shops and Parking Day activities that brought miniature golf to parking lots.

"Successful 24-hour downtowns are not designed to promote a direct line between a parking spot and a business but to engage vistors," Meyer said. "In Covington, we also know there is an opportunity in aligning Mainstrasse and downtown to one another." She was referring to the city's upcoming effort to renovate Sixth Street from Scott Boulevard to Main Street, connecting the central business district with the city's entertainment district.

The growth in residents and new businesses downtown and the consistent success of Mainstrasse was reflected in the opening of 27 new businesses and an investment of $10 million, Meyer stated.

But though the project has been publicized since September, Meyer's presentation at City Hall was the first formal discussion of the legal issues surrounding the project. Curb'd will need a 6-month revocable license from the city commission and a vote is expected at next week's meeting. Some commissioners expressed concern about the project and hinted that as the project stands, there won't be the necessary support.

"At no time were we engaged whether we were in support of this," Commissioner Chuck Eilerman told Meyer. "We have heard some pretty angry responses from neighbors of three of these parklets, in particular. We already have bump-outs taking parking off the streets and now we take five more off."

The locations of the parklets will be outside Stoney's Village Toy Shoppe (323 West 6th Street, Mainstrasse), Left Bank Coffeehouse (701 Greenup Street, downtown), Cutman Barbershop (5 West Pike Street, downtown), Braxton Brewing Company (27 West 7th Street, downtown), and Inspirado at Madison Gallery (715 Madison Avenue, downtown). The businesses signed up to be included and then worked with a design team to come up with a concept and were ultimately selected from 13 finalists.

Even though these businesses are in favor of the idea, others are not, and Eilerman argued that Monmouth Street in Newport offers two uninterrupted rows of parking on either side of the street. "We have to deal with the questions that we have and we have had some pretty strong questions of concern," Eilerman said. 

Elsewhere, local attorney Alma Puissegur, who lives and practices next to Stoney's Village Toy Shoppe, expressed her opposition to the forthcoming parklet. Stoney's will feature an interactive xylophone.
Rendering of parklet at Stoney's Village Toy Shoppe
"That is one of the busiest intersections in Covington," Puissegur said, noting 6th & Main Streets, the epicenter of the entertainment district. "I don't know of a time when there's not traffic up there and I can tell you they are ripping around the corner from Main to go west on 6th. There is an alley, bare feet from where this children's fame is supposed to go. It is not a dedicated street but it is used continuously by trucks, be vehicles, by motorcycles who enter and exit at all times of day and night."
Puissegur also expressed concern about the noise that the xylophone component will make, and how Mainstrasse Village will soon have paid parking on the street, too. "We're now going to have parking meters. We now lose six spaces in one block to parking meters. We have one handicap, that's seven. And now you wan to take another one," she said. "I will not be parking my car next to a contraption that has people climbing all over it and jumping on and off of it. I'm guessing we are going to lose another three parking spaces to that parklet."
"One important point," Meyer said, "is it's for six months. This is not a permanent installation." 
When the issue returns, it may face opposition from Commissioner Bill Wells, too. He said he took pictures of where the parklets will go while visiting downtown on a Sunday and said that all the surrounding parking spaces were occupied. "On Pike, we already have the bump-outs. Why can't we use those? Across from Stoney's there's a promenade," Wells said. "I like the parklet idea. I think there is an idea to put them elsewhere."
Mayor Sherry Carran also appeared to be on the fence.
"I think the program is a good program and can show people the potential of what the space can become, but that one little piece needs to be a little better," Carran said of the business owners' concerns.

"We're not trying to create a bad scenario for anybody," Meyer said. "I'd just say to each parklet and each design team needs to be open to the needs of its surroundign community."