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Importance of Historic Preservation in Covington Explained

Considering she works in historic preservation, it's not surprising that Emily Ahouse deals with myths.
 
Unfortunately, those myths sometimes give people a distorted sense of the purpose, logistics and value of preserving Covington's historical buildings, says Ahouse, the City's Preservation & Planning Specialist.
 
"We're about protecting, showcasing and reusing," Ahouse says.
 
May is Historic Preservation Month around the nation, so Ahouse planned to give a brief presentation to the Covington City Commission at Tuesday night's meeting to discuss events planned for the month and the mission of her office.
 
"Covington is blessed with thousands of exquisite-looking buildings - there's just no other word for it," Ahouse said. "Preserving the richness of those buildings helps protect the unique character of our city and keeps strong the connection to our past. That's true. But there are real dollars-and-cents reasons for why we do what we do."
 
The first myth is that historic preservation is a financial negative, she said. But the facts show that preservation actually encourages investment, has measurable financial return and raises property values.
 
According to Washington DC consulting firm PlaceEconomics, every $1 million spent to rehab a historic building in Kentucky adds 23 jobs to the local economy (about 2.5 more jobs than new construction does). Similarly, that $1 million investment adds $730,000 in household income to the economy (about $95,000 more than new construction).
 
Furthermore, Ahouse says, a 2008 study in Kentucky found that property values increased 4.3 percent more each year in neighborhoods protected by historic preservation than they did in areas without that protection.
 
"The economic impact of historic preservation is large, diverse and measurable," Ahouse said.
 
In the 4th Congressional District of Kentucky alone, since 2005 more than $103 million has been invested in 180 completed preservation projects, many of those in Covington, she said.
 
The second myth is that Covington is trying to "freeze" its buildings in time - both how they look and what they're used for.
 
But drive around the city, Ahouse said, and you see dozens of creative uses of old buildings that illustrate the flexibility for modern adaptation with contemporary additions - projects like Hellmann Creative Center (formerly a lumber mill) on 12th Street/ML King Jr. Boulevard, The Boone Block townhomes on Scott Boulevard and Hotel Covington, the Odd Fellows Hall and Octave bar and music venue on Madison Avenue.
 
And a third myth is that if you live in a historic district, you can't update or make changes to your house.
 
"We don't require a review of interior changes at all," Ahouse said. "As far as exterior changes, I like to say that except for demolition, you can do anything to a building in a historic district that you can do to one outside the district - but you just have to do it in a manner that's compatible with the historic character of the neighborhood.
 
In a recent year-long period (the federal fiscal year 2016-17), the City received 203 applications for everything from repainting to complete demolition, and 197 of those were approved, she said.
 
In all, Covington has seven historic preservation overlay zones and 17 National Register Historic Districts, in addition to individual listings on the register.
 
"Covington has some pretty interesting historic neighborhoods, and the buildings in our commercial areas are quite unique," Ahouse said.
 
Among the events in May for Historic Preservation Month:
 
  • May 4 - Training from out-of-town experts for city Urban Design Review Board members.
  • May 12 - Dedication of historic marker in George Rogers Clark Park by the Northern Kentucky Heritage League.
  • May 24 - The River Cities Preservation Awards in Newport.

-Staff report

Photo: Historic German National Bank building now occupied by Octave, a downtown lounge (provided)