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2018 in Review: Northern Kentucky's 7 Biggest Stories of the Year

Another year is in the books for Northern Kentucky and The River City News chalks up another trip around the sun spent covering the stories that matter to and impact this region.

These were the biggest stories in Northern Kentucky in 2018:

ELECTION YEAR SHAPES NORTHERN KENTUCKY'S FUTURE

2018 brought a wild election year to Northern Kentucky, one in which multiple incumbent mayors and council members went down in defeat.

November 6 was a bloodbath for incumbents across the region.

The mayors in Villa Hills, Ludlow, Dayton, and Alexandria all went down in defeat. Five council members were ousted in Villa Hills along with Mayor Butch Callery in a city election that saw the deployment of a political action committee to change the course of that city's government.

For the River Cities, the change is significant.

Bellevue and Ludlow will see a big change when the new city councils are seated in January, with three new faces in Bellevue and four in Ludlow. New mayors will take office in Bellevue, Dayton, and Ludlow. Two new commissioners will take office in Covington.

Only Newport's government will return the exact same group as the previous year.

Taylor Mill, which rivaled Villa Hills in the level of unpleasant discourse throughout 2018, also saw big changes, with two new city commissioners elected.

Campbell County Fiscal Court will be of interest, as well. Though the full court remains Republican, with Commissioner Charlie Coleman leaving office after a failed bid as an independent candidate for judge/executive against longtime incumbent Steve Pendery, Geoff Besecker joins Pendery, and commissioners Brian Painter and Tom Lampe. The Coleman years saw consistent infighting between the former high school football coach and Pendery. What will the new year hold for this crew?

The makeup of the Boone County Fiscal Court is also different, with incumbent Charlie Walton defeated in the Republican primary by Jesse Brewer, which will also make for a new dynamic to watch.

BUSY YEAR OF HITS AND MISSES IN FORT MITCHELL

News that a state judge rejected Christ Hospital's plans for a $20 million surgery center on the former site of the Drawbridge Inn in Ft. Mitchell was the biggest in a series of hits and misses for this Kenton County suburb.

While Christ appeals that decision, which was supported by rival St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the effect was immediate. Montgomery Inn closed its Ft. Mitchell location, and the development of the entire site remains in question.

One other blow to the city was the closure of its Remke grocery location on Dixie Highway. 

However, that closure ended up leading to word of a redevelopment of the site, plans for which include a more attractive presentation along Dixie with more glass windows, and multiple new businesses slated to be announced as occupants.

An old strip mall on Buttermilk Pike also saw a redevelopment and swift occupancy, including the arrival of a new location for BRU Burger.

The re-elected mayor and new council will continue its efforts at creating a strategy and vision for its commercial core on Dixie Highway in 2019.

DIOCESE OF COVINGTON BLOCKS HOLY CROSS VALEDICTORIAN'S SPEECH

It isn't every year that a valedictorian's speech attracts media attention, but this year was different as the Holy Cross High School class of 2018 gathered for the graduation ceremony at Thomas More College (now University, another big event of 2018).

Top graduate Christian Bales was forbidden from delivering his remarks during the ceremony, and instead was surrounded by classmates and their families after the event, outside the Connor Convocation Center, as he read his speech.

The Diocese stated officially that Bales's and the class salutatorian's speeches were dropped from the program because, "they were found to contain elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church."

Bales said that he was unsure whether his speech was rejected because he is gay, and said that the speech "was pretty mild." He spoke about the deadly Parkland, Fla. high school shooting and the power of youth in America, he said.

Salutatorian Katherine Frantz, who also served as Holy Cross's student council president, said that she, too, was unsure why her speech was rejected. It was publishe din full at The River City News.

Bales's and Frantz's stories went viral and caught attention from the national media, including The New York Times and CNN.

NKY SCHOOL DISTRICTS STILL SHOW ACADEMIC DISPARITY, BUT ALSO JOINED TOGETHER TO FIGHT STATE LEGISLATION

It was an eventful year for Northern Kentucky school districts inside and outside the classroom.

The annual state report on test scores showed that this region continues to be impacted by academic achievement disparity, with small, urban districts struggling to compete with their more affluent suburban counterparts.

Beechwood and Fort Thomas continue to shine as among the top districts in the state while Silver Grove and Covington both turned in some of the lowest average ACT scores in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, teachers became activists in the first part of the year, joining together to march on Frankfort multiple times as the General Assembly considered controversial pension reform legislation. The teachers' activism resulted in the closure of multiple school districts on multiple days.

Those closures prompted Gov. Matt Bevin, a champion of the pension bill, to make a series of controversial comments, including a remark that he could guarantee that a child was sexually abused because school was canceled by the teachers' absence.

Meanwhile, that pension reform bill was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court this month and a hastily-called special session of the General Assembly that resulted in no progress was another black mark for Bevin's governorship.

He's up for reelection next year, and the pension bill is sure to play a significant role in the upcoming short session of the General Assembly.

NORTHERN KENTUCKY MAKES A BID TO BECOME MAJOR LEAGUE

FC Cincinnati's hunt for a permanent home led to a push by Northern Kentucky to land the professional soccer team's new stadium.

Kicking on the Licking became a battle cry for the southbank in its effort to woo a professional sports team to our shore.

The long-vacant Ovation site in Newport was the primary target, an FC Cincinnati was reportedly hot on the prospect.

Until it wasn't.

The team ended up making a deal with the City of Cincinnati to construct the massive stadium in the Queen City's West End.

NEWPORT'S RIVERFRONT RUMBLES WITH DEVELOPMENT

Though FC Cincinnati opted to stay in its namesake city, Ovation owner Corporex announced late this year that it would finally break ground on the billion dollar development in 2019.

Specifics on the Covington-based firm's are scant right now, but a parking garage is first in the horizon.

Corporex cited the completion of Kentucky Route 9, which now snakes along the Licking River all the way to the Ohio River, as a catalyst for the development's long-awaited beginning, more than ten years in the making.

Meanwhile, a new hotel and apartment community opened adjacent to Newport on the Levee, which sold this year to Cincinnati-based North American Properties Group for $100 million. The new owner plans to invest another $100 million in an effort to transform the 18-year old attraction.

SkyWheel is also on the horizon. The large Ferris wheel is expected to land on the Ohio River some time in 2019, and the region appears willing to take a ride, if the SkyStar on the Cincinnati riverfront, which extended its stay in the city by six months, is any indication.

Further south in Newport, new developments are also taking shape. The Newport Shopping Center sold and a new gym and other new stores are part of the plans.

Across Carothers Road, the relatively new owners of Newport Plaza II announced new buildings and new tenants for that site, which had stalled significantly after the opening of an Aldi grocery store. 

MAINSTRASSE VILLAGE ASSOCIATION FILES BANKRUPTCY

For nearly forty years, Covington has hosted large-scale Oktoberfest and Maifest celebrations in Mainstrasse Village.

But late this year, the producing organization, Mainstrasse Village Association, announced that it was filing for bankruptcy and would no longer operate.

That leaves the future of the events in doubt.

The news comes as Mainstrasse Village, as a neighborhood and commercial district, is poised for further growth. New businesses and restaurants continue to open, and the RiverHaus apartment community and its new parking garage will be completed in 2019.

-Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher