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Casper Draws on Owensboro to Inspire Covington Development

When Owensboro, Kentucky opened its new $178 million riverfront development, Covington City Commissioner Steve Casper was there - and green with envy. At Tuesday's night's City Commission meeting, Casper reflected on his visit to the Kentucky city two hundred miles away but along the same river that sits ready for development in Covington. "They did it because it has become an economic engine for them," Casper said, noting Owensboro's forthcoming convention center and two new hotels that are under construction nearby. Though it took more than a decade to complete, Owensboro was able to finance the project through public and private investments, most notably a large increase on insurance premium tax rate at both the city and county level which generated $80 million. "I'm not proposing," Casper said, noting that the move was controversial in Owensboro. An article in The New York Times that highlight that Kentucky city's success on the riverfront also noted that of the seven county commissioners that approved the plan, only two remain in office.
But when the new park opened at the end of August, there was very little complaining to be heard and the park was celebrated as a huge achievement in the larger plan to revitalize that city's Downtown area. What most impressed Casper were the three water features built by the same Los Angeles-based company that built the famed Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas and many others around the world. So impressed by the work, Casper, while on business in San Diego, drove to Los Angeles to tour Wet's facilities. While he sees a future Covington riverfront having water features he also envisions a large scale fountain in Mainstrasse Village's Goebel Park that would boast of lights, music, and water that danced, an effort to draw more families to the underused green space and to boost business for nearby restaurants and shops. 
As for the riverfront, Casper, who is challenging fellow City Commissioner Sherry Carran in November to become Mayor, knows that Owensboro relied heavily on earmarks from the federal government with help from the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who was directly responsible for securing $40 million, Casper said. The first-term commissioner and Mayor Chuck Scheper met with a representative from the Senator's office Wednesday morning and toured some of Covington's riverfront. An ideal project would begin in what is known as Covington's Riverfront West which is just west of Covington Landing where the Waterfront restaurant is expected to reopen soon. Unlike the time when Owensboro sought funding, however, earmarks have become a four letter word in Washington, DC. An optimistic note from the Senator's office however is that they employ what Casper said was a "superior grant writer" to help in seeking private and public dollars for any dreams Covington may have.
Some money is already pledged. Philanthropist Oakley Farris has promised his own earmark of $100,000 as soon as $200,000 is set aside from elsewhere for the project. Covington solicited plans for development of Riverfront West earlier this year and received only three responses, two from the same company that eventually withdrew them. The project remaining on the table as a possibility was submitted in tandem between Waterfront owner Jeff Ruby and developer Bill Butler. Phase one only included the reopening of the Waterfront restaurant which was swept away from its mooring last year and has been closed ever since. Some of the grander plans for phase two include a marina and a pier but will only happen when funding is available. The IRS, which has a large operation in Covington inside a dated one-level behemoth of a structure, will also need to move into a more vertical structure so that the land upon which it sits can be incorporated into the larger project.
Casper doesn't know yet what a newly envisioned Covington riverfront would look like but knows that it is time to start drawing up plans to move forward. "I'm big on public/private partnerships," he said. "And there may be a way we can coordinate that through a TIF (tax increment financing, a system of borrowing money on future tax revenue)."
Photo: ​New riverfront development in Owensboro. Photo taken by Steve Casper. Used with permission.


Covington will never have a development like this!  Why? Because people like Mr. Casper and the rest of the commission are afraid of making economic decisions that will upset there voting base.  While the Newport on the Levee may not be as successful as Newport wanted - its there and drawing 2 million people a year.  Newport leaders took it upon themselves to close several long standing businesses in order to make room for the levee.  Were people upset? Of course they were but look at the economic impact that the levee has made.  Newports success is because the leaders of Newport are not afraid of making a few people mad in order for a greater good.  Covington has a history of proposing an idea, making a few citizens upset, holding a community forum, sitting on the idea, then shelving the idea.  Covington just needs to get it done.  As the Nike Co. philosophy states - JUST DO IT!

It would be useful if the above comment had made sense! Mr. Casper and most of the current commission have spent the last two years making very unpopular but courageous and correct decisions. I for one think it's about time we started envisioning a wonderful, new, future for Covington! Thanks Mr. Casper for courage and vision!

Courageous and Correct?  Are you kidding me?  The choices they made were the only ones they had or this city would have been bankrupt.  I bet that villacello was the same person congratulating Bamburger and the Boys for making COURAGEOUS AND CORRECT DECISIONS.  Here is an example of your trhinking Villacello.  Your waiting at the crosswalk. Its clear to walk. You look both ways .  As you are crossing a car comes from nowhere.  You have two choices. Get out of the way or stand your ground.  You decide to get out of the way.  Are you COURAGEOUS?  No!  You had no choice.  Get real Villacello.  Where is the development?  I forgot Mike Fink is on the way back.  Hey, in all this excitement about Mike Fink has anyone asked where the back rent is that Mike Fink owes Covington?  Villacello ask your commissioners where this money is and how they plan on collecting!!!!!

Not sure what you are taling about... Mkay

  • You've got the preservationists who would rather see a rotting building stay up because its old.
  • The Good Old Boys/Gals who want things to a certain way to line their pockets.
  • The people who can't get over the fact that Covington isn't what it once was.
  • The slumlords who love our big buildings and declining property values because they get a great ROI here.
  • The artsy set who think the arts will solve everything and get folks to want to live here.
  • The people who just aren't happy about anyhting.
  • And last those that flee because they don't want their school age kids to go CIS, so they move or send their kids elsewhere until they can move.

Is it any wonder nothing gets done here?

While finding inspiration from other cities IS always a good idea, just because an idea works in one town does not mean it translates to another. The dynamic, history, and geography of Cincy, Newport and Covington is one-in-a-few. I feel it is time to stop competing. We all live in the same urban core, share the same amenities, enjoy each's festivals, attractions-if it weren't for that pesky State line, we'd most likely live in the same city. Time to reach out and make the entire riverfront a cohesive attraction, an overall plan. i.e. the marina would work for Cov since neither Newport nor Cincinnati can build one, and be an addition to the riverfront as a whole. *sigh...just an amateur urban planner's aspiration...