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New Mainstrasse Restaurant First Recipient of Covington Loan Program

By the end of 2013 another new restaurant will open on Main Street in Covington's Mainstrasse Village.

Commonwealth Bistro is the dream of local couple Chris and Tess Burns who have developed their plan to present Kentucky-themed fare for the past three years.

It will open inside two long vacant, run-down buildings on the 600 block of Main Street after getting a boost from the city's newly launched economic development program. The program, financed by Newport Steel funds, has over $1 million that will be offered to start-up companies in need of gap financing.

For Commonwealth Bistro, $150,000 approved by the city commission Tuesday night will go toward the reconstruction of the two buildings.

Adding a new business and eliminating blighted properties is exactly what the Covington Economic Development Program aims to do. "This is one of the better applications we've had in a long time," said city manager Larry Klein. "They have an impressive business plan and I'm confident that this will cause more investment in the neighborhood."

Naashom Marx, business development manager in Covington, said the project will add $267,000 in taxable wages to the city's rolls while increasing the value of a dilapidated pair of properties to $350-$400,000.

"These are right in the middle of one of Covington's premiere entertainment districts and to have those two spaces there be vacant is a travesty," said chef Chris Burns.

He and Tess purchased the buildings for $150,000, a crucial element in pursuit of funds from the economic development program. The board that reviews the applications, dubbed the Covington Economic Development Authority, is made up of Kenton County Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus, Mayor Sherry Carran, former Mayor Chuck Scheper, assistant city manager Larisa Sims, and Jeanne Schroer, executive director of the Catalytic Development Fund of Northern Kentucky.

They want to see that applicants already have the proverbial skin in the game.

The Burns do. On top of purchasing the buildings the couple has invested more than $134,000 in equipment costs.

The terms of the loan were deemed attractive to the city by staff and commissioners. Covington will be first in line if the loan defaults and would take ownership of the renovated building. The restaurant, legally known as CCB 621, LLC, will have five years to pay the loan back first in monthly installments at 1% interest and then in one balloon payment at the end.

"This loan pool is an important tool to revitalize our urban community," said Jeanne Schroer. "It will enable the city to provide incentives to quality businesses and attract quality investment so that the city can reach the potential we know it has. It also allows the Catalytic Fund to be leveraged into greater impact. I think the project is a quality business that will add to the growing vibrancy of the Mainstrasse area."

Mainstrasse Village Association executive director Kim Blank also welcomes Commonwealth Bistro to the neighborhood. "Everyone is really excited for this project," Blank said. "It's a great project and we're happy to see these buildings filled. We look forward to working with them."

Mayor Carran complimented Chris and Tess Burns for their consistent involvement in the community. They co-founded the Awesome Collective of Covington, an organization dedicated to capturing and celebrating all that makes the city unique and cool, and published a popular 'zine late last year. Tess also created Covington Futurecraft which aims to bring current and aspiring entrepreneurs together and Chris is a fixture of the Mainstrasse Community Garden.

"They've both been involved in making Covington a better place," the mayor said.

And now more visible work will begin on the couple's largest project yet thanks to the boost from the city loan. While the design for the restaurant is still pending approval by the urban design review board, Covington's historic preservation officer Beth Johnson said, in a note from the city, the plans will bring the look of the buildings back in line within the context of the historic Mainstrasse neighborhood.

Both buildings were constructed before 1877 and have previously been a residence and a dry cleaners.

When completed, Commonwealth Bistro will seat 100 people, include a private event space, a four-seasons room, a chef's table, and a bar area.

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

Photo: Before and (proposed) after of Commonwealth Bistro

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