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Covington Kicks Ass: Griffin Van Meter Loves the Cov

"I love the Cov," said Griffin Van Meter, the grassroots marketing expert behind the celebrated Kentucky Kicks Ass campaign that acts as an alternative state slogan that has gotten international buzz.

Speaking at the Be Awesome Mini Conference for Community Change-Makers hosted by the Awesome Collective of Covington at the Madison Theater on Thursday, Van Meter highlighted Covington's strengths as he shared stories of his work in Lexington.

"You guys really have it going on," he said. "As an outsider, there's so much going on in terms of your place-making capabilities, an intact building stock that is amazing, a pedestrian-friendly Downtown, two riverfronts."

"In Lexington, we don't have any riverfronts. We don't have anything," he joked.

In reality, Lexington has plenty and people like Van Meter are working to make sure it has more.

An organization he founded recently won a grant worth more than $400,000 to work toward the redevelopment of a swath of shotgun houses and a former bus station.

"There was a gap between what the private market was offering, what the government was offering in an area where we needed to have an opportunity," Van Meter said. He said a company was needed that could be more catalytic with its capital to shift some of the ownership from problem landlords and to change some of the social norms in the area.

He and his partners formed NoLI CDC, named for Lexington's North Lime neighborhood, "the Covington side of Lexington". "We started looking at it as these neighborhoods are never going to change until these very negative issues and property enhancing issues change," he said.

"If someone has control of their property, they essentially control their destiny."

While Van Meter remains busy with his marketing and development efforts in Lexington, as well as a taking care of his family (he and his wife have a 15-month old son named Otis), he is interested in helping Covington celebrate more of its own assets.

"You have these great cultural programmers," he said, noting Art Off Pike, the Awesome Collective, Renaissance Covington, and a leadership that he credits for embracing the place-making movement.

"Plus, all the small businesses, large businesses, corporate wealth, family foundations, you guys have it going on so there's no reason why you guys can't become one of the greatest cities in America," Van Meter said. " I love it."

"Your (C+v+G/CVG) is known internationally, your branding is known internationally. All you have to do is put a little pixie dust on it."
A frequent user of social media, Van Meter also expressed his adoration for #LovTheCov "hashtag" used on Twitter and Facebook.
He's also interested in helping with a possible event next February that would pay homage to Covington native and assassinated Governor William Goebel.
"So you guys have William Goebel, right? People didn't like him as a politician because they shot him dead, right? We should throw a William Goebel oyster party in Goebel Park," he suggested. Goebel died from his gunshot wound in 1900, days after being sworn in as governor. Legend has it that Goebel's last meal was oysters and as he faded, his final words were along the lines of, "Doc, that was one damn bad oyster."
"It probably wasn't the oyster, it was probably the gunshot," Van Meter joked.
Van Meter seemed pretty committed to making a February event happen. "And if somebody dies from an oyster, that's kind of good. It's like recreating history," he laughed.
In addition to his professional expertise, Van Meter suggested that Covington and other cities could learn from his... beard.
He talked about how he decided to embrace having the funky red beard he's grown. "And as soon as I did, my whole world changed," he said. "All these amazing things started happening to me."
"See that trophy?," he asked, pointing to a projected slide behind him. "My beard."
"What I am trying to express is that like all of us in cities in particular, we have these assets we don't always embrace but as soon as you start embracing the assets of your town, that's when the magic happens."
Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

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