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After Delay, Mainstrasse Village Restaurant Project Resumes

Work has resumed at Commonwealth, the Kentucky-themed bistro opening on Main Street.

Contractors have been back on the site for the past two weeks following a work stoppage that thwarted the project in February.

The restaurant's owners, Chris and Tess Burns, who live in Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood, say that Commonwealth could finally open this fall.

That's a year later than previously hoped for and the project has been the source of criticism from some, including City Hall, because Commonwealth was the first recipient of a new loan program offered by the City of Covington. When completed, the project will have redeveloped two long vacant, blighted buildings in the middle of Mainstrasse Village. The $550,000 project includes $150,000 in the form of a loan from the city. The rest of the funding was raised privately.

That's where the delay comes in.

The Burnses ran into two large, expensive, unexpected issues while in the early stages of transforming the long neglected properties, one of which was owned by a bank, and the other by a family. A staircase needed to be widened and fire suppression materials needed to be used. The extra $40,000 in costs needed to be spent before a building permit could be acquired forced a more aggressive at private fundraising.

The couple have already withdrawn a third of the city loan and have experienced delays in receiving the remainder. The City and the Burnses are working with each other on accurate documentation on expenditures, a result of tightened financial scrutiny at City Hall following last year's arrest and eventual guilty plea of former finance director Bob Due, who stole nearly $800,000 over a twelve year period.

"I think it's still a viable project," said City Manager Larry Klein. As part of the loan deal, the City has first mortgage on the property. Covington would also eventually benefit from the addition of $267,000 in taxable annual wages.

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Before & What Will Be After

The terms of the loan were deemed attractive to the city by staff and commissioners, The River City News reported in April 2013. 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, executive director of the Catalytic Fund, last year. "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."

And no one is more committed to the project than Chris and Tess Burns, who have raised additional capital through private investors, sold the building to a local developer to ease their financial burden, and also raised money through an online crowdsourcing effort. Commonwealth's building will be leased by the Burnses with an option to buy.

When complete, Chris Burns, an award-winning chef who trained under local celebrity Jean Robert de Cavel, will serve his meals to 100 guests inside along with an impressive outdoor facility on the second floor. Tess Burns hand-picked a beautiful, modern design for the interior. The rabbit is the restaurant's theme. 

At the top of the newly widened staircase a mural will be featured, showcasing a prior use of the building when it was a barber shop that was once featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

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

DISCLOSURE: Monks is a member of The Awesome Collective of Covington's core leadership team with the Burnses.