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It's Electric: $1 Million Project to Boost Transformation of Covington Alley, Corridor

Years ago, Covington City Manager Larry Klein and City Solicitor Frank Warnock were having lunch on East Fifth Street where they watched a man park his vehicle, get out with a beer in his hand, his dog walking alongside him, and enter Bottoms Up, a blighted bar that frequently caught the ire of police. 

Warnock remembered the story on Tuesday night during the city commission meeting.

"Larry said, we have to get rid of that business," he remembered.

So, they did. 

Bottoms Up went forcibly belly up and the City of Covington acquired the building and the liquor license. This block of 5th Street, between Madison Avenue and Scott Boulevard, is heavily trafficked by vehicles making their way to Newport and elsewhere around the city.

It is an important corridor that has been targeted for redevelopment by the city.

Now, several pieces are starting to fall into place at once.

Electric Alley is the target of a $1 million redevelopment, with $800,000 coming in the form of a grant from the Commonwealth of Kentucky and $200,000 committed by the city. It's the alley adjacent to the former Bottoms Up bar that runs perpendicular to Fifth between a small parking lot and the Midtown Parking Garage. The project is a key component of creating a campus environment within Gateway Community & Technical College's urban/metro expansion.

Electric Alley (before). Artist's rendering of "after" at top of story
 
The alley would be shut down to vehicular traffic and would then be made inviting for pedestrians, bicyclists, and students hanging out on campus. The city commission voted Tuesday to accept the funds and the next step, according to City Engineer Mike Yeager, is to hire a designer who would work closely with surrounding property owners and would create a vision for the space. Then, the city would put the work out to bid.
 
Work, Yeager said, could start in the summer.
 
"It would create more of a campus feel for that area," the engineer said. 
 
But that's not the only improvements to this block of downtown that the city made a priority as a development target last year. After a plan to turn the former Bottoms Up into a chocolate shop fell apart due in part to the presence of a large utility box that prevented facade work, neighboring property owners joined up with a plan to transform that building on their own.
 
The Electric Alley improvements also place the utilities underground in this part of town, eliminating the problem faced by the pair hoping to open the chocolate shop.
 
Klein said that the project also offers new opportunity to businesses that have front entrances on Madison Avenue with rears on the alley. "Several of those businesses that front on Madison, there is an opportunity for the business to do business out of the Madison side and the alley side," he said. Though vehicular traffic will be eliminated, access for the business owners will be addressed in the design.
 
Electric Alley runs between Fifth and Sixth Streets where two other major projects loom. The renovation of the Two Rivers Building, which currently houses Gateway's Urban Center, into a state of the art educational facility was listed as a top capital project by the Northern Kentucky Consensus Committee to be submitted to the Kentucky General Assembly. Additionally, the Sixth Street streetscape project will begin in the spring now that the design phase nears completion, and is part of an effort to improve connectivity between downtown Covington and Mainstrasse Village.
 
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher
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