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Wow: Possible Designs for Covington's Riverfront Emerge

Without question, the City of Covington has lagged behind its neighbors in terms of attracting residents and visitors to its riverfront. Though the city boasts a significant skyline for a place its size, with major hotel brands and tall office buildings, at the shore of the Ohio River there is little to see or do. Impressive murals that detail the region's history are important pieces of art but are rarely viewed due to the limited pedestrian appeal. Instead, the 13-year old works of art stare across the Ohio to the booming Banks of Cincinnati where corporations are constructing new office towers, where the Reds and Bengals play in new stadiums, where the Banks are full of new restaurants and apartments, and most compelling, where Smale Park attracts families, visitors, and tourists to its sprawling green space with playgrounds and water features.

Smale also offers a view of the mostly vacant Covington shore.

Not since the 1990's when Covington Landing and BB Riverboats gave the riverfront a pulse, and not since Jeff Ruby's famed Waterfront restaurant washed away down river, has there been much of anything there.

But that is about to change, and for the first time at Tuesday night's Covington City Commission meeting, possible plans for what the riverfront could become were revealed.

The vision: to elevate Covington's riverfront as a vibrant civic asset and vital component of a unified regional riverfront. 

That's how it was explained by Ryan Geismar, an associate at Human Nature, the Cincinnati-based firm that works in the design of public spaces, including significant work on landmark projects in the Queen City like Smale Park and Washington Park, and helped the City of Covington develop a master plan for Devou Park in 2007.

"We want to celebrate the riverfront as a regional hub for civic gathering and recreation with unique amenities that complement rather than compete with," Geismar said. One such goal would be to build a connection to history through the Roebling Suspension Bridge by using it as a canvas for such elements as a digital projection to tell the stories of Covington and its neighboring River Cities.

The planned Riverfront Commons project, the trail system that will connect six Northern Kentucky cities from Ludlow and Covington in the west to Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, and Ft. Thomas in the east, will play a significant role in the city's plans. The bridge would also be a part of a strategy to create better pedestrian flow along the riverfront. 

Other objectives of the planning phase are to better connect the city's main northern districts (downtown, Roebling Point, Duveneck Square, and Mainstrasse Village) and the Cincinnati riverfront. There would be bold gateway and feature elements to serve as beacons and the project would elevate and influence the standard for land use in future urban core and riverfront developments, Geismar stated.

In addition to detailed plans for the Covington riverfront, Human Nature also created a vision for some of the surrounding parts of the urban core. 

The main riverfront focus is highlighted in orange in the above image.


Some of the suggestions for the area west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge include an elevated promenade, a paving mosaic that would introduce a layer of storytelling related to the influence of the river on Covington, a sculptural canopy, and an interactive water feature.

Human Nature recommends enhanced streetscape features southward along Madison Avenue from Covington Landing. At the roundabout where Covington Landing once welcomed guests to its attractions, the floodgate and elevated promenade would frame a view of the Cincinnati skyline and would also become a lighted gateway into Covington. Restrooms would be placed here, too. There would be a waterfall off the roundabout and a dramatic water feature in the river nearby.


Moving westward towards the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, there would be more of a focus on active recreation. The "under gardiner" would be placed beneath the Clay Wade overpass that approaches Fourth Street headed towards Mainstrasse. Maybe it would feature a skate park, ice skating, or parkour training. In the old Waterfront parking lot, adventure activities like a zipline or rock climbing wall would be appropriate, Human Nature suggests. 

On the land currently occupied by the Internal Revenue Service's sprawling one-level complex, Human Nature proposes an eco-district, "the greenest neighborhood in the region". Along the riverfront west of the Madison Place office tower and Northern Kentucky Convention Center, the riverfront green would offer loads of recreational opportunities.

Back at the Suspension Bridge, there would be riverfront bleachers, grand stairs to the bridge with a canopy, a kayak flume on the waterfront, and a digital projection on the base of the bridge.

For the Roebling Point area, which is home to restaurants like Keystone and Blinkers, and to Roebling Point Books & Coffee, Human Nature recommends redensifying by replacing on-street parking with outdoor dining and entertainment, and placing a central fountain at an intersection.

Near the RiverCenter Towers, it is recommended that the surface parking lot be replaced with buildings and the street should be elevated to the plaza outside the towers.

More information about the plans can be seen on the next page!

The City of Covington was awarded nearly $4 million from the federal government through the Commonwealth of Kentucky for its riverfront project and City Manager Larry Klein told The River City News late last year that a philanthropist offered to contribute another $1 million towards the effort. Work is expected to begin this year.

The presentation of these plans will have an encore showing on Thursday, February 25, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Madison Event Center during the Cov 200 wrap-up event for the city's bicentennial celebration which was noted through 2015. 

To commemorate the bicentennial year, Cov 200 will be adding another mural to the Ohio Riverfront in partnership with the City of Covington and their Riverfront Commons project. The mosaic mural, painted by local artist Linnoir Rich, will offer individuals an opportunity to purchase a mural square on which their name or the name of a loved one will be painted.

“The mural offers a unique opportunity to be a part of both the legacy of Covington’s bicentennial as well as the redevelopment of the riverfront,” said COV200 Chair Normand Desmarais.

A 12x12-in. square with two lines of text (22 characters per line) is available for $200. A 24x12-in. square consisting of two lines of text (50 characters per line) is available for $400 and includes a bicentennial book and DVD bundle. Squares can be purchased at Those interested are encouraged to reserve their space soon as spaces are limited.
Proceeds will benefit the COV200 Bicentennial Committee and the soon-to-be launched COV200 Legacy Initiative, “Bold Goals for Education by 2020.”  
Several mural design options as well as details on the Legacy Initiative, which aims to close the achievement gap for children in Covington, will be announced this Legacy Launch Event. For information and to RSVP, click here.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
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