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After 4-1 Vote, Parking Spaces to Be Replaced by "Parklets" in Covington

The Covington City Commission approved the installation of five parklets—mini recreation areas used in city parking spaces for a six-month period, at its meeting on Tuesday. The resolution was approved 4-1 with Commissioner Steve Frank dissenting, though Commissioner Chuck Eilerman was most vocal about possible adverse effects.

Funding for the parklets comes from the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation through a $150,000 grant for the so-called Curb'd project and will pay for the materials, installation, and revenue to the city that the parking spaces' meters would have generated. The parklets will be in front of five Covington businesses: Cutman Barbershop, Inspirado, Braxton Brewery, Leftbank Coffee House, and Stoney's Village Toy Shoppe.

Renaissance Covington Executive Director Katie Meyer spearheaded the parklet initiative, announced in September and provided a timeline to the commission on Tuesday, after a cold reception from city leaders and neighboring businesses last week. Meyer said that the designers of the spaces would begin their fabrication process as early as March, with instillation of the projects in May. The parklets will then remain in place until October.

At the meeting, local business owners spoke on both sides of the issue.

Frank Bonfilio, owner of Old Towne Cafe, said that while he was not against the idea of a parklet near his restaurant on Pike Street, he did harbor concerns of the reduction of a nearby parking space, access to the basement entrance of his business, and the potential for the space to become a hangout for the city's homeless. Bonfilio has been on Pike Street for 28 years and his new neighbor, Cutman Barbershop will soon have a parklet outside.

“It's a city and a city's major problem is parking,” he said. “If you start to take parking spots away, I'm going to lose customers.”

On the other hand, it was argued, the parklets will draw more visitors to the city who would then likely shop at local businesses. Meyer said that there will be sales data measurements that will take place by use of physical and online surveys and sales numbers of the local businesses when there are special programs planned in the parklets. May 6 will be the first such event when the parklets are revealed.

A world music festival is scheduled for June 11 and there will also be curated walks throughout the season.

As for Bonfilio's concern of blocking his basement entrance, Meyer said that the parklet could be moved further down on Pike Street to alleviate such a problem

Both Commissioners Frank and Eilerman did not like that there were elements to the parklet plans that had seemingly not been thought all the way through, and used the basement access blockage as an example of what Eilerman called a raggedy process. While the five businesses participating were updated throughout the various planning phases after competing to be chosen, Eilerman felt that neighboring businesses should have been more informed as well. He sympathized with the different shops in downtown Covington that rely on quick visits from customers and how nearby parking becomes crucial for the success of those businesses.

Michael Monks, editor and publisher of The River City News, which is located on Madison Avenue, spoke in favor of the parklets by saying that the project caters to people and not to vehicles, a goal of the city's Center City Action Plan which also calls for an inviting public realm. Monks also disputed that there is a parking problem in downtown Covington.

“I'm somewhat baffled that there is any controversy at all over a $150,000 gift to the city that will create an attraction that I believe will not only bring new visitors to the urban core, but is also in complete alignment with the Center City Action Plan,” Monks said.

Eilerman, though, disagreed, pointing out that The River City News has no need for parking and that businesses have left the urban core for suburban areas because of a lack of parking.

John Humpert, owner of Klingenberg's Hardware on 7th Street, agreed with the importance of nearby parking to his establishment and said that he didn't appreciate the anxiety the planning process has caused for neighboring business owners that stand on different sides of the parklet issue. Humpert talked about when the founder of the Haile Foundation, Ralph Haile once initiated a plan to make Pike Street a pedestrian-only area and how it was bad for the city at the time.

“I don't have anything against the other business people that applied for these parklets. As a matter of fact, I think the ideas are unique. They have their place and as the process comes to fruition, there is some merit there,” Humpert said. “But my point is that I understand its demands by the Haile Foundation that this cannot move forward unless the parklets are put in place where they're exactly going to be, there's no changes to them allowed, and I think the influence of Ralph Haile after 40 years or however long it's been since he's passed away, has come full circle.”

When it came time to vote, Eilerman voted to allow the parklets but said he hoped similar planning processes in the future will be more inclusive to a wider range of the community's input. Frank echoed similar sentiments and said that his biggest concern was that the process was so close to its deadline and all the kinks had still not been worked out.

“It seems to me that the plan is not completely formed. I'm voting no and it's not because I'm opposed to the concept, I just don't think all the ducks are in a row,” he said.

Commissioners Jordan Huizenga and Bill Wells, along with Mayor Sherry Carran, voted in support of the parklets, allowing the project to move forward and become a reality.

“I have supported this from the get-go because it's about premier placemaking, it's about art, and I think part of the problem is the name of the project because it gives the impression that it's a park. It's not a park, it's an interactive art installation,” Carran said.

To see what all 5 of the parklets will look like, see our previous story by clicking here.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor