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River City Projects Get Duke Boost in Ludlow, Bellevue, Newport & Covington

On a Tuesday in Ludlow, you can grab a cocktail at Second Sight Spirits, a coffee at Wynner's Cup, take in some sword-fighting at the NKY Fencing Academy, pop in a couple art galleries, watch a Circus Mojo performance (soon, with some on-site Bircus beer), before settling in for the evening at Folk School Coffee Parlor to watch Jerry Springer - yes, that Jerry Springer - record his podcast.

To say things are changing in Ludlow and the other Northern Kentucky River Cities is an understatement.

Carus Waggoner offered up the above marketing pushing for Ludlow - a town he lovingly calls "a thriving metropolis" - on Friday morning as he and business partner Rick Couch accepted a $20,000 urban revitalization grant from Duke Energy. 

Their plan is to expand their offerings into the neighboring space - a coffee shop owned by Ludlow Mayor Ken Wynn, Wynners Cup Cafe. It will become more of an event center and creative meeting space. "We are positioning ourselves to become part of the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail which will bring in several thousand tourists into Ludlow per year," Waggoner said. "It will spur good restaurants and more."

The Duke Energy grant ceremony at Westwood Town Hall in Cincinnati on Friday was a sort-of homecoming for Waggoner and Couch who got their start at Madcap Puppets, which is based there. The pair ultimately took their creative skills to Las Vegas where they worked with Cirque Du Soleil before finding a new start in the thriving metropolis they now call home.

When the expansion is complete, Second Sight Spirits will hire six new employees - two full-time and four part-time.

When it's all said and done, Wynners Cup will provide food and the adult beverages will be available from Second Sight. "It will be a cafe by day," Couch said, "and a lounge by night."

The windfall on Friday was shared up and down the River Cities. Two projects in Covington, one in Newport, and another in Bellevue also walked away with funds from Duke Energy which are used for predevelopment work such as site analysis and architectural renderings.

"There will be a great marketing push once it is announced," said Kent Hardman, who is redeveloping the landmark Marianne Theater in Bellevue, of what the site will ultimately become. He received $40,000 for his efforts. The funds will help with energy assessment as he seeks to participate in the Energy Project Assessment District (EPAD) funds which the city made available to developers. Through EPAD, which has been adopted by Covington, Newport, and Bellevue, projects approved by the city are incentivized to improve energy efficiency.

The Marianne was a closely-watched property that was acquired by the City of Bellevue which entered into a development agreement with Hardman. There will be 7,500 sq. ft. of commercial space  with a special events theater and a restaurant focusing on craft beer and wine. There will be four full-time and four part-time jobs, it is projected.

In Newport, $25,000 was awarded to the Holzhauser Drug Store rehab. The building has sat vacant on the southeast corner of 10th and Monmouth Street for years, catty-corner to the Newport City Building. It is now owned by Millennium Housing Corporation, which is related to Neighborhood Foundations, Newport's housing authority.

"I remember drinking at the fountain at the drug store when I was a little kid because I grew up two blocks up," said Tom Guidugli, Sr., director of Neighborhood Foundations and former mayor of Newport. "You use to have walk around people on Monmouth Street to get around. Downtown is really starting to pump up. Every time a new business opens there is new energy and I believe that this will be part of that new energy."

The funds will be used to beautify the building's exterior which will be restored to a historically-accurate facade. There is potential for a retail space or an office-based operation to house up to 20 employees, it is estimated.

There are no specific plans for the property but Guidugli said acquiring and restoring the building is important because it sits at one of two main corridors through the city. "It's going to be gorgeous," he said.

In Covington, the Center for Great Neighborhoods, which just moved to a beautifully-restored Hellmann Lumber Building that they now call the Hellmann Creative Center, was awarded $30,000 for their "homes for makers" project near their new digs on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Three properties along the expanded corridor - which has become a hub of activity with new restaurants, a coffee shop, and plans for the Kenton County government and others to move to the Bavarian Brewery site - will ideally be restored and sold to small businesses whose owners would live and work on site.

Overall, the Center plans to improve 12 homes in this manner. The funds will help with architectural drawings. "They are in pretty bad disrepair so it is hard for folks to imagine what is even could be," said Sarah Allan, program director at the Center. "We sell the houses to them and then in certain cases we help them find a general contractor and walk them through the process and help them with the funding. (The Duke grant) sweetens the deal and helps them imagine.

"With Hellmann and with eventually whatever happens with the Bavarian, that is going to drive a lot more people in that area. It's not just to pass through, so there's opportunity there for economic development."

The projects in Ludlow, Bellevue, Newport, and one other project in Covington were awarded through the Catalytic Fund, the organization that has led the charge in redeveloping Northern Kentucky's urban core through analysis, consulting, gap financing, and more. 

A property at 801 Madison Avenue in Covington - which many people will remember as a Frisch's restaurant - received $20,000. The Catalytic Fund is holding conversations with groups that are looking to move into the high-traffic space as downtown Covington's renaissance moves to the southern blocks of Madison. The Duke grant will assist with architectural planning and conceptual design, said Joe Klare, manager of real estate and finance at the Catalytic Fund.

"The project is a critical location," Klare said. "Corners are important because, as you can see with the Mutual Building and the Hotel Covington, when prominent corners are occupied, prominent things happen."

Overall, Duke Energy awarded $240,000 to local projects in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, with most of the funds this year going to the south side of the Ohio River. Friday's program featured remarks from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, Covington Mayor Sherry Carran, Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan, Jr., and Duke Energy president Jim Henning.

“We’re investing in our urban cores and partnering with other forward-looking groups to transform old, dilapidated properties into valuable community assets,” said Jim Henning, president of Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky. “The results speak for themselves. Our past grant recipients are now catalysts in their neighborhoods, attracting new businesses and jobs, and improving the vitality of these communities.”

Other recipients Friday included West Side Brewery which received $45,000 through the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. One of its owners is Joe Mumper, a Newport resident. Torchlight Pass in Middletown was awarded $20,000 through Downtown Middletown, Inc. The Hamilton County Small Business Center received $20,000 for small business coaching in Silverton. College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corp got $14,000 for National City Bank renovations in College Hill. Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation received $5,500 for the historic Metz building renovation in Madisonville.

Since the Urban Revitalization program debuted in 2011, the Duke Energy Foundation has awarded nearly $1.6 million in grants to 48 local initiatives - including many in Northern Kentucky such as Braxton Brewing Company, Hotel Covington, Frida 602, and others.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Top photo: Marianne Theater (RCN file)

Slideshow Images & Captions: 
Duke president Jim Henning