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Editorial: When Gov. Bevin Visits Downtown Covington, There is Much to See

It's 8 p.m. on a Monday and there is the sound of revelry emanating from the north corner of the Mutual Building in downtown Covington. Old-timers would remember the spot as the former home of Getz Jewelers, which sparkled at this prominent intersection of Pike Street and Madison Avenue a generation ago. Younger folks will remember it as the mostly-vacant 3-story early 20th century building that was as dark at night as it was in the daytime. 

But not anymore.

The Hannaford at Pike & Madison, a hip new cocktail lounge, will open on Wednesday in the Mutual Building's corner space. It is hosting a private and crowded gathering on this Monday evening - a sight that is expected to become a regular thing here since the guys behind the Hannaford have a track record of success in Cincinnati where they operate Rhinehaus, a popular sports bar in Over-the-Rhine, and Nation Kitchen and Bar, a neighborhood tavern in Pendleton.

Sharing the first-floor commercial spaces at the Mutual Building are Cutman Barber Shop, Boost Mobile, Jimmy John's, and us, The River City News. A dozen apartments on the upper floors are occupied, too.

Calling the new bar "The Hannaford" is a nod to the architect Samuel Hannaford, whose firm designed the Mutual Building - as well as many Cincinnati-area icons like Music Hall. An emerging theme in downtown Covington's renaissance is the acknowledgement of great names associated with a distant era in the city - prior to its downturn in the late 20th century. Coppin's is the name of the swanky new restaurant inside the posh new Hotel Covington, the recently opened boutique destination for visitors and local power players, that was built in 1909 by John Coppin to serve as his namesake department store.

On Tuesday, another great name from Covington's past will be the focal point of a visit by Governor Matt Bevin. Ground will be broken on Duveneck Square, a sprawling new mixed-use development at 7th & Washington Streets where visitors see a life-sized statue of famed artist and Covington native, Frank Duveneck. The massive project will be finished in two phases, with the first bringing 110 residential units right to the urban core, and the second phase another several dozen units and lots of commercial space.

Bevin will be joined by local officials and the developer, Cincinnati-based NorthPointe Group, for remarks at Braxton Brewing Company, a fitting location since the ambitious brewery - not yet two years old - has been one of the most catalytic projects in the region, bringing large sums of visitors downtown. 

While Tuesday is set aside as a day for the Duveneck Square project, it is worthwhile to take in all the progress that has been made in what had been a crumbling urban center with little to show in the way of investment, ambition, or enthusiasm.

Downtown Covington is traditionally defined as north of Martin Luther King Boulevard/12th Street to the Ohio River, and to I-75 in the west and the Licking River in the east. Every corner of it has seen a significant change.

Around Madison Avenue and Pike Street, dumpsters are piled with debris as small developers transform the historic old buildings into residences and new businesses. Huntington Bank is bringing more than 100 jobs to Madison Avenue and investing millions in a renovation of its building. New restaurants are open or have new owners, like Covington Chili, and the Madison Theater continues to rock, just as it did on Sunday night when Fitz & the Tantrums rolled into town. 

The city center has also become a hub of technology and enterprise with UpTech, Bad Girl Ventures, and bioLOGIC lining Innovation Alley.

Southward from the city center, the Diocese of Covington welcomed a new park across from the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, one of the city's most iconic sites. The Center for Great Neighborhoods recently moved into a transformed Hellmann Lumber Building - now known as a Creative Center - and is joined on MLK Blvd. by small developers and new businesses like Covington Coffee Company, and crowd favorites like Wunderbar and Guttierez Deli. 

Along the eastside, hundreds of new residential units are online or soon will be now that River's Edge at Eastside Pointe is open for rent and new single family homes hit the market across the street. The historic Lincoln Grant school building will soon reopen as a Scholar House where single parents will raise kids while gaining an education.

Gateway Community & Technical College has done extensive work on three historic buildings for its evolving urban metro campus downtown, as the city awaits the school's next move. There is at least one more building expected to be renovated - the former YMCA building on Madison.

Northward, the RiverCenter towers are re-emerging as a competitive player in the Class A office space race. CTI Clinicial Solutions chose Covington and one of the towers for its global headquarters, and hundreds of jobs. Corporex, which built the towers, is heavily investing in updating and upgrading the plaza area in an effort to attract more restaurants and businesses to serve the growing employee base.

Roebling Point has emerged as an attractive and quaint entertainment district with longtime staples like Keystone Bar & Grill and Molly Malone's, which is expanding into a neighboring building. Now, Smoke Justis is the latest feather in the neighborhood's cap, brought to town by the guys behind Northern Kentucky landmark sports bar, Dickmann's.

Nine luxury townhomes that set a high bar for the redevelopment of an historic building have all sold out at the Boone Block Lofts and it looks like a similar project will soon take off at the Bradford Building across the street.

In the west, Mainstrasse Village has never looked finer with sexy new restaurants like Lisse Steakhuis and Commonwealth Bisto and Frida 602 joining foodie destinations like Otto's, Bouquet, and Piper's Cafe, and the class Dee Felice. Attractive cocktail lounges like Kentucky Bourbon Bar, Craft & Vine, and Gypsy's are helping to redefine the Village. Hundreds more residents are expected to move in over the next couple years as the John R. Green and 501 main rental developments are constructed.

Most importantly, Covington continues to embrace progressive placemaking efforts through projects, artwork, and enterprises like Red Bike, which has six rental stations in the city.

The new holiday pop-up shops will open in a Pike Street storefront on Saturday - a day designated as "Small Business Saturday" - giving folks the chance to drop some dollars in the urban core again, and to become familiar with an emerging downtown. There's even an old-school holiday window display that gets better every year at Sims Furniture on Madison.

There is a new art installation across the urban core called, Look Here!, and it features old photos from the distant or recent past mounted to street signs where they can be seen simultaneously with what the site looks like now. 

It is great timing for such a project, as the "then and now" experience in downtown Covington is something to behold.

We encourage everyone to take it in, and to continue to "look here" at what was, what is, and what can be.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Buildings are razed on Washington Street to make way for Duveneck Square (RCN)