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In Future Payments, City Wants to See Detailed Results from Renaissance Covington

The City of Covington is set to renew its contract with downtown promotional group Renaissance Covington but for a shorter period of time and with new expectations from the relationship. 

At Tuesday night's city commission meeting, Economic Development Director Tom West explained that payments to the nonprofit organization will be "tied to performance and accountability."

Renaissance Covington previously operated inside Covington City Hall but in 2015, then-executive director Katie Meyer and then-assistant city manager Larisa Sims explained a five-year transition plan for the organization to become self-sustaining. RCov, as it rebranded itself, now operates out of a storefront at Pike Street and Madison Avenue. Current Executive Director Nick Wade presented the organization's annual report to the city commission last month.

That 2015 plan expires this year, but the city is planning to commit $127,250 annually over the next two years, but this time, the payments will come quarterly and only if certain measures are met, West said.

"We have stressed to leadership, meaning the board and staff at Renaissance, that we expect that they should be working towards becoming financially independent of the city moving forward and our support in years beyond this would be tied to specific things like sponsorships or other specific projects, but not a regular administrative support," West said.

Wade said at last month's meeting that the organization has receive more than $560,000 over the past five years from the city. Wade, who arrived in Covington last year after serving in a similar role in Danville, said that he has been working to reduce costs and "streamline programs." There are two full-time employees and a part-time farmers market manager.

He said that RCov is still working actively to separate from the city.

"We are working to beef up our fundraising campaigns, as well as utilizing grants from private foundations and community partners," Wade said in May. "A lot of it is building relationships and getting to know people. A lot of the work I've done so far has been about building those relationships."n to monetize...

West outlined key flanks of what the city views as Renaissance's priorities moving forward: expansion of free public WiFi, promotion of ground-floor commercial space, public art and placemaking, and finding a permanent home for the city's farmer's market. The plan within the new contract isn't to pay out a specific sum each quarter, but rather to gauge progress in each of those measures. 

"Each quarter there are specific tasks tied to specific scope items and dollar amounts tied to each one of those," West said. "If they accomplish that task, then we could check that off and that money would be paid.

"If they don't accomplish it, we're not going to pay on it," West said. "We look at the funds we expend on behalf of the taxpayers as investments rather than entitlements."

Free public WiFi, which was made available through a partnership with Cincinnati Bell, was installed in parts of the central business district, from Tenth Street along Madison Avenue through the Roebling Point entertainment area and to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. East to west, the service is available along that path from Greenup Street to Russell Street.

The WiFi, which is only available in public spaces, includes information about the business district such as shopping and dining options, and also allows users to opt-in for text messages about events taking place.

The city wants this service expanded to Mainstrasse Village, along the Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard/12th Street corridor, and Latonia's Ritte's Corner business district.

West called public WiFi an "incredible asset". "We'd like to see that translate into Mainstrasse Village because people who work or visit our downtown don't just stay in the core," he said. "They will go to Roebling Point, Mainstrasse, Ritte's Corner. We want to look at the other three larger business districts in the community and have that asset translate there."

In the first quarter of the next fiscal year, which begins in July, a monetization plan is to be in place. By the second quarter, sites for public WiFi service in Mainstrasse are expected to be identified, and then installed in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, sites along the MLK quarter are to be identified. By the first quarter of the 2021-22 fiscal year, which starts in July of 2021, the MLK sites will be installed and operational.

The work will move to Ritte's Corner in the second and third quarters of that fiscal year.

$45,000 in funding is tied to the WiFi work.

Wade, RCov's executive director, said that the plan to monetize public WiFi is through advertising from private businesses. "There is a plethora of options that businesses can tap into depending on what their needs are, and for us, we feel it's the best option," Wade said.

As to ground-floor retail, RCov is to compile data starting in the new fiscal year and then share a tracking spreadsheet each month. In the first quarter of the new fiscal year, $6,000 in funding is tied, while the monthly work would result in $2,000 each month.

"We don't have capacity in our departments," West said of the quest to fill more storefronts. "What we are doing through this is contracting with Renaissance to keep up with available first-floor commercial spaces in our downtown. That gives us ground-level to know what's out there."

RCov is also to identify sites for placemaking and temporary or public art installations with $28,000 in funding attached to those measures through the next fiscal year. "We want to see more that," West said. "We've not seen as much of that in the last year. We'd like to see more of that. It's something that adds the spice and pizzazz and gives us our identity in Covington."

RCov, according to the contract, will leverage private funds and grants to pay for the projects. At least one permanent art project or three temporary ones, or two placemaking initiatives are to be completed each fiscal year, per the contract.

An example of placemaking involving Renaissance Covington is the parklet project that placed temporary small parks at parking spaces in the downtown area.

A majority of the city funding is tied to finding a permanent home for the farmer's market, which currently operates near the Roebling Suspension Bridge on Saturdays during the warmer months. 

West said that the goal is to broaden the service beyond a tailgate, outdoor market, and into a year-round indoor market that could assist in alleviating the city's food desert status. It could also boost opportunities for food-related start-up businesses, he said.

In the first quarter of the new fiscal year, a permanent site is to be identified, and then a growth strategy and development plan are expected. Site-planning would take place in the following fiscal year. $83,500 is tied to that work, with an additional $2,000 available each quarter for tracking the food desert and diversifying products.

The city commission is expected to vote on the contract at next Tuesday's meeting.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher