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Kenton Co. OK's Funding for Licking River Bourbon Trail, Bonds for Covington Development

The Kenton County Fiscal Court on Tuesday night moved forward with its role as fiduciary agent in the creation of the Jacob Spears Licking River Water Trail, which is intended to explore the region's bourbon history from Paris (Ky.) to the Ohio River. It also gave the OK to the issuance of industrial revenue bonds so that a residential project in Covington can move forward.

For the trail, legislation adopted by the General Assembly earlier this year appropriated $150,000 for the Kenton County Fiscal Court to execute the planning, marketing, and implementation of it.

The county will use the funds from the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet from this month through next June.

In February, The River City News reported that Northern Kentucky University history students were working with five Kentucky counties to research the history of the Commonwealth’s original bourbon journey. 

In his book, Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, author Fred Minnick noted that given “all the facts we have, Jacob Spears is bourbon’s most probable creator.” 

Spears, whose distillery was located just outside Paris, is thought by the Hopewell Museum, the historical archive for Paris and Bourbon County, to have shipped his bourbon to market by flatboating the whiskey downstream on the Licking River, and then on to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to its final destination in New Orleans.

NKU’s history department is partnered with Bourbon, Harrison, Pendleton, Campbell, and Kenton counties and the City of Paris to research the history of the Spears Distillery and the Commonwealth’s original bourbon journey, RCN reported at the time. In addition to being a corridor for whiskey commerce, the Licking River was also an early conduit for and site of everything from British attacks on the Colonies during the Revolutionary War to Civil War battles involving Morgan’s Raiders.

NKU History professor Dr. Brian Hackett will lead a team of graduate students this spring in researching this history and sharing the incredible story of the Licking River in the first centuries of the Commonwealth and its relevance to the future of the region, RCN reported at the time.

“Our students are eager to investigate how Jacob Spears and other early distillers used the Licking River as a transportation corridor for some of the very first bourbon to be barreled and shared with the world,” said Dr. Hackett in February.

On Tuesday night, the Kenton County fiscal court agreed to its role as fiduciary agent for the trail project, of which an idea of the project can be viewed here.

Kenton County Director of External Affairs John Stanton said Tuesday that once the financial allocation is processed and submitted to the state, a request for proposals on the corridor will be put out.

In other business, the fiscal court approved the issuance of up to $45 million in industrial revenue bonds in support of an apartment development in Covington where Northern Kentucky University previously operated a hilltop campus near the city's border with Park Hills. 

The River City News reported in March that Arlington Properties plans to construct three four-story buildings with a total of 251 residential units. Thirty-five percent of them will be one-bedroom, half will be two-bedroom, and the remainder will be three-bedroom. There will be parking garages under the units, RCN reported at the time.

Alabama-based Arlington properties also developed Tapestry on the River, an apartment community on the Ohio riverfront in Dayton.

Jim Parsons, an attorney representing the development, explained that industrial revenue bonds are simply channeled through a local government and do not reflect in the government's debt. "The county is a conduit for the bonds," Parsons said.

The development already has a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) incentive agreement with the county, the City of Covington, as well as both Covington Independent Public Schools and Kenton County Schools since the project will partly lie within both districts' boundaries.

"We anticipate closing on this in October and to move forward and start construction," Parsons said.

Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann noted that the development could be a catalyst for sidewalk connectivity that would make pedestrian access from Ft. Wright to Covington along Dixie Highway something safely achievable. 

"We think between the state and the developer we will have connectivity with with sidewalks that bring it down Dixie Highway allowing for someone to walk essentially from Ft. Wright to Covington safely," Knochelmann said. He added that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet - District 6 Office is involved in exploring the opportunity.

"It looks like it's really going to be a win for the whole corridor there," he said.

The fiscal court voted unanimously in favor of the issuance of bonds, though Commissioner Joe Nienaber did not vote citing his ownership of property nearby. Nienaber operates Custom Cabinetry and Countertops by Granite World on Dixie Highway in Park Hills.

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Licking River (RCN file)

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