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Restaurateur Wants to Turn Old Covington Church into Restaurant, Training Center

Plans to turn the old First United Methodist Church into a culinary arts training center were tabled by the City of Covington board of adjustment.

Located at the southwest corner of Fifth and Greenup Streets, the historic church building is owned by the Gateway Foundation, a booster organization that supports Gateway Community & Technical College. Five years ago, the property was slated to become a cultural and performing arts center connected to Gateway's urban metro campus, but those plans are changing.

Johanne "Hans" Frederik Philippo, the president and CEO of Holland Roofing and the owner of new Covington restaurants Lisse and House of Orange, wants to create something else.

"There are many people in Covington who need a job," said Philippo. “We want to train them in the culinary arts.”

The project, as proposed, would run as a training facility four days a week and as a restaurant for the remainder of the week giving practical experience to its students.

“We are in talks with Gateway Community College to be a part of the project,” said Phillippo. “We also have a partnership with Stage Right Theatre, to hold theatrical performances each night we are open.”

Jeanne Schroer, president and chief executive officer of The Catalytic Fund, spoke on Philippo’s behalf as both a neighbor and property owner.

“We want to make sure that this property is sold to a developer who plans to put the property to a really good use,” Schroer said.

But Phillippo was questioned about a training curriculum, and evidence of official partnerships with Gateway or the theatre company. He also lacks official support from th Licking Riverside neighborhood association.

“I think the concept is terrific,” said Virginia Kerst, a longtime Licking Riverside resident. “My concern is with the lack of details.”

Jackie Slone, Licking Riverside resident and co-owner of Leftbank Coffeehouse, agreed. “I like the idea of a training facility, but a restaurant doesn't sound like a good idea.”

The board of adjustments seemed prepared to approve the needed zone change with stipulations such as only operating the restaurant one night per month and encouraging patrons to use parking garages rather than on-street parking. Philippo agreed to all recommendations but one.

“It won't work for me to only operate a restaurant one day a month,” Philippo said. “For it to work, we need at least three days per week.”

Finally, the board decided to table the vote until additional information could be gathered. A vote is scheduled for next month's meeting.

Written by Kareem Simpson, RCN contributor

Photo: First United Methodist Church building (RCN file)