Tide of new development sweeps through Newport

Residents of Northern Kentucky’s riverfront are accustomed to the sort of change that comes in small, steady doses. But for the first time in a long while, Newport is poised for strategic transformation that holds citywide promise for the future.
Since Newport on the Levee debuted amid much fanfare in 2001 — long before The Banks came to be on Cincinnati’s downtown shore — plans for expansion were always presumed to be coming, and developers finally broke ground late last year on Aqua on the Levee. The $80-million addition will feature a hotel, retail stores, 238 rental units and an 800-space parking garage. Jointly financed by Price Group (the Levee’s current owners) and developers at Capital Investment Group, the project is expected to open in phases beginning in late 2016.
Residents of Aqua and its forerunner in upscale Newport living, Monmouth Row, may soon view an added bonus from their balconies: a 180-foot permanent observation wheel.
Much more than a simple carnival ride, the proposed attraction would be equipped with six- to 10-person “viewing platforms” offering sweeping aerial views of downtown and the river basin. The wheel will add visual interest to a plan jointly proposed by Southbank Partners and the City of Newport to transform the area between the Taylor-Southgate and Purple People bridges known as Festival Park.

Progress takes all forms
The removal of aging buildings, while often a controversial decision — as was the case with recently announced plans to demolish Newport Intermediate School to make way for upscale condos — is necessary for the city’s success, according to Southbank Partners President Jack Moreland.
“Cities either move forward or they die,” Moreland says of the recent demolition of the Travelodge at the foot of Taylor-Southgate Bridge and plans to tear down nearby Section 8 housing. “It’s never an uninformed decision. In the case of the public housing, those buildings haven’t been improved since the 1960s and are in really bad shape.”
Moreland says the impacted residents have been offered vouchers and resources for relocating in Newport and beyond, an approach that’s in keeping with a national shift toward dispersing public housing throughout communities.
A six-story, 119-room Hampton Inn will replace the Travelodge, while neighboring cleared space will be used as a traffic roundabout to cap off the relocation of KY Route 9 that’s currently underway. Moreland believes redirecting through-traffic around the downtown business core will boost home sales in Newport’s west end and prompt interest in developing underutilized sites along the Licking River corridor.
“There’s 20 acres of unused space where Newport Steel used to be and 20-plus more acres just north of there that has been waiting for the right time to take shape,” Moreland says, adding of relocating Route 9, “The road is the right time.”
Putting better life within reach
A community just down the road hums with a different kind of energy. Newly constructed Northern Kentucky Scholar House occupies the block bordered by Sixth, Seventh, Patterson and Brighton streets and offers high quality low-cost housing and childcare to single parents pursuing college education.
One of six programs of its kind across Kentucky, NKY Scholar House is the result of a statewide taxpayer-funded initiative overseen by community organizers and developers from Brighton Properties, Neighborhood Foundations and The Model Group.
“We want to help single parents overcome the two biggest obstacles for going back to school, rent and childcare,” says Brighton Center President and CEO Tammy Weidinger.
With 30 of its 48 two- and three-bedroom apartments already occupied, organizers are still accepting referrals and Weidinger hopes to see Scholar House reach full capacity by September to coincide with its grand opening.
In addition to affordable rent, qualifying residents can access:
• On-site, licensed care for children six weeks to school age
• Financial assistance, food stamps and work-study programs
• Workshops and activities to support continued academic, family and career success
The initiative has seen positive results statewide. Sixty-one percent of single-parent residents at a similar program in Covington completed their degrees, compared to a national completion average of just 35 percent.
“It’s a path to self-sufficiency,” Weidinger says. “The more education you have, the better your shot at a higher paying job and pulling your family out of poverty. We can provide all the services we want, but if at the end of the day Newport families are still living in poverty, then we have more work to do.”
Small business in the big picture
Bridging the gap between Newport’s glittering riverfront and its blue-collar interior is a growing list of boutique shops, eateries and professional firms that have cropped up along historic Monmouth Street. The city will soon join a national (and local) craft brewery craze by reviving the beloved century-old Wiedemann’s beer brand.
Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Jon and Betsy Newberry, who re-launched Wiedemann’s in 2012 to an enthusiastic response, hope to open a combination brewery, taproom and beer garden later this year. The brewery’s exact location is still undetermined, but Newberry is certain about one thing.
“Wiedemann is a Newport brand, and it belongs in Newport,” he says. “We’ve had great support from loyal Wiedemann drinkers and a whole new generation of young people. We really want to capture that excitement and rekindle it.”
At their core, all these developments share a common goal: making it easy for people, particularly young professionals, to live, work and play in Newport. The city continues to raise its urban profile and attract that key demographic by celebrating its unique history while introducing diverse rental and retail options and expanding green space for a generation that loves being outdoors.
“My Cincinnati friends told me not to bother looking in Northern Kentucky,” says Kristin Snyder, a 28-year-old account executive and Columbus native who recently moved to Monmouth Row after renting near Eden Park in Cincinnati. “After months of driving across the bridge for groceries, I decided to check out Newport. I don’t think people realize how affordable it is. I can walk to restaurants and get anywhere downtown for a dollar on the Southbank Shuttle. It’s really kind of a hidden gem.”
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