More than a decade ago, Northern Kentucky visionaries imagined a plan that would connect the region’s riverfront cities and bring people to relax and linger along the shores of the defining feature of those cities, the Ohio.
Bureaucracy, more urgent priorities, and the need for millions to build this ambitious project combined to stall the plans.
But the project is about to take a major step forward.
Later this month, construction is expected to begin on the $6.54 million second phase of Covington’s part of Riverfront Commons, the 2006 proposal from the regional agency Southbank Partners that would link six river cities with an uninterrupted 11.5-mile path stretching from Fort Thomas to Ludlow.
With the recent unanimous blessing of the Covington City Commission, Prus Construction, which submitted the lowest of three bids, should begin work on this portion near the end of August with the goal of finishing by the end of 2020, says Rick Davis, Covington’s public works director.
“This is the project toward which we’ve been working for 13 years,” Davis says. “This will introduce Covington back to the Ohio River. Obviously, we’re a ‘river city,’ and we’ve built along the river, we’ve embraced the river, and we’ve been enjoying river views. But now we’re going to make it walkable, bikeable, and more inviting to utilize.”
Over the years, many ideas were floated, some wildly expensive, including water jets in the river, a kayak flume, and digital projection lighting. At the end of 2017, Covington officials scaled down the proposals to create the final plans for this phase. They include:
- Two concrete ADA-compliant multi-use paths — totaling about 2,800 feet — stretching from Greenup Street to the Madison Overlook, where they will link up with a sidewalk that leads west to a previously built paved path. The lower path will run along the river’s edge; the upper path will follow along the floodwall murals.
- A cobblestone “pier” jutting out into the river underneath the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. Anglers will be able to fish from it, and paddlers can use it to launch their craft.
- A redesigned foot of Greenup Street, creating a cul-de-sac with an inlaid, compass design, and limited nearby parking.
- Renovated overlooks at the foot of Madison Avenue and just east (where an extended Scott Street would hit the river) with lights, benches, new railings, and pavement overlays.
- A 1,350-seat terraced-step amphitheater between the overlooks. The oval-shaped structure will face the river and include an area (and electrical hookups) where musicians and others can perform.
- Greenspace, including 4,100 plants and grasses designed to hold dirt in place and survive any floods.
- The area will also include amenities like bike racks and fire hydrants, which can be used by crews to blast away mud left by periodic flooding of the river, Davis says.
The existing parking lot underneath and around the Suspension Bridge will be removed. This area will be open to pedestrians only.
Work for this phase alone required nine different permits from agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Paying for this phase will come from $4.2 million in federal grants and previously allocated city funding.
When completed, Riverfront Commons in Covington will be about 2.7 miles long:
- At its eastern end, the trail connects with Newport via the Fourth Street Bridge, and then uses sidewalks on Greenup to get to the river. There it meets up with Phase II, which is about to begin.
- West of Phase II, the City previously built Phase I — a concrete multi-use path that’s about three-fourths of a mile long and stretches to the Brent Spence Bridge. Users can access the path at the Madison Overlook or off of Pete Rose Pier.
- West of Phase I is Phase III, which is currently being designed. Using federal funds, the City Commission in May voted to hire an engineering firm to design the path from the Brent Spence west to the Ky. 8 sidewalks at Swain Court, including a “bridge” that will cross a ravine. Construction is scheduled for next year.
- And grant money has been awarded (and will become available in two years) for Phase IV, which will take the path from Swain Court to River Road at the Ludlow border, or as close to it as possible.
A transformed Covington riverfront will be welcome after years of delay and debate, says Mayor Joe Meyer.
“When this plan was first presented, it was a wonderful plan, but its cost was far, far in excess of our available resources. We’re talking $50 million to $60 million, and we had 6 (million),” Meyer says.
After construction is complete, he says the city will leave the door open to private donors and foundations to step in and perhaps some of the more creative, yet expensive, ideas can take shape.
“This is just the beginning,” Meyer says. “We want to build a foundation and then bring partners together to talk about the potential for raising private funds to add facilities.”
Covington’s action isn’t the only momentum happening with Riverfront Commons. Late last year, The City of Dayton received a federal grant of $810,665 to construct a third phase and complete the funding for the Riverfront Commons project in that city.