360 Fireworks Party

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


by Michael Monks 
In the eight months leading up to the unveiling of the new roadmap to revitalize Downtown Covington, one phrase was uttered on more than one occasion: Covington has been planned to death. On Tuesday, the long-awaited Center City Action Plan will be unveiled to the public during the Covington City Commission meeting and will mark the twentieth such plan over the past decade with intentions of jump starting a revitalization effort. This time it will be different said Brad Segal, President of Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates, the company charged with creating and presenting the Center City Action Plan. 
"I think Covington required our whole bag of tricks," said Segal, who has created similar efforts in other cities large and small across America. "There's a lot going on in Covington, a lot of moving parts, so I think Covington was professionally challenging and I say this in a good way. It was exhilarating for us." Segal said that the unusual number of civic organizations and stakeholders aiming for a new Downtown is unique in Covington.
"Covington is a tapestry of commercial districts and neighborhoods that are knitted tightly together so we came up with a new, innovative yet pragmatic action plan," he said. "That was exhilarating on the planning side and I would say that we did well." The plan will emphasize Covington's need to capitalize on its three potential areas of strength: the riverfront, Mainstrasse, and the Madison corridor.
In addition to developing the action plan, PUMA was also charged with exploring the feasibility of a business improvement district in which certain Downtown commercial property owners would assess a new tax upon themselves to fund maintenance, clean-up, and marketing of the central business district. Originally the BID was explored as a combined effort for the Madison Avenue corridor and Mainstrasse, but on Tuesday Segal's team may recommend two BIDs, one for each of those parts of town. 
"The Mainstrasse groups and hotels (along the riverfront) have a common interest that they thought could be served through a BID and the Madison corridor going up to the riverfront felt they had a common interest that could be served through a BID," Segal said. "Both of those outcomes surprised us a bit (and the two BIDs) will probably have their own philosophies and momentum for moving forward." 
A document obtained by The River City News that was developed by PUMA illustrates what may be recommended for Covington's organizational structure in advocating for a revitalized Downtown. The proposal uses what it calls "best practices" extracted from various models across the country but specifically Downtown Cincinnati, Inc across the river. PUMA suggests reconstituting the Urban Partnership, an effort by the Covington Business Council to promote cleanliness and business advocacy Downtown, and using it as the new umbrella organization. The document reads in part: 
In Covington, we propose that existing marketing and advocacy organizations, the City of Covington, and civic partners such as the Catalytic Development Fund of Northern Kentucky and the Center for Great Neighborhoods come together in one unified "umbrella organization" under a reconstituted Urban Partnership. On a scale that can mobilize energy, make efficient use of resources, and have a significant impact in Covington, the new Urban Partnership is envisioned as a combination of the best revitalization elements found in Cincinnati, including DCI (Downtown Cincinnati, Inc) and 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation).
"On the organizations side, there are a lot of moving pieces there," Segal said of Covington. "I think what we've charted out and what we've heard from the community, if Covington can succeed in unifying the groups and using the plan as a guide to create tangible actions and really go about center city revitalization in a new way, this baby's gonna be a homerun." The plan's fate would rest in how well the organizations cooperate, Segal said. "The plan is great but how the organizations align themselves, how the resources are mobilized is the most telling piece. If Covington can find value in the organizational framework we've put together, then it will help advance a lot of these ideas."
Segal said that the Urban Partnership as it is set up today would not be suitable or have enough horse power to deliver what the action plan lays out. Segal and his team met with representatives from the various organizations during PUMA's visit to Covington in March and dated this reconstituted Urban Partnership plan as April 9. The UP would have a board of eleven to fifteen voting members made up of two members from the Covington Business Council, two from the City of Covington, and one from the Catalytic Development Fund, the Center for Great Neighborhoods, the Haile Foundation, Duke Energy, the Local Initiative Support Corporation, the Mainstrasse Village Association, Gateway Community College, and three ex-officio members to include neighborhood or civic interests in the center city. 
The initial slate of board members would be recommended by the action plan's steering committee and appointed by the Mayor. Additionally, it is recommended that UP create three and a half to four employed positions including an executive director (with a salary of $75,000 - 100,000), an economic development manager ($45,000 to 65,000), a membership & communication manager ($30,000 - 50,000), and an arts & culture program manager that could be either full or part time. Downtown area maintenance would be provided by a third party under contract and would be funded through the business improvement district. 
The responsibilities of each organization under the Urban Partnership umbrella would be as follows: 
  • City of Covington would be in charge of economic and business development, managing finance tools for revitalization, redevlopment plans and programming, investment in innovation and entrepreneurship, residential incentives, and grants administration
  • Business Improvement District would contribute funding support maintenance, economic development, and physical improvements
  • Catalytic Development Fund would invest in and facilitate catalytic projects and development
  • Covington Business Council would act as a liaison to the business community to facilitate networking, business support services, and business advocacy
  • Renaissance Covington would provide business support, membership services, and outreach (It is envisioned that Renaissance Covington would no longer be staffed at the city and would become part of the Urban Partnership organization and the city's funds for Renaissance would be reallocated to the UP)
  • Mainstrasse Village Association would continue to focus its efforts in Mainstrasse while contributing expertise toward events and promotions
  • Center for Great Neighborhoods would facilitate strategic investment in the residential areas of the center city and ensure public funding, grants and other sources of revenue are dedicated to leveraging past efforts and catalyzing stronger neighborhoods while also providing technical expertise around home loans, mortgage assistance, and related issues 
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation would work with CGN, the City, and others to provide strategic capital for new investment throughout the center city
The document concludes: 
It is envisioned in the near-term (2012-13) the Urban Partnership will be funded partially by the City of Covington. Ideally, grant or foundation support to match city funding ($150,000 +/-) will be identified for the one-to-two years of operation, resulting in an initial funding base of $300,000 per year. Sustainable funding for the Urban Partnership will be largely dictated by the success of the proposed Madison Corridor BID effort. If the BID is established, it is hoped the city, along with other funders, can sustain the organization for the foreseeable future. Diversifying, leveraging, and finding new sources of new funding in the absence of, or in addition to, BID revenue, will be a top priority for the Urban Partnership.
Though the plan will not be presented in a public forum until next Tuesday, the City of Covington hopes to have a copy of the action plan available online by Thursday or Friday this week. "We're extremely happy with the plan," said Jackson Kinney, Covington's community development director. "I think it touches on all the basics we needed it to. It keys in on three elements: strong economic development, strong neighborhoods, and an inviting public realm. It sets forth sensible strategies for addressing those. It's got all the pieces we were looking for to move us forward in terms of revitalization."
The term "quick wins", a reference to positive development efforts that can be done immediately, was also frequently mentioned during the several public meetings hosted by PUMA over the past eight months and Kinney said that he hopes we will see some in action right away. "We're still in the process of having those things come together," Kinney said. "I think in the next month or two there will be quick wins coming out the door. This is a quote-unquote action plan and it was not intended to be the twenty-first plan but something that would have a long shelf life for this community."
Segal shares Kinney's optimism about what the plan could do for Covington, after all his future business depends on it. "We're only as good as our last plan," Segal said. "That's what is fun about this work for us. If you go into a community and actually affect change, if your work has triggered visible, powerful outcomes, if people work together in a different way, if you can leave a community like that, that's a good feeling."

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