Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment

Opticare Vision/Express Mobile Transport

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Resource on LinkedIn for Fort Thomas Professionals

Some friends have created a group on LinkedIn for those professionals that live in Fort Thomas to network, share ideas, and possibly share business. You may be familiar with the old adage that all business is local - this group is trying to capitalize on that.

For those of you who are not familiar with LinkedIn it is a social network (a la Facebook) for professionals. You can post a quisi-resume that can be a great tool for selling yourself as a professional for other job opportunities connect with past colleagues, or find good business ideas. While you are looking for the group also feel free to connect with me directly at my public profile page.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Grant Opportunities Revisited

I mentioned some grants available from the state of Kentucky back in May when 2008 winners were announced. I now read from CincyBurb that the applications for 2009 have been opened and deadlines are set for the first quarter of 2009. The Recreational Trails Program grant applications will be accepted through February 1, 2009 and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) applications will be accepted through March 1, 2009.

If there were ever a better situation to bring state funding to Fort Thomas I don't know of it. The Recreational Trails and the LWCF are tailor made for Tower Park. It just takes a vision for the park and how to spend the money. A few things that could be great candidates for funding within the park include:
  1. The ampitheater
  2. Trail signage
  3. Funding for bike trails to connect Tower Park trails to the Vision 2015 greenway plan
  4. Upgrade of basic facilities such as the sand volleyball courts
  5. Better lighting for safety reasons

Any other ideas? Anyone willing to help out with grant writing?

Infrastructure Needs for Fort Thomas

There is an interesting article in the Enquirer today about Northern Kentucky leaders compiling a list of infrastructure needs in anticipation of the upcoming economic stimulus plan that president-elect Obama has proposed.

While you may disagree with some of the priorities listed in the article you have to applaud the leaders for being proactive and doing everything possible to bring a fair share of the stimulus to this area.

What I do find conspicuously missing from the list is anything for Fort Thomas. The only item on the current list is a rehab of the water plant by the NKY water district - initiated by the water district. How much would you like to see, as a part of the rehab, the opening of the walking paths along the reservoirs?

I also see that Florence has included $4 million for World of Sports. I am not sure how this is infrastructure but how great would a few million be for the Tower Park ampitheater?

Any other ideas about road / bridge projects for Fort Thomas? Any thoughts on sewer or sanitation needs? What about a long-term solution for Route 8 rather than patch work solutions that wash away as soon as the waters rise? What about the realignment of River Road in the Midway - can we use Federal dollars for this instead of out of our own general fund? We need to be sure that we come up with as many ideas as possible to feed on to the regional planners and leaders and right now there doesn't appear to be a lot of out of the box thinking coming from the city.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Newport Pavilion Update

I got an update on the Newport Pavilion center today. A few updates:

  1. The developer is talking with Michaels as another potential tenant
  2. The Kroger will in fact have a fuel center
  3. Panera is looking at another location (I believe it is the new development near NKU)
  4. First Watch is not really an option as they are not looking at expansion for the time being.

There you have it. I will pass on anything else as the news becomes available.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Highlands Highly Rated in US News

The Fort Thomas education system put another notch on its belt this past week as the latest US News & World Report's ranking of US High Schools again listed Highlands as a top high school.

Highlands was 1 of only 7 high schools in the state of KY and 1 of 604 nationwide with a silver rating. This was quite an accomplishment given that the 604 silver rated high schools were from 21,069 high schools that were rated.

One statistic that particularly stood out to me about Highlands: 816 students enrolled and 38.6% took at least 1 AP exam. An amazing 72.5% exam pass rate. We can be truly thankful that we have the teachers and administration that prepare our children to be successful in college and beyond.

For those interested in the process for ranking I copy the following three steps from the US News website:
  1. The first step determined whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in the state. We started by looking at reading and math results for all students on each state's high school test. We then factored in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (who tend to score lower) enrolled at the school to find which schools were performing better than their statistical expectations.
  2. For those schools that made it past this first step, the second step determined whether the school's least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic, and low income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state. We compared each school's math and reading proficiency rates for disadvantaged students with the statewide results for these disadvantaged student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than this state average.
  3. Schools that made it through the first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step, college-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate test data as the benchmarks for success. (AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country.) This third step measured which schools produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students. This was done by computing a "college readiness index" based on the weighted average of the AP and/or IB participation rate (the number of 12th-grade students who took at least one AP and/or IB test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders) along with how well the students did on those tests. The latter part, called quality-adjusted AP and/or IB participation, is the number of 12th-grade students who took and passed (received an AP score of 3 or higher or an IB score of 4 or higher) at least one of the tests before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders at that school.

For the college readiness index, the quality-adjusted participation rate was weighted 75 percent in the calculation, and 25 percent of the weight was placed on the simple AP and/or IB participation rate. Only schools that had values greater than 20 in their college readiness index scored high enough to meet this criterion for gold and silver medal selection. The minimum of 20 was used because it represents what it would take to have a "critical mass" of students gaining access to college-level coursework.

An Opportunity to Give Back

Debbie Buckley, the city's Renaissance Coordinator, sent me an email today for this great event:

This coming Saturday, December 13, 2008, Fort Thomas is honored to be part of a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Veterans Nursing Home in Fort Thomas at 1:00. This will be the first of it's kind and everyone is looking to see if this goes well. The wreaths were donated by the same company that makes them for the Arlington Cemetery. The program is similar to what will be at Arlington. Our Fort Thomas Army Reserve Until will provide the Color Guard for the ceremony. Steve Verrigni, who is the Senior Ride Captain for Kentucky, is planning the dedication. The ceremony will last about one hour.

After the ceremony, Santa will be arriving with his elves. He will have 60 goody bags for children. Please make sure that you bring your children to see Santa. Once Santa has distributed his toys, he will be visiting the Veterans themselves who are in the Fort Thomas VA Nursing Home.

Here is my last request: SANTA IS IN NEED OF SOCKS AND GLOVES TO GIVE THE VETERANS!!! Or if you want, you can make a donation and I will buy the socks and gloves. Please support our Veterans since they have given their lives for us to have our freedom. Sorry for such a short notice but we were just asked last night to help with this. Please show your support by making some type of donation!!

If you have questions about the event or want to donate please contact Debbie at

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Officers' Quarters in Tower Park

We appear to be 1 hurdle away from new housing in Tower Park. The long sought after sale of the 14 officer homes in Tower Park (many with views of the Ohio River) is only 1 signature away from being the property of the City of Fort Thomas. It has been nearly 5 years since the homes were vacated and the empty shells have loomed over the park for far too long.

This is yet another domino to fall in a long sought after renaisance of the Midway area. I think the sale and eventual rehab of these structures will be key to the continued revitalization of the area. In the Cincinnati Enquirer article we learn that there is a waiting list of 280 people to purchase the homes. This should insure that those purchasing the homes will have the capital to make quick improvements to speed the rehabilitation of the area. I hope that in the current economic environment that this is a key decision factor for the city in selling the homes to the interested buyers.

I hope that the city publishes a very clear and thoughtful process for the swift and orderly sale of the homes to buyers that can make quick work of rehabing the area.

The purchase price should be less than the 2007 appraised value of $2.4 million for all 10 structures. At $240,000 per structure it could be a great deal on a large home. What would you do if you were able to buy and rehab one of the properties? Would you subdivide and sell as condos or would you buy as a personal residence?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Firefighters Have a Contract

Today we get news of a final contract between the city and the fire fighters. This is great for the fire fighters, the city, and for public safety.

While I haven't made any comments about the situation on this blog I do have a few observations from the negotiations:

  1. There are many details about the negotiations that I don't intend to get into but when you step back and look at the negotiations it is a shame that they drug on so long after 34 years of relatively smooth negotiations that almost always wrapped up by the contract expiration. When you look at the two parties involved and the issues being negotiated the only thing that has changed in the history of these negotiations is the city manager doing the negotiations. Many of the fire fighters have long tenure from 10 to 17 to 24 years in many cases. Past negotiations have had a civil and collegial tone to them but not so this time. The city went so far as to publicize the average salaries to the Enquirer which is a real act of bad faith. The timeline of the negotiations is illustrated by a chart posted on the local's website:

  2. During the campaign I got to know many of the fire fighters well. They worked very hard for my campaign - giving their time after work for a couple of hours or giving up a Saturday to help me knock on doors. We can all rest assured that these men and women will do everything they can to protect our property and /or health.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Parking Problem?

There is a question that has come up time after time over the past couple of years that I have been involved with pushing for more retail in Fort Thomas; Is there a parking problem in Fort Thomas?

The question came up again during the candidate forum in the campaign for Fort Thomas City Council when current council member James Doepker answered a question about retail development by saying he would make more parking a key piece of attracting more retail.

Speaking from personal experience, I have never had a problem finding a parking spot either in the central business district or the Midway district. The most difficult time I have finding parking is when I go to the 915 and have to walk at most a block. THIS is not a parking problem. Parking problems are circling for 15 minutes to find a spot on Hyde Park Square only to pay $10 for valet or parking 6 blocks away in the pouring rain.

Despite ample parking the city still has zoning that makes it more difficult for small businesses to start and grow with investing additional money in off-street parking. I have included a comparison of Fort Thomas' off-street zoning compared to other communities across the country:

City / NeighborhoodOff-street Parking Requirement (# off-street parking spots)
Fort Thomas3.3 per 1,000 sq ft of retail space
NYC - South Park Neighborhood1 per 1,000 sq ft of commercial floor space
Denver1 per 500 sq ft of floor space
Hermosa Beach, CA1 per 250 sq ft of floor space - general retail
Aspen, CO1 per 1,000 sq ft

Aspen, Denver, and South Park NY all have less onerous zoning than Fort Thomas - how does that make sense?

In addition to the cities summarized in the table above additional findings include:
  • City of Akron reduced their requirement by 50% in April ’06 as part of a comprehensive urban renewal plan. This plan encourages the use of on-street parking to create a sense of a vibrant and active downtown area.
  • Norman, OK completely eliminated their off-street parking requirements in May 2000.
  • Denton, Texas reduced their requirements by 50% in 1999 as part of a plan to encourage the conversion of residential uses to non-residential / commercial uses.

The current restrictive zoning discourages retail and encourages banks, insurance agents, realty offices, etc.

In a survey sponsored by Fort Thomas a couple of years ago residents concluded that there is no parking issue in the main business districts. The survey results seemed to indicate a perceived parking problem with no real basis. When compared with a list of reasons that residents did not shop in the city the overwhelming response was the lack of selection or shopping options as the number one reason. Parking finished a distant 4th.

What do you think - parking problems or perception?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Another Area Deer Hunt

There was an article on today about the town of Mariemont becoming the latest Cincinnati area community to sponsor a deer hunt. In addition to the details of the hunt the article presented a pretty good synopsis of all area deer hunts. Here are some observations:

1. Other areas with proposed / past / current hunts include:

  • Amberly Village - started the program last week. A firm deer count was performed prior to the vote on the hunt that showed 115 deer, 28 more than the states recommendation per 3.5 mile area.
  • Indian Hill - since 1999, coincidentally the article mentions that this past year there were 28 accidents, four less than in 2006. I am not sure you can say the hunt has been successful with stats like that.
  • Hamilton County - have data indicating an increase in deer accidents from 44 in 1980 to 705 last year. The county has 2 programs; one in parks and the other in nature preserves. Both programs use bow hunting after park hours. All hunters must pass a qualifying test, a safety test, and attend a presentation on the rules. A record is kept of all kills and 445 were recorded last year.
  • City of Cincinnati - currently in 2 parks and will expanded next year to 2 more parks. All but 7 of the 217 reported kills by Cincinnati cops occurred in Mt Airy.
The Mariemont program will utilize bow hunting by 8 'certified' bow hunters in a private land area along the Miami River.

All of the programs, with the exception of maybe the city of Cincinnati's program, are more responsible than the current Fort Thomas program. None of them occur on private property, all of them require 'trained professionals', it appears that all of them also had very detailed counts and objectives.

By the way, apparently the deer in Fort Thomas are wreaking havoc on.... the Fort Thomas Police Department. 3 cruisers damaged this season, and I still know of no one who has had an encounter with deer in Fort Thomas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our 1 Year Anniversary

I started this blog on November 20, 2007 and it has been a fun ride. I thought I would share some interesting statistics with you:

The site has had over 5,300 page views from over 1,500 different visitors.

The most read stories and their topics are:
1. Newport Pavilion
2. Newport Pavilion
3. Fort Thomas Conservancy
4. Deer Hunting
5. Fort Thomas Demographics
6. Fort Thomas Demographics

The day with the highest traffic to the site: November 3rd, 2008. It was apparently driven by last minute voters searching for information on candidates. This was confirmed by a look at the search terms used on that day to get to the site.

I also have some exciting news to share. We have an additional domain name that you can use to go directly to the site. In addition to the current URL that you may be using today -, you can now type in the address to get to the site. If all else fells visit Google and type in Fort Thomas Matters.

Thanks for reading!

Fort Thomas Home Prices

I am a registered user of Zillow - a real estate website that uses a unique way of valuing properties across the US. As a registered user I received an email today that indicated that my house had increased, YES - INCREASED in value. As you could imagine I was a bit skeptical even though I have invested thousands of dollars into improvements including a finished basement and a new deck.

Then I received an email later in the day from Robinson Realtors (I am not sure how I ended up on their email list) with sales and price statistics from communities all across the Cincinnati area. I was surprised to see the following statistics:

Fort Thomas

The columns are as follows; # of sold homes, # of listed homes, avg list price, avg sales price, and average # of days on the market. These statistics were on par (in regards to the % of homes on the market that was sold and average days on the market) with other great neighborhoods in the area such as Anderson Township and better than Blue Ash and Kenwood. Given the bad press it was better than expected. I understand this is still well below what we have seen over the past few years but I thought homes were not selling at all.

What is your perspective on the Fort Thomas housing market?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Recap

As you surely know by now I will not be one of six people representing Fort Thomas for the next two years on City Council. I did however want to offer my insights and thoughts on the process, results, and where we go from here.

1. The result - We basically switched out Barbara Thomson-Levine for Lisa Kelly which in my view was a net loss for the city. Barbara did a great job coming from no where in the last election and winning a seat on council. This was much to the chagrin of the current council members and the mayor who feels there is a process to represent those in the community and it comes by appointment (a la Jill Steller). I say the people choose and Barbara gave us confidence that the people still choose - not the elite in the community. Barbara had a tough job from day one and her voice was never able to rise above the old mentality that exists among the leadership.

Lisa will have an extremely difficult time getting anything accomplished. I imagine it will an incredibly difficult two years being a dissenting voice. Lisa is generally a one issue candidate that I feel was largely elected on the strength of her ballot position (1st) and the hard work she showed in the final two weeks of the campaign.

2. The process - I had a great time campaigning. I enjoyed knocking on doors and meeting so many people - over 2,000 homes with the help of the firefighters. We worked very hard on this campaign. I was the only council candidate to march in the Independence Day parade, I was the only candidate who knocked on doors (and many people indicated the only candidate in decades that did so), and we had more yard signs than any other candidate. With that being said, we misjudged five important things that affected the outcome:
  1. Demographic shift - I really thought there was a bigger shift occurring in the community that would carry the day for me. I believed that like me there were many young families with small kids that had moved into the community and wanted to be engaged in it. Based on the results I have to include that the older demographic is still the largest population group. I also believe that many of those younger families are just not engaged enough to know which candidates to vote for.
  2. Over-estimated how influential some issues apparently were - I really thought the deer issue, the lack of contract for the fire fighters, the lack of retail, and the apparent feeling that council wasn't listening would carry me as well. I had hundreds of people ask me if I was an incumbent when I knocked on their door and my answer was always no. Their reply was universally 'then you have my vote'.
  3. The power of incumbency (especially at the local level) - The majority of Fort Thomas residents have lived in Fort Thomas for a very long time, in many cases grew up there and are the second or third generation of residents in that family. The power of having run multiple times and having gone to school with or done business with or lived next too is too strong even for the issues. I have only lived in Fort Thomas 4 years - apparently much too short to have the name recognition needed to win a seat.
  4. The impact the national races would have on this race - I believe the national race pulled out more voters who were primarily interested in the presidential race and knew nothing about the local race which only exacerbated point number 5....
  5. Ballot Positioning - having the last spot on the ballot stinks. I am disappointed that our democracy comes down to who is listed first on the ballot. I had hoped that like myself more people would want to know the issues and vote for the candidate that mostly closely represents them. Unfortunately it comes down to what is most convenient and that is the first six spots on the ballot.
3. What I learned

A. Fort Thomas is a great community and much more diverse than I ever thought.
B. There are many issues in the community that are not being addressed
  • People want trash cans all around the city - not just in the Midway and Central Business District. Many people walk their dogs or eat ice cream cones on their walk and want a place to deposit their trash when they are blocks away from the intersection of Highland & Ft Thomas Ave. A good location for these additional trash cans would be at the bus stops.
  • While we are talking of trash cans - they need to be emptied more often. The cans are always over-flowing and it provides a bad impression for visitors and residents alike
  • The folks on Willow Dr feel completely ignored
  • The city owns a right of way between two homes on Fort Thomas Ave that run between Fort Thomas Ave & the school. This is not a problem in and of itself but the city refuses to maintain the asphalt on the right of way.
  • Many residents on Lumley want a speed hump to stop people from driving 45 mph where children play
  • The firefighters need a new contract. Two years is too long without a pay increase
  • Many people hate the hunting ordinance. Despite what council thinks there is a large number of people all across town that have horror stories - not just a small vocal minority that attended council meetings last winter.

C. How difficult it is to get good information on local candidates. This is something I heard time and again.
People generally want to be informed about local elections (beyond standard candidate bios, although that is difficult to come by as well) but can't find a good source for that information. They want to know what the issues are and where the candidates stand on those issues. Hopefully this site can continue to be that for the community - beyond the stale news about the local charity dance that is found in the Recorder or Fort Thomas Living.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween

I thought you might like a fun picture of the mayor poking fun of the deer hunt during trick or treat. The hunt begins again today and I hope it truly is a laughing matter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Nevada - An Anchor for Rebirth?

The Enquirer confirmed today what some of you may have heard or at least seen as you drove past the Nevada building. David Hosea has purchased the Nevada building and he has big plans for redevelopment. The tab for the renovations will run $250,000 and in addition to renovating the apartments along the Avenue the space will include a restaurant and caterer and he hopes to sign a Pilates studio and a dress shop.

The article also mentions that he is interested in purchasing other buildings along the Avenue with hopes of promoting the area. Big kudos to David for having vision and putting $s with those dreams. I hope this is the start of big things to come for the area.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

We Have Chipotle!

In case you didn't hear the news from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Newport Pavilion is getting a Chipotle. While this is the only other retailer that has signed on that really makes me excited the article indicates that a Chick Fil A may not be far behind.

New stores that have also signed an agreement include Famous Footwear, Cincinnati Bell/T-Mobile cell-phone store, Tire Discounters, Cincinnati Tan and a Chinese restaurant. The developer also appears to be still negotiating with a Logans Roadhouse and although the article mentions IHOP a spokesman told me that option was dead as IHOP has pulled out of expansion plans for the area. Lets hope they are working on bringing a First Watch as the breakfast spot of choice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What? A Strategy?

The newest edition of the SoapBox has an article about an upcoming event to celebrate progress on the Covington "Third Century Strategic Plan". I know this is a blog about Fort Thomas - so how is this applicable to us?

I found a few things about this very applicable to Fort Thomas:

1. They have a plan! - I put a quote from the city's website below with bold text on the areas of emphasis. Notice that they are working towards very clear actionable steps and that the plan will guide the allocation of resources.

The major goal was to produce a strategic plan that has clear steps for implementation and can guide the city's future allocation of resources. We also created an ongoing process by which actions of stakeholders can be harnessed to help implement this plan. Importantly, the process was designed to involve a diverse cross-section of people from our community - specifically, those who have never participated in such efforts in the past - to generate new ideas, new relationships, and a broad commitment to the ongoing work needed to create the future of Covington.

2. Community Engagement Around Core Concepts - they have very specific, defined work groups such as Education, Safety, Downtown, Arts & Culture, etc. This allows those in the community that are passionate and have a vested interest in a particular concept to add the most value.

3. Regular Updates to Measure Progress

4. Open & Regular Communication - this allows the continued involvement of the community and pushing towards progress against stated goals.

I think a plan like this is long overdue for the city of Fort Thomas. For far too long we have excelled at education and community and rested on our successes. We need to continue to challenge ourselves to avoid losing the edge that makes Fort Thomas a community of choice in Northern Kentucky. How do you think a plan like this would work for Fort Thomas? What challenges do you see in getting community involvement for such an ambitious plan?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Newport Pavilion Update

Bear Creek Capital has updated their website (nice new look by the way) and they have some updated information - including my new contact, Adam Fights.

Adam had a few updates on the development at Memorial and 471 including:

  • Kroger should start to rise out of the ground any day

  • While it has become difficult to attract retailers of any kind in the current economic environment they have a few advantages including the location and visibility, an underserved market, and the fact that significant progress has been made.

  • With that being said they are having a difficult time attracting tenants. IHOP has pulled out of the development and has cancelled all expansion plans in the Cincinnati area. Kroger and Target are committed anchors and the only other signed lease that Adam confirmed is Buffalo Wild Wings.

In addition to the information above he indicated that he would love to hear from anyone that reads the blog in regards to retailers that Fort Thomas residents would like to see locate there. My pick is Chipotle. Add comments with your dream retailer!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

US 27 Re-alignment

As many of you have probably experienced driving between the Y and Highland Heights the state has re-configured the old 4-lane road to a 2 lane road with a center turn lane. I was very disappointed that more defined and wider bike paths were not included in the reconfiguration.

A recent article on sheds some light on what the state was thinking as they indicate the road was not wide enough to accommodate the turn lane and bike paths. The highway department's spokesperson indicates "dedicated bike lanes could not be included in this project due to roadway width restrictions."

What do you think? Personally the turn lane appears to be wider than normal and I would really like to see a wider shoulder for bike path.

Creating Places that Matter

Thanks to our friends at Soapbox Media (you should sign up for their weekly emails as there is good information - although focused more on the Ohio side of the river) we learn about a conference at the Duke Energy center this coming weekend focused on creating communities that matter. The sub-text of the conference is "Building Valued Neighborhoods Through Form-Based Code"

This sounds like a great event with break-out sessions that include:
  • Communities and buildings following form based codes (FBC) are magnets for talent and energy.
  • Governments and communities reap the benefits of nourishing community character using form-based codes. Emphasis on neighborhood spaces and places makes both established and new communities walkable and engaging places to live, work, and play.
While many of you were not able to attend the council forum last night these are the types of ideas I would like to see the city pursue in relation to planning and zoning that can help spur development and create an environment for new businesses to thrive.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on the 2015 Greenway Plan

I mentioned in my post this weekend about the Vision 2015 Greenways plan (link here). Human Nature, a company focused on designing public spaces is a key component of this plan and you can actually view some of the plans and proposals on this site. If you view a larger view of the second map you can see some of the specific details. One thing of particular interest is 2 storm-water basins that connect Ft Thomas to the Licking River Greenway. Either of these could serve as a means of connecting Tower Park to this park spine for the entire Northern Kentucky region.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vision 2015's Regional Park Network

Vision 2015 shed some additional attention on the parks component of the Vision 2015 plan this week including an open house to solicit input and share the vision along the Licking watershed. The regional parks plan is an important component of Northern Kentucky's development and the idea of making the under-utilized Licking River in this plan is a great idea.

According to the article:
  1. The regional parks plan calls for doubling the park acreage in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties during the next seven years. Now, there are 185 parks on 5,300 acres across the counties.
  2. “We don’t have a system of parks, we have a collection of parks,” said Mike Phillips, coordinator of Vision 2015’s parks initiative.
  3. Planners envision a regional parks system connected by trails, waterways and greenways. The plans call for more trails, cultural destinations and tournament-quality athletic facilities.
  4. The system would center around existing “crown jewels” like the Boone County Arboretum, Devou Park, Doe Run Lake and the Ohio and Licking rivers.
  5. Schaeffer said funding sources will include grants, public-private partnerships and local funding.

I would like to see Tower Park become a component of this plan as well and I have contacted Mike to discuss that possibility. I don't understand why Tower Park is not considered one of the "crown jewels" given the world-class mountain biking trails and the desire to have cultural destinations and tournament-quality athletic facilities. Upgrades to the park could really make Tower Park a world class destination and a cornerstone of the Midway redevelopment.

I would also like to hear anyone's ideas on how to connect Tower Park to the Licking River plan. Does anyone know of a watershed connection that could be used as a bike trail to connect the Licking trail and Tower Park?

Update on Memorial Apartments

There were some updates this week in the press concerning the apartments on Memorial Parkway (mentioned here in a post from this past December). There appeared to be some contradiction in the articles between the developer, the Enquirer, and City Council.

What is clear is that the development has been delayed (The Enquirer uses the word 'halted') until at least next year - see the first article here.

A follow-up article, a day later, appeared to be a response from the developer as he indicated it was just postponed. The developer seems to indicate that it will be re-started in the spring but has been postponed. While these types of delays are generally ominous, the developer makes a point about the investment that has already been made (almost $1 million to date) and the market potential given the great views of downtown.

Some of the big questions that remain include:
  1. Will the developer do enough to prevent erosion and keep the lot that has been cleared from becoming over-grown and unsightly?
  2. Will the city complete the sidewalk in front of the development or will that section remain unfinished until the development is re-started?
  3. Did the city do enough to qualify the developer if the project was as big as it apparently is?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ballot Positions set for November Council Election

I spoke with the Campbell County Elections office this week and obtained the ballot order for the upcoming election, posted below. I apologize in advance for any mis-spellings.

1. Lisa Kelly
2. R Peterman
3. S. Dauer
4. T Lampe
5. J Sorrentino
6. J Canter
7. Doepker
8. Stiller
9. B Levine-Thompson
10. Eric Haas
11. Darrin Murriner

I got a stroke of bad luck and landed the last spot on the ballot, please spread my name to overcome this disadvantage.

You may be asking yourself, 'why does the ballot position matter?' It appears we have a very uniformed electorate that in many cases will vote for the first 6 people on the ballot rather than educating themselves on the positions and spending 10 extra seconds voting for the most appropriate candidate.

Recent Events

Since it has been a couple of weeks since my last post I thought I would bring you a collection of small stories that have been reported elsewhere with a little commentary:

  1. Status update on the Midway - this was a recent article in the Enquirer from a recent Council meeting. The story covers other topics including the city's approval to put the Fort Thomas name on toy police cars and fire trucks from Mattel. However, buried at the bottom of the article is a note about Council's approval to move forward with street scape improvements despite the state's delay in re-orienting the intersection with River Road. I am happy to moving ahead with street scape improvements but I hope this does not result in re-work once the state is ready to complete their work.
  2. Park improvements - this story, also from the Enquirer, discusses some changes coming to area parks. The first point is on Highland Park that includes the conversion of the tennis courts to sand volleyball courts. I think this is a good decision as the courts were in bad shape and without the lighting that Tower Park has they just didn't get the use. Rossford Park is getting some additional fill and will be used for pee wee football and soccer practices. West Southgate Park will get a new wall and playground equipment and there will be a new pocket park next to the treatment plant on Memorial. The good news in all this is that there are some real improvements here as opposed to just a corner with some benches and flowers.
  3. Police facilities upgraded - Council voted last night to invest $1.2 million in the city building for the police department. While I have never been inside the police department, and I have no doubt that the facilities are dated, I find it hard to believe that you could spend $1.2 million in improving a small corner of the city building. I would love to hear more specific details on what is being remodeled. The article did mention a replacement of the heating and air and that is surely costly but $1.2 million sure seems excessive.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Status of the Nevada Building??

It has now been 6 months since the Bank of Kentucky purchased the Nevada building (see this past post for background) and it continues to sit empty. I am reminded of some of the discussion about the purchase at the time including:

  • The Bank of Kentucky could sell the building for more than the $240K they paid at auction
  • They would do needed repairs to the building
Neither of which appear to have materialized. In fact the building has arguably lost value as the broader economy and more specifically real estate has continued to experience price declines and a shrinking market. While I am not privy to any plans the bank may have, I believe that for the good of the community the bank needs to cut their losses and sell to an interested developer willing to invest in the Midway.

Cycling in Fort Thomas

Two recent local stories emphasize the importance of biking and the need to think of ways to further support biking in Fort Thomas.

1. Gas Prices, fitness trend lead to bike revival - this Cincinnati Enquirer article speaks of the growing bike ridership in the greater Cincinnati area:
With high gas prices and people trading their couch-potato ways for healthier lifestyles, communities are learning the financial and recreational impact of bike trails and city planning that includes the needs of cyclists.
Miami Township is enticing riders to Hamilton County's first official mountain bike trail.

2. Rather bike? Park plan adds riverfront cycle shop - the multi-million dollar plan for the Riverfront park in Cincinnati will apparently include a bike shop that includes lockers and showers for those commuting to downtown on a bike.

These recent articles underscore the need to include cycling as an important component of any community development plans - including those for the Midway district. Fort Thomas has a strong cycling community and attracts cyclists from all over the area because of trails in Tower Park. Why not promote this with additional trails, sign-age, and marketing? Other thoughts include reducing Fort Thomas Ave to 2 lates, expanding the center berm with trees and adding bike lanes each direction. What are your ideas?

Ft Thomas Residents in 40 Under 40

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Cincinnati Business Courier, each your they compile a list of younger leaders in the Cincinnati area who are making an impact and will the next generation of leaders, named 40 Under 40.

The most recent listing was published this week and I noticed at least 2 Fort Thomas residents. Please congratulate Mark Exterkamp and John Williamson for making the list. There may also be others that I am not aware of so please if you see others from Ft Thomas please add them in the comments section.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Arts Grant Opportunity?

News was released today about the winners of the Kentucky Arts Partnership Grant. There were only a handful of winners from Northern Kentucky and only one based in Campbell county.

This is another grant opportunity for those involved in the arts in Fort Thomas to gain additional funding. A quick look at the Kentucky Arts Council website indicates a whole host of funding opportunities that could be explored.

With this in mind I wonder if the Village Players would consider teaming with the "Revive the Fort" efforts to revitalize the amphitheater to submit a joint arts grant for infrastructure and programming. In light of the recent article on fund raising efforts they are never going to get to their $1 million goal charging a couple hundred bucks for a booth at the festival. They are going to have to start looking for creative ways to find funding beyond the annual event.

Monday, June 30, 2008

An Interesting Article out of Lexington

For those of you familiar with Lexington's Chevy Chase neighborhood you will appreciate this article from the Lexington Herald Leader. This is a great example of the creativity of the neighborhood association in Lexington and the willingness on the part of the city government to grant this unique community some additional zoning regulations to help slow the onslaught of tear downs and the affects it has on the look and feel of the neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Smart Development

The Northern Kentucky Health Department recently held a symposium on "smart development" or as they titled it "livable communities". They have posted the presentations on their website (link above) and there is some good stuff on there. Feel free to look at the presentations yourself but I am providing a summary below:

1. Slide 21 of Economic Benefits Part A:
Smart Growth Principles (my short commentary on how Fort Thomas ranks with each of these)
• Provide a variety of transportation choices. (Does TANK service around town count?)
• Make development decisions predictable, fair, and costeffective. (While I do not have a lot of first-hand experience with the city I have heard this is not always predictable and fair)
• Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions. (While I have only lived in the city 3.5 years I have not seen the city actively solicit input from the various stakeholders)
• Mix land uses. (I would have to give Fort Thomas a good grade here. Although Fort Thomas is not exactly the most planned community it has evolved with a good mix - schools, parks, and dining choices mixed with housing)
• Take advantage of compact building design. (Older housing stock employed this technique - a high population density)
• Create a range of housing opportunities and choices. (A good mix of price points, sizes, and type)
• Create walkable neighborhoods. (See my past post on the walkability score)
• Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place. ( A solid A+ in this category)
• Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas. (Mixed grades on this one. Pocket parks on one hand but on the other hand development in areas that should be preserved - a la Memorial Pkwy)
• Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.

2. Part B - Examples of Urban design. Not a lot of applicability to Fort Thomas but nevertheless some unique examples

3. I would skip the entire slide series under "Who Buys Traditional Neighborhood Design?", the graphics and slides were tired and there was not a lot of good information provided.

4. By far the best grouping of slides comes from "Design, Finance, Marketing, & Construction" presentation:
  • Slide 5 - staggering statistics on land use
  • Slide 21 - sites surveys indicating 1/3 of buyers are looking for smart growth options
  • Slides 86 - 95 - compare smart design houses to conventional. Which looks more like a Fort Thomas home?
  • Slide 100 offers this quote "The place is the product but knowing how to market and brand
  • the project as a place means doing it differently."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Update on Newport Pavilion

This week's edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier gives an update on the Newport Pavilion shopping center off 471 and Memorial Pkwy. Despite the progress that has been made this spring the time line continues to slip for openings and Bear Creek Capital continues to be tight lipped regarding final tenants.

I placed multiple calls to Bear Creek and my calls were not returned but they have indicated for months now that interest has been high and an announcement on the final tenant mix is forthcoming.

Despite earlier predictions that the anchor tenants would be open by the holiday shopping season the new time line has the Kroger opening in late spring 2009 and Target after that. The spokesperson quoted in the Courier indicates that they lost 40 days in the spring due to rain and that is the culprit for the delayed time lines. They are continuing to talk with retailers about the final spots and clothing stores, electronics, and pets were all mentioned.

I just hope the softening economy doesn't get this project off to a slow start and vacant store fronts. Home Depot backed out of the project in the fall and that has probably left Bear Creek a little hesitant to announce any other tenants until things are a little more firm.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Get Fit with the Fort

The Northern Kentucky Health Department posted this blurb on their Current Events page:

This program brings together several organizations, including the Fort Thomas Recreation Department, Fort Thomas Business Association, Fort Thomas Fire Fighters Local 1928 and the Health Department, to recognize the importance of physical activity. The groups have joined efforts to reduce rates of obesity, overweight and inactivity in Fort Thomas by giving citizens tools to start or maintain a physically active lifestyle. The group has created a guide to walking, running and biking routes in Fort Thomas. These routes will take participants throughout the city and parks.

The pdf file provides great routes around the city and through Tower Park to help those interested in charting their mileage whether they are running, biking, or walking. It is a great resource that I will be linking to on the Blog roll to the right.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Feel Good Story

While I do not normally report on these types of stories, there was an article in this week's Recorder about the Fort Thomas Junior Football League that I had to mention.

Some of the highlights of this article include:
  • the league's rule that every child play at least 1.5 quarters per game
  • the coaching help of NFL greats Merril Hoge and Chris Collinsworth
  • the selflessness of past players who come back to help coach and teach lessons
  • the focus not only on building a rich football tradition but also on becoming good students and better people
I think the article really shows what our community is capable of when we focus on the important things such as passing on lessons and giving everyone a chance to grow and build character and skill.

Kudos to all mentioned in the article.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fort Thomas Participating in South Bank City Living

There is an upcoming event in Northern Kentucky with goal of promoting city living in the river cities. Here is a description from their website:

On Sunday, June 22 from 2 to 6 p.m. as an initiative of the Kentucky Heritage Council; Southbank Partners and Northern Kentucky Main Street will be sponsoring the Southbank Downtown Tour of Urban Living. The tour will showcase distinctive living opportunities and the many great amenities and walkable convenience of downtown living in eight great Northern Kentucky cities. On this self-guided tour attendees will be able to visit more than 20 downtown living options in Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Ft. Thomas, Ludlow, and Newport. There will be a diverse mix of property at multiple phases in development; from owner success stories to finished, for-sale and lease properties as well as properties available for renovation. Various price points will be offered within the exclusive downtown districts, which showcase unique floor plans and impressive interior design.

This doesn't appear to be a showcase event, rather an opportunity to match those interested in city living with available properties. The opportunities presented in Bellevue and Covington are probably the best looking properties. I applaud the decision to showcase the available properties in the Midway in an attempt to find good retail investors and those interested in rehabbing housing stock for owner occupied rather than rental units.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Recreational Trails Grants Available

There was an announcement today by the state of Kentucky that the Recreational Trails program awarded grants to 25 local governments and non-profits around the state. According to the program details,

"RTP grants may be used to provide assistance for acquisition of easements, development and/or maintenance of recreational trails and trailhead facilities for both motorized and non-motorized use. Examples of trail uses include hiking, bicycling, in-line skating, equestrian use, off-road motorcycling and all-terrain vehicle riding."

The Governer's Office for Local Development has a Recreational Trails program that is funded by the Federal Goverment's Highway Administration. The maximum grant amount is $100,000 and would surely be put to good use in Tower Park.

According to the announcement there were no Campbell, Boone, or Kenton County winners and I wonder if the city applied for these funds. How would you spend the funds on Tower Park if the city were to apply for the funds?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Retail?

A reader recently posted this comment - 'why the emphasis on retail?'

I thought it was a good question and deserved a response. First let me say that I don't believe that retail development should be the number one priority for any community. When I go down the list of things that I want in a community I would prioritize (and in no particular order) a strong public school system, safety (low crime rate), and location among other things ahead of retail. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is excellent I would rate Fort Thomas very high if not excellent on each of those other factors.

With that being said the one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the lack of basic retail services (I am not suggesting that a town the size of Fort Thomas have every service available at our finger tips) such as a gas station, grocery store or bakery. The recent announcement that BP is returning to the corner of Highland and Grand is helpful. So here are my reasons why retail is important:

1. Support local owners - this is a two-fold consideration. First I would much rather put dollars in the pockets of neighbors and fellow citizens for basic services rather than a large national chain that is publicly traded and partially owned by investors a world away. Secondly, more retail supports the existing businesses we have in Fort Thomas. Warner's is on an island of offices along the central business district - how much more likely are people to spend dinner time at Warners if there is an ice cream shop next door for dessert or a coffee shop next door that has live singer song-writers that people can enjoy after dinner? Current business owners need complimentary businesses to stay open past 6. The more foot traffic past a store front coming home from dinner or after a night of drinks with friends the more likely they are to stay open during that time.

2. Avoid driving to a neighboring community - I am not against supporting other Northern Kentucky or Greater Cincinnati communities but sometimes I want to keep my car parked in the driveway and would rather walk up the street for a bite to eat or a drink with friends. Having more common meeting places encourages community. There is also more tax support for the local community. How many tax dollars have the residents of Fort Thomas donated to the city of Newport in the past 5 years? These are real dollars that support schools, improved roads and sewers, and preserves green spaces.

3. Combat the perception (that's right perception) that retail can't survive in Fort Thomas

4. Demographic shifts demand more local retail - there are many forces that are working in our community including a shifting demographics with younger families moving into the area, higher gas prices and environmental concerns are driving more people to look closer to downtown (we are a safer alternative to moving downtown).

5. Foster a sense of pride in our community - Fort Thomas residents are very proud. Proud of Highlands football, our neighbors, our low crime rate, our location, our children's academic accomplishments, possibly of even being a cake eater. What do we have to be proud of when it comes to retail? Empty store fronts, lack of access to basic purchases, and empty parking spots don't exactly create a sense of a community that is alive.

6. Increasing housing prices - this leads me to the impact on home prices. Fort Thomas is a beautiful place and with or without retail it is an attractive community but in our era of convenience we lose out to surrounding communities because of the lack of the most basic of retail. Real estate is a business of supply and demand and there are many factors that drive demand for housing in Fort Thomas that have already been mentioned - lets add retail as another component that makes Fort Thomas an attractive place to live.

In closing I wanted to offer one more perspective. The following is a segment of the Cincinnati Gentleman Magazine where Steve Leeper (read the second page), of 3CDC in Cincinnati, provides an impassioned plea for a change in perception of downtown. Cincinnati has its own issues and by no means am I implying that we are similar and the focus of Steve's point is safety but many of the same points about perception and creating a well-rounded community apply to this discussion.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Growing Pains Article from Cincinnati Business Courier

This weekend's edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier has a front page story called 'Growing Pains' that focuses specifically on Hyde Park and Mount Lookout's efforts to restrict creative development in an older community with little to no available land for new housing stock.

This is a problem that is all too familiar for Fort Thomas residents. The specific issue that the article drew attention to included buying an older home with a depressed value then tearing that house down, subdividing and then building two larger homes and two smaller plots of land. In many cases this included mis-matched setbacks than the neighbors creating an odd appearance on the street that doesn't match the historical appearance of the neighborhood.

An interesting quote from the article really hit the heart of the discussion: "How does a city preserve historic, signature communities while also providing attractive new places for people to live."

I think the answer for Fort Thomas and for these other communities include using their other assets that make it such an attractive community in the first place. This includes great schools, low crime, and the community feel that sets them apart from newer communities where neighbors drive into their garages not to be seen or heard from until the morning commute.

I have heard from more and more residents that are really concerned that Fort Thomas is losing the battle against development and subsequently losing the charm that attracted them in the first place. They are not only concerned about the practice of wedging homes into corners on a cul-de-sac but also larger developments like Fisher's Villa Grande, or the condos at the country club. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Deer Hunting Update

At the council meeting on Monday a report was issued by Don Martin reviewing the recent deer hunt (article overview in the Enquirer). The report is published on the Fort Thomas city website but to save you some time I have provided some highlights below (with a little commentary).

Some notes:
1. In 2006 there were 13 deer-related vehicle accidents – 12.1% higher than the five year average. In 2007 there were 11 deerrelated vehicle accidents – 5.2% lower than the five year average. The hunt started on December 27th so I am not sure why we had the program if in '07 the incidences of vehicle accidents (the primary reason given for the hunt) was below the 5 year average.

2. Fifty-seven individuals spoke at the meeting September 27th meeting where the program was reviewed. Of the 57 who spoke, 9 (15.8%) spoke in favor of the program as-written, 7 (12.3%) were supportive of a deer management program but did not want the police to be utilized, 14 (24.6%) were supportive of a deer management program but preferred to focus on non-lethal options, 25 (43.9%) were opposed to a deer management program.

3. Here is the list of reported deer killings during the nearly one month program and associated google map of the reported killings:
Crowell Avenue 1
Lester Lane 2
N. Route 8 22
Walden Lane 1
Crown Court 1
Midway Court 1
Ridgeway Avenue 2
Forest Avenue 1
Chesapeake Avenue 1
Greenwood Avenue 1
Glenway Avenue 1
Tower Hill Road 1
Burnett Ridge 2
Highview Drive 5

4. Four reported deer killings occurred on plots of land less than 2 acres in measurement. This could have been a small lot or a very big lot since this category is so broad.

5. Page 6 contains a list of reported (17) and confirmed (4) violations to the program. Some are alarming.

6. The determining factor for determining the effectiveness of the program will be the number
of deer-related vehicle accidents. Because this program was in place during the
2007/2008 hunting season, the accident numbers cannot be determined until after
December 2008.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Development newsletters

I ran across a development newsletter the other day from Clemson, SC. This appears to be the trend among small cities and communities trying to attract retail to their communities. This brings up a great point about the efforts that Fort Thomas could employ.

Many of you may be thinking but Clemson, SC must have many more resources and residents than Fort Thomas so by way of comparison here are the statistics.

  1. Clemson's population is 12,000 - Fort Thomas' population is 16,000
  2. Clemson University is located there which gives it a boost for retailers but is comparable to Fort Thomas given its proximity to NKU in neighboring Highland Heights.
  3. If you take a broader view - Clemson has a trade area of 88,000, the same population that Campbell County had in 2000.
While only a newsletter this is the type of effort that I would expect from Fort Thomas in order to bring the basic retail that our residents expect for an improved quality of life. Newsletters and other types of efforts not only communicate with investors about opportunities for retail investment but also allow communities to communicate to residents about development in town.

Street Calming in Fort Thomas?

Kevin Lemaster, the blogger over at Building Cincinnati has a recent post on a street calming program in Cincinnati. If you are like me you are probably asking 'what is street calming' and apparently it is a nice term for putting speed bumps in roads to protect safety. Apparently the city of Cincinnati had a program in the 90's to identify and deploy speed humps on streets around the city based on safety concerns and response from the community.

According to the article 41 streets in Cincinnati are being considered which brings up the question of which streets would be under consideration in Fort Thomas? Just because the speed limits on most streets in Fort Thomas are 25 doesn't mean people are actually driving at that speed. I live on Lumley and it is not uncommon to see people speed by at 35 or 40 mph with small children playing in the yards. It is a common complaint not just from my neighbors but others I talk with around town. What do you think - any streets candidates for a calming program?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Newport / Fort Thomas Subsidizing Ohio Drivers?

There is a post from Kevin LeMaster's blog, Building Cincinnati, about a public meeting tomorrow night in Cold Spring for citizens concerned about the I-471 corridor study. There is concern that widening to four lanes, while possibly needed, is a subsidy for Ohio commuters driving to and from the east side while possibly hurting the values of homes in the corridor.

I do wish they would complete the Eastern Corridor. I understand the concerns around the Little Miami but the constant delay hurts the environment more as a result of all the East-siders driving an extra 5-10 miles each way each day. My daily commute is from Fort Thomas to Amelia and I get to watch as the backups build in the opposite direction.

Be sure to attend if you are as passionate about these proposed changes as those in the East Row Historic District.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hillside Development

A meeting is being held tonight in Fort Wright to discuss hillside development in Northern Kentucky. The meeting is being facilitated by a group of students from UK.

Hillside development has been in the news a lot lately such as a move to restrict hillside development in Covington including a 90 day moratorium. A few hillside developments come to mind in and around Fort Thomas. The first is the shopping center in the former Cote Brilliante neighborhood and the job that Bear Creek will have to do to keep the hillside from sliding. The second is the in-fill along the southwest side of Memorial Pkwy. A third project is the condos on current Highlands Country Club land.

This begs the question about how this could impact development in Fort Thomas. Does anyone know the current restrictions in Fort Thomas? What are you thoughts about hillside development in Fort Thomas?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Downtown Revitalization

I recently came across an article by 'Solutions for America' on downtown revitalization. I am not fully aware of all the politics of this organization but they make some great points in the article about revitalization. While most of the article is focused on big city downtowns many of the points that are made are applicable to small towns.

The article starts with the following quote that is very applicable to Fort Thomas:
"research shows that a healthy and vibrant downtown boosts the economic health and quality of life in a community. Specifically, it creates jobs, incubates small businesses, reduces sprawl, protects property values, and increases the community’s options for goods and services. A healthy downtown is a symbol of community pride and history."

For purposes of analysis as it relates to Fort Thomas I will focus my thoughts on the Midway district but a similar analysis could be interesting in regards to the central business district and Inverness. The report mentions a few strategies that appear to be successful across a wide array of communities and studies including:
  1. Aim for a multi-functional downtown - The Midway borders some great assets including Tower Park and the closed to the public reservoir. I think a vision for Midway should include these assets if we are going to make the area successful. In the history of the Midway district it was the Army base that is now our public park that provided a market for retail to begin with. Rather than focusing just on facades or parking we need to pay attention to how the community uses the assets around the retail district and how all assets work together.
  2. Create partnerships - the report says "Downtown revitalization encompasses a wide range of activities. Therefore, it requires the cooperation of local government, chambers of commerce, the private sectors, civic organizations, and other key institutions." While I have not researched the issue I wonder if the city would be able to work with the water district to still allow walkers, runners, & roller-bladers to enjoy the walkway around the reservoirs. That is just one example where cooperation with other area agencies could allow the Midway to be more than what we currently have on the drawing board.
  3. Focus on developing the unique qualities of downtown - the work of the Renaissance Board has definitely been a big help in preserving the architecture and character of the district and the current plan by council to improve the streetscape including burying the utilities and improving the sidewalks will go a long way towards success in this area.
  4. Maintain and develop genuine public spaces - this is one area that I think we have fallen far short on in the Midway. The article lists wide sidewalks as an option and I think this is key for outdoor seating and subsequently for attracting additional restaurants. For anyone that has visited Europe a great feature in many public parks are park tables with chess boards built into them -this is the type of concept that I think would go over great being so close to the VA Hospital and Tower Park.
  5. Get local governments involved - this point focuses on the council's role in making a favorable environment for a renewed community. This includes zoning and support with historical designation.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Home Depot out at Newport Pavilion

The Cincinnati Business Courier reported in their Friday edition of the paper that Home Depot has abandoned one of the three anchor tenant spots in the Newport Pavilion shopping center off 471 between Grand & Memorial. The other two tenants, Target and Kroger, are still committed and the developers Bear Creek Capital are now planning to break the third anchor into three smaller anchor tenants including a sporting goods retailer - which I assume is Dick's.

The article also mentions that as many as 6 restaurants could be slated for the development. How do you feel this will impact development efforts in Fort Thomas? Personally, I don't think it will have much of an impact. Targets that should be sought to locate in our business districts should not be competing with chain fast casual dining restaurants or mega discounters like Target. I believe there is a good niche that is still available to us with the right planning and vision that our residents can still be proud of.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Traffic Counts in Fort Thomas Business Areas

A reader's comment on my previous post made a great point about traffic counts and its impact on the ability to attract retail. As a result I did a little digging and came up with the following information as it relates to traffic counts in Fort Thomas (I believe these numbers are vehicles per day):

Fort Thomas Ave:
1. near Inverness at Waterworks - 3,991
2. at Highlands Middle School - 5,176
3. near the central business district at Chalfonte - 6,727
4. Midway at Tower Pl - 7,053
5. Intersection @ 445 (intersection at old Huff & Invisible Fence) - 11,092

By way of comparison - Fairfield Ave in Bellevue / Dayton:
1. between Walnut and O'fallen 12,650
2. between McKinley & Dayton 9,672

The traffic counts for Milford were a little more difficult to find as the Ohio site was not nearly as user friendly as the Kentucky site. However, it did appear that the traffic counts on US-50 (Main Street) were between 11,000 and 16,000. There is no doubt that vehicle traffic is important in attracting retail but the businesses still have to depend on local residents for support.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Story About Milford Renaissance

The Enquirer has published another article on Milford's development. While there is not a lot of new ground covered in this article there are a few items that are of interest for Fort Thomas.

Before I jump into those points I want to say that it was just 6 or 7 years ago that I would ride my bike from a friends house through downtown Milford on my way to the start of the bike trail. I remember a conversation I had with this friend about how there was so much promise but that it was an extremely dead area. The attitude within the community was that retail could not survive in the downtown area - a very similar refrain heard in Fort Thomas.

Some interesting points about the resurgence:
  1. Most everyone seemed to credit the presence of restaurants for the life that has been breathed into the town
  2. Also credited was the location of Milford. This includes its proximity to neighboring communities to draw from including Indian Hill. But possibly more important is the natural location near a river and the bike trail. This could be the same benefit that Tower Park could bring to a re-energized Midway district.
  3. The number of unique businesses that are located in Milford. This includes a toy train store and a doggy bistro. It appeared to be unanimous among merchants that they would not dream of putting their store in a mall. Fort Thomas must focus on these same types of businesses to be successful.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fort Thomas Conservancy Forming

A group of citizens are forming a Fort Thomas Conservancy with the stated mission of creating 'a grassroots, nonprofit organization charged with promotion of the protection and preservation of natural areas and green space, along with the responsible management of wildlife and the development of park amenities and trails for the enjoyment of nature within the City of Fort Thomas, Kentucky.'

Some of the actions being considered by the group include:
  • enlisting the help of the Kentucky Nature Conservancy and the Hillside Trust along with State and Federal agencies (Land and Water Conservation funds, etc.) to acquire as much of this undeveloped land as is possible.
  • encourage the city government to oversee zoning and development to conform to community standards
  • advocate to the city government for responsible management of the city’s wildlife
  • advocate for the development of park amenities and trails within the city.
While the organizers are in the early phases of development they have been successful in mobilizing support. Plans include the further development of a website, memberships, and further organization. This is yet another example of grassroots mobilization around various ideas about the direction of the city.

What do you think about the stated goals listed by the group? Do you think the priorities are right for the community? What would you propose in each of these areas?"

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Candidates For City Council

As has been widely reported in the area media (Cincinnati Enquirer, Pat Crowley Blog) there was a large amount of interest in the local council races. The community recorder plans to have a brief summary of each of the candidates in their upcoming issue. Many of you will see that I have also thrown my hat in the ring. I will try to avoid using this site as a mouthpiece for the campaign (I have my campaign site for that), but lets admit it - this site has given me a bit of a soap box for some time. I will continue to stick to the developments in the community that I think are important, provide some brief editorial comments, and open it up for your thoughts.

Much has been made of the role the recent deer hunting ordinance has played in everyone's decision to run and much will continue to be made of its role but from my perspective it will not be a one issue race. Many people have indicated to me that they welcome some new faces on council - how do you feel?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bank of Kentucky Buys the Nevada Building

Today the Nevada building sold at auction to the Bank of Kentucky. While I am not sure the full motivations of the Bank of Kentucky, the purchase appears to be speculative. According to the article in the Enquirer the bank felt that it can sell for higher than $240,000 (the price paid) and feels there is interest at the higher price. Despite this, it appears there are no solid buyers the bank has lined up for the property.

There were multiple bidders for the property and I know at least one had a strong vision for the property - including the street-front retail space. I hope that a buyer is found with a solid vision for the property that fits with the needs of the community. I am hopeful the bank is patient to look for the right owner and not just jump at the quickest offer that provides a return.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Madeira Development Plan

According to our friends over at Building Cincinnati, another area community is working hard to develop the same type of community and feel that the residents of Fort Thomas desire.

Some highlights from the article include:
  1. Madeira plans to use Camargo road as the main gateway for the town and are focusing their efforts on development along that road.
  2. According to the article one of the primary goals of the session is to, "clarify the zoning code to make the corridor more attractive to developers." I am sure this doesn't mean they are going to tear down the zoning but rather look for strategic ways to make it easier to build businesses along this planned gateway.
  3. "The study will also address under performing structures, traffic flow along the road, and how to attract more pedestrian activity." This indicates a fair amount of foresight in that they are looking property by property to see how it fits into their vision.
  4. Lastly, it is interesting to note the format of the workshop where residents and business owners would break into small groups to create the plan.
It will be interesting to follow Madeira's progress as they put together this plan - I believe this can be a model for how Fort Thomas can create a vision for retail and the various business districts that go beyond facades.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gallery Zaum

I know this is old news but I wanted to at least comment on it before it was too distant a memory, but a few months ago we lost a good business along the central business district to Newport and their Monmouth business district - Gallery Zaum.

I spoke with the owner to better understand why they made the move - not to grind an axe but to help us better craft a vision for attracting and retaining the retail that is currently in town. The primary reason Gallery Zaum left was because they wanted to own their own building where they could have control over the facilities and house another business his partner runs in the same facilities.

I wanted to be sure I cleared the air on the potential that the community was not supporting the business or that it couldn't survive in Fort Thomas. I believe this is the general perception the community gets when they see a store front turn over and is one of the biggest challenges to rallying the community around attracting more retail to the area.

We also discussed the city's role in supporting the business while they were here and he seemed indifferent. They clearly didn't go out of their way to make it easier to do business and he indicated the city was somewhat difficult to work with regarding things like sign-age. Lastly, he said it appeared the city just lacked a vision for what they wanted retail to become in Fort Thomas. Newport had a very clear vision for what types of retail they wanted along Monmouth Street and the type of vibrancy they desired. While this was the determinant it was just another notch on the scorecard for moving to that location.

I think the lesson we can take away from this are two of the handful of key ingredients to attracting and retaining retail. 1. The lack of vision that we have in Fort Thomas for what we want our retail districts to have and what complimentary businesses we want to attract to the particular retail districts. 2. Reducing barriers to opening retail and providing an environment for retail to thrive.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Big Crowd Tonight at Council

A large crowd showed up tonight at the City Council meeting. I would estimate the crowd to be about 100. After listening to about 40 minutes of commentary it was clear that about 90% of the crowd was against the current ordinance allowing deer hunting in the city. Of the 10% that were not there to oppose the ordinance they too were not in favor but were there to support the need to control the deer population.

Channel 9 and Channel 12 had cameras and it appeared that a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer was there as well. Two officers were on hand to keep order but were really not needed. Many of those there were very emotional about what they saw as a hastily crafted ordinance that is doing more to endanger the public than avoid a nuisance.

Of the more interesting things of the evening I spoke with an officer who indicated he was just happy he didn't have to shoot the deer. It really did appear that no one outside of the 6 decision makers at the front of the room were interested in continuing with the hunt. It will be interesting to see what happens now.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Can a Coffee Shop Thrive in the Midway?

As a result of a recent post about investors looking at opening a gourmet coffee shop in the Midway district a question that I have pondered is the competitiveness of this new shop compared to Starbucks. Will enough morning coffee drinkers choose a new shop on the way to work over Starbucks?

Here is a recent article I ran across about the competitiveness of small local coffee shops that compete head to head (in many cases right next door to) a Starbucks. There doesn't appear to be a lot of real research, mostly anecdotal evidence that they can in fact thrive. The article mentions various reasons including the anti-big corporate crowd but there were two reasons I found particularly interesting.

  1. The lines were too long and / or prices too high for many consumers. This one is interesting because as anyone who has visited our Fort Thomas Starbucks between 6:30 and 8 am will know there can be long lines from time to time. So long in fact that I have gone in and turned right back around and left at a rate of about once per month. One of the baristas told me once that this store is, if not the most, one of the busiest stores in the entire Cincinnati metro area from a revenue stand point. There are some interesting quotes in the article from an executive at Seattle's Best, a chain of coffee stores mostly on the west coast.
  2. Starbucks tends to create more caffeine addicts and creates a bigger "pie" rather than monopolizes the current size of the market in a given geography. I think the same can be true for Fort Thomas. Ciani's did a great business on Fort Thomas Avenue with a closer location than the Midway has.

I think the net effect is that the Fort Thomas market can take another coffee shop and judging by the response to the survey on this blog so far it is the over-whelming favorite to add to the retail scene.

Also, I am posting a link from another Cincinnati area blog that recently profiled a new coffee shop in Covington that my wife and I visited a few weeks ago - Pike Street Press. It has a great atmosphere and should be a great place to pick up some ideas for a new coffee shop in the Midway.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Nevada Building Sale Rescheduled

The sale of the Nevada building (see history of the building in a previous post here) has been rescheduled for January 29th at 10am at the Newport Courthouse. Hopefully the sale will complete this time. This is an important property for the revitalization of the Midway district. The building has good parking in the back, views of the reservoir, sits right next to the pub, has great visibility from the street and intersection. If you know anyone interested in bringing retail to the two store fronts on the building and possibly renovating the apartments into condos please let them know about this opportunity.