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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fort Thomas Political Update

Fresh off some big national headlines related to politics that includes the passage of a giant health care bill and the talk of mid-term elections perhaps it is time to start talking about some local politics and prepare for a plethora of yard signs like the ones above from a previous Virginia state race.

There really does not appear to be the same type of hard issues facing the city this year as there was 2 years ago.  Have we grown complacent or are we really that satisfied with where the city is headed?  In addition to the city council race again we also have the mayoral race taking place again which has the potential of firing up the election locally.

With deadline for candidate filings just 3 short weeks away (Jan 23rd) I thought I would check in to see who if any have filed for the local races.  A quick call to the Campbell County Courthouse indicates that no local Fort Thomas candidates have filed for any races.  Is anyone aware of any new challengers for council or for mayor?

Some updates to local news that could provide some issues for candidates to seize (assuming that it is a competitive race) include:

1. Rossford Park - a little shocked at the price tag.  While the plan has been approved financing has not been decided.  The plan will likely still be 2 - 3 years or more before the vision becomes a reality.  Given that fact that it has been at least a year converting the tennis courts in Highland Park to volleyball courts and it is still not completed or the time it has taken to get the amphitheater fill dirt leveled out I am guessing it will be some time to see the full plan realized.

2. Counting the Deer Population - $8,000 seems like a small price to pay to get a baseline of the deer population.  I had advocated this approach 2 years ago when the deer hunt was an issue.  The outrage seems to have subsided now but this should be at least a good factual data point to evaluate as decisions about the hunt and how to control the deer population re-emerge at the end of 2010 when the initial plan expires.

Also, there was a recent article on where the County Clerk indicates that there will be paper ballots in the 2010 election cycle instead of voting machines.  This feels like a step back to me but the reason given was to speed up voting.  I just hope it doesn't create quality problems in the vote count.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

NYE in Fort Thomas

Hope everyone had a great Christmas. Hopefully yours was spent among friends and family.

Just wondering if anyone knew of local businesses throwing New Year's Eve special shindigs? A quick, Google, Facebook, Twitter search allowed me to find some (listed below).

Personally, I can't think of a better way to celebrate NYE than in Fort Thomas: not a far drive = not having to deal with amateur hour on the roads.

Vito's Cafe

Obviously they are touting a NYE Gala. Here's a PDF they created to promote it. Sounds awesome.

The Olde Fort Pub

Found a Face Book page promoting their event. It obviously has a theme: A Night to Remember, New Year's Eve Prom.

A click of The Midway Cafe and 915 Pub and Grill showed that their events pages hadn't been updated in a while. Can anyone add any insight?

If you're planning an evening in, don't forget about Sarelli's Cafe and Catering .

Most importantly, whatever you do, have a safe and happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fort Thomas Real Estate Update

As the snow and cold temperatures descend on the Ohio Valley this is a bit of a dead time for the real estate market.  However since my last post on the Fort Thomas real estate scene the first housing stimulus tax credit expired and was replaced with an extension of the first for 1st time home buyers and extended to all homeowners. 

Many national sales trends have been positive the past few months and Fort Thomas is no exception.  Here is a run down on the latest:
  • 14 sales in the month of November
  • 89 active listings at the end of November
  • The average home has spent 91 days on the market which is down a bit from previous months.  I am assuming this is because a couple of homes have moved or been taken off the market that had been on the market for a long time
One sore spot in the numbers is the average price on Zillow has been down the past two months in a row registering 0.7% decrease in October but about even to this point last year.  Overall home values have not suffered a lot but lets hope we are not at the top of a trend rather at the bottom and about to work our way up.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Newport Pavilion has their blueprint for success - What is ours?

Growing up in Fort Thomas, you just get used to driving to other cities to run errands or to be entertained. Perhaps that is part of the reason why all the excitement surrounds the Newport Pavilion.

Don't get me wrong, I'm excited as anyone about the prospects of dining at Chick-Fil-A or shopping at Target , but even with the ingrained routines of Ft. Thomas citizens burning tire tracks down Grand Ave, 471 and 275, I wish Fort Thomas would or could attract and retain businesses.

I was going to try and come up with a formula for success for future entrepreneurs wanting to throw their capitalistic hat in the Fort Thomas ring. I had about three bullet points before I realized I was kidding myself. So instead I thought I'd ask a Ft. Thomas business owner who's actually had a successful business for 33 years: Bob Arnzen, owner of the Olde Fort Pub.

"We try to treat all of our customers with appreciation and respect and listen to what they say." Arnzen said. "We are lucky to have good employees who care and know how to make everyone feel welcome."

I personally know this to be true. Michael and Annie, classmates of mine at Highlands (along with Nate and Megan Arnzen), work there (or have worked there) and quite literally make it a family atmosphere which is very difficult to fake.

Bob let me off the hook and gave me better bullet points that's allowed his business to thrive:

1 - Consistency
2 - Attention to detail
3 - A friendly and safe atmosphere
4 - Close to home for Fort Thomas residents

Arnzen circled around what was ultimately going to be my main point of what I think makes a successful Fort Thomas business - a family atmosphere.

Our community is very close knit. Generations grow up here. Kids come back here to start families. Traditions thrive. Residents are generally excited about new businesses that start here and are very willing to give them every opportunity to win them over. Without the family atmosphere, they just seem to fade.

It is a comforting feeling to walk into a family owned and operated business that has successfully welcomed patrons by their name for over three decades. Arnzen recounted that Woody Harrelson (from Cheers) used to come to The Pub in the early 80s. Arnzen gets it: "We were always glad they (the Fort Thomas residents) came."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fort Thomas on Etsy

Don't know what Etsy is?  You should - it is the eBay for local artists.  Many believe we are about to come out of an era in the US where big box retail has ruled the day and see a renaissance in main street boutique stores.  Etsy has gone a long way in fueling this resurgence.

There are a few unique local artists hocking their wares on Etsy and I thought I would bring it to your attention. Etsy has a feature that allows you to search your local merchants called Shop Local that indicates the following Fort Thomas Etsy artists creating a strong following:

Font Supply - a great concept of selling unique fonts for copywritting.  They have a great selection and offer digital downloads for a small price.
Itty Bitties - creates small clay miniatures with a very strong following.  Has carved out a very unique niche of tiny characatures.
Under the Sun - eclectic mix of vintage goods for the home
Pink Pineapples - advertises wearable art (jewelry & knitting) with 9 listings

Is there a way to promote these local artists as a component of a retail strategy?  In the past few years there have been hosted art shows at the mess hall but what if we used an open store front in the Midway to support these local artists or provided free space at the Earth Mother Market when it reopens in May?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Collinsworth to the Irish

A big CONGRATS to Highlands senior all-purpose stud, Austin Collinsworth , who ended his recruiting process yesterday when he committed to newly appointed Notre Dame head coach and former UC coach, Brian Kelly.

Collinsworth had been recruited by Kelly at UC and was also recruited by Kentucky, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Louisville.

Kelly said that Collinsworth will line up as the slot receiver for the Irish. According to Dale Mueller, Austin will be the first Highlands grad to play at Notre Dame.

Although my fanhood wishes he'd stay in state so I could watch him at UK, I think he'll be great at Notre Dame. And at least he didn't go to little brother, Louisville.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's Next for the Newport Pavilion?

So Kroger made a big splash at the Newport Pavilion with their grand opening last week and the question that may arise is 'what's next for the Pavilion?'  The following represent some significant challenges for the development:
  1. The main problem with tenants and Newport is the length of the construction and delays.  You may have read of past commitments from retailers like Logan's Roadhouse which had a signed lease but  terminated it because of an out clause for delays ( it didn't hurt that they pulled back on their expansion plans).  Had the site been completed sooner, they may not have had the right to terminate.  Fifth Third also had a signed lease and they terminated. 
  2. This leads into the next big problem for the site - the current economy.  Best Buy for instance has shown interest in the site but the glut of available sites and buildings is depressing rents.  Instead of the $13/ square foot that Newport may want for a retailer like Best Buy the retailer is finding deals in the $8/ square foot range and not necessarily in the Cincinnati area. The Newport site has to not only compete with sites in the Cincinnati area but across the US.  If a retailer limits its expansion plans to 20 locations in 2010 they are going to find the best deals in under served markets regardless of where they are.
  3. The last and probably least important issue are the issues with the Kenwood site.  These have been well chronicled and the final chapter has yet to be written.  Undoubtadly this has to be yet another detracter.  The last thing any retailer wants to consider is a store fully stocked and not able to serve customers because of maintenance or site issues.
Additionally, the earliest Target could be opened is October.  The generally only open in March, June, or October and with the lead time for a June opening past the window on October is closing as well.  If we don't see the building rising soon this could be more clouds gathering on the horizon.

With all that being said there is a bit of a silver lining and that is the location and incredible traffic that Kroger has generated.  The old real estate mantra is 'location, location, location' and this site has it in bunches.  I hear it from a local retail consultant that retailer interest in the site is still strong and hopefully with completed site infrastructure and a recovering econcomy retailers start hopping on board.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Craziness from Ft. Thomas Kroger's

Just wanted to add something random to Darrin's post from earlier regarding the insanity that is Newport's new jewel, "The Ft. Thomas Krogers." ***

Nothing really more can be said, especially if you were brave enough to part the sea of people for those free samples of Boar's Head turkey with the pretzel toothpick (and don't pretend like you didn't partake) - it was nuts.

I went twice this weekend. Once at about 3:00 on Friday and again after the Bengals game on Sunday for groceries.

I was impressed. I was even more impressed that with all that was going on in the store, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus were hanging out in the furniture area and not a person was paying attention to them. I think there was just too much to see.

Anyway, before I go any further in my postings, allow myself to introduce... myself. Mark Collier, born and raised in Fort Thomas. Graduated from Highlands in 2001 and UK in 2005.

I'll leave it at that for now. I hope I can add to your Fort Thomas Matters experience. Now go get to the Fort Thomas Krogers *** and hang out with Santa Claus. I think he's lonely.

*** Just wanted to point out that there is no "s" on the end of Kroger. I have been called out repeatedly by people in Lexington and Louisville for doing this. Must be a Fort Thomas thing.

Random Thoughts & News

 First thing, the insanity at Kroger is unbelievable.  Here are my observations from the first weekend:
  1. The crowds have to subside sometime right?  This has to be just curious people and not everyone from the Remke, Bellevue Kroger, and other shopping options.
  2. It is great to have fresh sushi within a few short minutes of our house
  3. I know it is in the Newport Pavilion but can we call it the Fort Thomas Kroger?
  4. It must be nice for the people who live on Chesapeake Ave to have their shortcut back
  5. Even though ground has not been broken on the Target there is still hope for an opening in 2010.  There was a great article on Target in BusinessWeek and one nugget from that article is that they can tear down and rebuild a store in less than 9 months.  Of course they have never built with Bear Creek before.  Here is to hoping.
In addition to the Kroger related news -some additional notes from around Fort Thomas:
  1. Continuing the trend of offices opening in store fronts there is a new accounting office at the corner of Grand and Highland in the small building next to Cobblestone Cafe.  They replace Interior Design Consultants in that spot who is latest loss to the Bellevue Fairfield Avenue business district.
  2. The Fort Thomas firefighters held their annual MDA fundraising event this weekend at the 915 (who continues to be an amazing sponsor) and continued to raise money for this wonderful cause.  They do not yet have pictures or results posted but you can see how much fun was had at last year's event.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Annexed Land Behind Mildred Dean Elementary

The city of Newport outmenouvered Fort Thomas yesterday with news of the annexation of unincorporated land behind Mildred Dean Elementary and adjacent to St Elizabeth Hospital.  This is important because Mildred Dean will be closing soon and it opens up development possibilities. 

Who, you might ask, would be interested in that real estate?  Afterall it has poor visibility and is land locked.  The only logical choice is an expansion of St Elizabeth in the future or related medical offices.  With new (and better) ownership there is a real possibility for a more focused facility on the east side of Northern Kentucky or more medical offices to better serve the hospital than the older facilities up and across Grand from the hospital. 

Who ends up with this increased tax revenue base?  Not Fort Thomas - Newport does because they have been much more focused on building a better community.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Highlands Adds to Successes & Collinsworth Snubbed

On the day Austin Collinsworth was not even nominated for Mr Football (apparently not one of the 16 best players in the state according to state media) he scored 3 rushing touchdowns in the first half to give Highlands a big early boost towards their third straight state tittle.

Clearly Highlands High School has had some amazing success in the past few years and even this decade, as noted by the Enquirer.  Three straight championships and five this decade is a tremendous accomplishment - not to mention a second round draft pick in the NFL draft this past year.  But how about this Highlands team?  This has to be the greatest team this decade and maybe longer.  Lets look at the accomplishments:
  • Undefeated season - perfect 15 - 0
  • National recognition - now 6th in the USAToday rankings, 10th by Rivals, and 11th by ESPN and soon to go higher after this latest championship
  • More sure fire division 1 talent
The question is... Is this the best Highlands team of recent history?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kroger Invitation & Grand Opening Specials

I received an invitation today in the mail for the Kroger Marketplace Grand Opening on December 10th.  Many of you as Kroger Plus members may have received the same mailing today.  Inside the package included 10% off orders of $50 or more until January 10th.  In addition to this valuable savings it included the following additional grand opening specials:
  1. Free $10 Kroger Gift Card to the first 300 customers at the 7am opening
  2. Entry Forms for drawings in the following areas:
    • Fred Meyer Jewelers - 1/5 ct diamond
    • Toys - $100 Toy shopping spree
    • Pharmacy - $20 1st transferred prescription, $30 for second, & $50 for third
    • Kitchen Place - drawing for $100 in merchandise
    • Deli - drawing for $150 in Boars Head products
    • Sushi - drawing for $65 sushi platter
    • Produce - drawing for $50 fruit and vegetable tray
    • Floral - drawing for $100 in fresh floral arrangements
    • Home Fashion - drawing for $200 in home decor
    • Bed & Bath - drawing for $200 in merchandise
    • Liquor Store - drawing for Spiegelau basket
    • Murray's Cheese Shoppe - drawing for cheese party tray
    • Chef Prepared - drawing for $500 chef catered party
    • Meat Department - drawing for $150 in prime steaks & $100 in fresh seafood
    Swing by in one week for some amazing specials

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Third Places in Fort Thomas

    I referenced in a recent blog birthday post about Starbucks being one of the only good public gathering spots in Fort Thomas.  Shortly after that post I stumbled upon the concept of 'third places' in a recent article on Soapbox Media in reference to a book entitled Retrofitting Suburbia.

    By way of background, wikipedia provides the following definition of third places:
    The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

    Fort Thomas has a dearth of third places, lets look at each of the traditional areas where third places happen in most communities and Fort Thomas' use of those buildings or institutions:

    Churches - Fort Thomas churches are generally only used on Sundays and Wednesday evenings.  Traditional church settings finds parishioners gathering for a service and quickly exiting the facility once the service is over at which point the facility is locked and not used until the next service.  The Highland United Methodist Church with its café open to the High School and surrounding community has worked hard to make it more of a third place but the traditional church building design doesn't lend itself to creating a third place.  Crossroads in Oakley is a great example of a church creating a third place.  They offer free wi-fi, coffee and soda, lots of comfortable gathering places and play areas for moms with busy kids as a way of serving the community.

    Offices - The offices that do exist in Fort Thomas are mostly single unit offices such as banks, insurance agencies, or health related that are not only not able to share their space to the community but federal regulations require them to keep strict security.  Has anyone ever tried to find a conference room to rent in Fort Thomas?  It is impossible - the closest opportunity is the Library and they have restrictions on use. 

    Library - Provides a good opportunity for moms with small children to engage them in learning but not building the library in the center of town and excluding good common areas limit its ability to serve as a third place.

    Parks - Tower Park can serve this purpose when the weather is nice.  Any warm spring or summer day finds large groups of parents and children playing and talking at the playgrounds - but this is not really an option 5 months of the year.  Also the pocket park and clock tower between Miller and Lumley has become that (again only in the summer time).

    Schools - Highlands High School on Friday nights in the fall is a third place but otherwise unless you are a student in an activity this is not much of a third place.

    Theatres / Museums - this is more appropriate in larger urban areas but some facilities do exist including the Village Players and the amphitheater in Tower Park.  I have written at length about what I think needs to happen with the amphitheater and I hope to see some of those changes with the new facilities.  The Village Players has real potential and I may focus on them in a future post.

    Community Center - The YMCA is the closest thing to a community center in Fort Thomas.  Even though membership is required the great thing about the Y is that they will not turn anyone away because of financial limitations.  The biggest problem with the YMCA as a true third place is that they are terribly space constrained.  They have 1 meeting room which can be reserved but large lobbies or gathering places are non-existent in this older, dated building.

    City Hall - 2 tiny meeting rooms in addition to the council chambers which are really just not that practical for much of anything.  Again older, dated facilities not built for general gathering and socialization.

    Buildings that could become a great third place in Fort Thomas include:
    1. Stables building in Tower Park - the market had a great first couple months but it takes time and continued progressive thinking about how to use the historical building
    2. Nevada building - with the right retail tenant that entire building is big enough to be a third place, lets hope there is enough vision to make that viable
    3. Village Players theater building - location and size make this an attractive building but it needs to find the right use.  The shows are a good start and hosting the Fort Thomas Woman's Club helps but it feels exclusive - the community needs to feel invited for a building or institution to become a real third place.
    4. Mess Hall - only used currently for rented events such as weddings or fund raisers.  How amazing could this building be if it were open to the public from 7am to 9pm with free wi-fi, a café, reservable conference rooms, and outdoor patios.  My recent post on the Northern Kentucky Encyclopedia illustrates its important role in community building in the past as it served as an ice skating rink.
    Any other thoughts? I would love to hear your feedback.