Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fort Thomas Schools Update - Tennis & Funding Formulas


It is likely that the state will complete passage of a new two year budget.  This is big news for a couple of reasons including difficulties getting a budget passed during the regular session because of concerns about how to close a rather large budget gap and big differences between the parties on how to close that gap.

Of importance to Fort Thomas residents (beyond cuts in the 3-4% range for most state services) was the possibility that the state education funding formula was being reconsidered.  This has been a hot point for the Fort Thomas community because of the penalty our independent school system is under for being a more affluent area.  The program that has passed the House Committee (and is likely to pass the full House) does not alter this formula.

I also have to give a shout out to a good friend, and coach of the Highland Bluebirds Boys Tennis Team, Rhett Barbour.  The boys team (and girls team) will be competing at state starting Thursday and possibly running through Saturday.  The boys team is 15 - 1 and have had a very successful season.  The full seedings as well as times and locations of matches can be found on the KHSAA site linked here.  Wish both teams the best of luck if you know a player or Rhett.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Earth Mother Market - More Than You Might Expect


I received an update last week on the vendors that have signed up for the Earth Mother Market and I have to say I am impressed.  As a regular weekly patron of Findlay Market there are a lot of familiar names that make me excited about this season of Earth Mother Market.

Two names that have a common thread - Blue Oven Bakery and the Frommeyers' Gelato are both Frommeyer businesses.  In case the name is not familiar the extended family also run the best pizzeria in Northern Kentucky, Buona Vita in Dayton.

Blue Oven Bakery brings a large rack of fresh made bread to Findlay Market every weekend and they are generally sold out shortly after noon each day.  This despite the fact that more and more bread vendors have been added at Findlay.  This is a great add to the Earth Mother lineup.

I don't mean to make this post just about Frommeyer businesses so here is the complete list of vendors planned to sell their goods:
  • Atwood Village Farms - plants, produce, flowers and baked goods
  • Blue Oven bakery - breads made in an Earth Oven
  • Breezy Acers - grass fed beef
  • Cox Family farms - grass fed beef
  • Fab Ferments - fermented foods made with local organic and sustainable produce
  • Fox Run Farm - produce, herbs and flowers
  • Greensleves Farm- produce , plants , Sunflower Sundries products
  • Luke Ebner and family - micro greens and produce
  • Napoleon Ridge Farm - produce, eggs
  • Natures Harbor farm - produce, eggs, grass fed meats
  • Nick Frommeyer - Gelato (Italian style Ice Cream) using local fruits

 My biggest disappointment about the market is that it is only open from 3- 7 on Wednesdays which means I only have a prayer of getting there between 6 and 7.  Thank God that my wife is on maternity leave and can pack up the kids for a nice afternoon at the Stables building.  I have just one request - expand your hours so I can enjoy it too.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Morning Linx

Just a few things to chew on this morning, after your cereal bowl is empty.

- 2 close races in the primary election for two Fort Thomas residents as Steve Pendery of Fort Thomas edged out Kevin Sell by 150 votes to secure a spot on the ballot for Campbell County Judge-executive.

- Tim Fischer of Fort Thomas was edged out by incumbent Tauyna Nolan Jack for Campbell Circuit Clerk.

One bit of interesting news from that campaign came as Nolan Jack credited Facebook and social media in general for getting her over the hump. Goes to show you how our caffeinated society is ever changing.

- Three Bluebirds are continuing their basketball careers in college.

- I know Darrin has touched on it extensively, but the similarities between the Kroger in Kenwood and the new one in Newport are eerie. Let's hope Newport and Bear Creek figure it out.

- Finally, I told them I would, so here's my shout out to the Under 12 girls Lady Hawks soccer team, who I help coach. Today is their last game at Tower Park. Let's hope we end the season on a good note.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Retailing Theme & Recruiting Succssful Businsses

I have been critical in the past of the cities efforts to create lasting, sustainable retail districts in Fort Thomas.  I want to offer a little praise today and some encouragement on the two missing ingredients that can get Fort Thomas over the hump.

Nearly a year ago to the day I wrote an article about how the Midway could be reaching a tipping point in terms of turning into an area that Fort Thomas residents could be proud of.  In the article I listed the street scape improvements, Earth Mother Market, and the amphitheater as being developments that are creating some real momentum towards a thriving business district.  Interestingly enough I also included the Nevada building and the military homes in the list; both of which have failed to really contribute much.

The Midway has also reached a few additional milestones with Optimistic Outlooks hitting their second anniversary and Sarelli's follows behind later this year with their second anniversary

Despite all the positive momentum all the hard work could be for naught if the city is not able to sustain the momentum.  They can do this by focusing on two main components that can really push the Midway past the tipping point.
  1. Creating an identity.  In 2009 the only identity that the Midway district had was that of a small struggling downtown that has been the trademark of small communities during the 90's.  While the streetscape is a huge improvement over the tangled mess of wires and narrow sidewalks it doesn't fill storefronts.  A retail district must have an identity.   Buxton, the retail experts, recently did a profile of Roanoke Texas that reviews how they created an identity and then moved aggressively to find retailers that support that identity.
  2. Aggressively pursuing successful business owners that fit the newly formed identity.  This doesn't mean putting a print advertisement in the Enquirer but targeting the types of businesses that would work best in the Midway with the newly created identity.  If, as has been suggested by readers on this site, the identity involved a destination for all things kids then going after businesses that have been successful with that market creates an environment where momentum grows quickly and successfully.  Mapcap Puppet Theater is a great example of the type of business that would support a child themed identity.
I would love to hear from you, the reader - what identity would you recommend?  what successful businesses would you target?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Traditional Media is Dead - Follow Fort Thomas Matters


I found this quote from a recent Motley Fool article about investing in traditional media:

"The drill of chasing the week's news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable," Meacham said when unveiling Newsweek's new strategy last year. He was right. Unfortunately, neither was the new model. And that's a shame.

I believe this quote sums up the problems that newspapers, nightly news, magazines, etc are faced with today.  With phones that now double as personal media devices each person is now their own customized media mogul. 

Content is still king in this landscape but the content providers have shifted from large media conglomerates to friends, neighbors, and local bloggers that are closer to the news and are able to spread information more quickly.  Frankly this is the reason that this site has become as popular as it has and continues to grow email subscribers, website visitors, twitter followers, etc.  Mark and I live in this community and we see and hear things everyday that a writer for the Enquirer that covers half of Northern Kentucky can not do.

Case in point; this weeks Recorder / Enquirer coverage of Fort Thomas.  Two of the three primary articles that were published this week was covered by this blog and social media:

1. Highlands Drama Program's booster club, Standing Room Only was reported on by this blog on April 14th - nearly an entire month prior to this story.  And frankly our story was more thorough and included an interview with Jason Burgess.

2. YMCA getting some support from local volunteers (Fort Thomas Provides - FTP) and coverage of it including the announcement of this work effort on May 16th on their LinkedIn site. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pergola Follow Up


Had a number of responses from the last article written on the property formerly known as Pergola - the consensus seems to be that there is a missing commodity on 15 N. Fort Thomas Ave. It wasn't just me that missed the patio.

I did track down Danny Krebs, who owned Pergola. While he echoed the same sentiment that Rick Warner did regarding not being able to talk about the past issues, he was able to update me about he and his wife, as well as the head chef and son, Jake.

"I've tried my hand at several businesses," Krebs said. "Some have been successful, some not as much as otheres. Right now, I'm enjoying my time with my family and my new grandson."

Jake Krebs is currently working at The Quarter Bistro in the Mariemont Square. "He's working his way up from the bottom there, but he is learning a lot," Krebs said.

Looking at the menu, it seems like Pergola was trying to emulate the feel that this restaurant has. A little bit pricier - but it does have a patio - which is all I really wanted when I started down this story's path.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Patio Sitting Weather


Spring is here. Summer is around the corner. We should be right in the middle of Pergola's people watching, patio sitting, hummus eating sweet spot.

Instead we are stuck wondering what could have been and trying to get the actual story of why we have to look at the newly built pergola from the sidewalks of the intersection of North and South Fort Thomas Avenues instead of listening to the mellow sounds of Tupelo Honey on the patio and wondering who'll walk by next.

Darrin wrote an article on 10/13/09 speculating some of the reasons as to why Pergola's run was short lived and I generally agree with him on all fronts. An article dated October 22, 2009 from the Fort Thomas Recorder quotes one of Pergola owner's Danny Krebs as saying Pergola had to close due to an issue involving Kentucky state law regarding liquor licenses.

Initially it was my goal to find out exactly why Pergola didn't make it. After my calls to Krebs went unreturned, I thought I'd ask the property owner, Rick Warner, what happened.

"We nor the previous tenant can comment on any misconceptions including those posted on (Fort Thomas Matters) and in various publications in the past, on why it closed," Warner said.

That's the bad news (for my initial story, at least).

The good news, according to Warner is, "The property is currently up for sale and has had many inquiries. We hope to secure a buyer soon and hopefully in time for them to open a restaurant this summer."

Anyone that you talk to (besides perhaps some neighbors on streets around the property complaining about loud patio music) will tell you that that property should be a home run. You couldn't ask for a better locale. People want it to work, but for one reason or another it just hasn't.

Warner and his wife Dawn started this notion with their restaurant, Warner's, which closed at the end of 2008, because of their other business obligations.

"Since the original dream was for my wife and I to have a successful community oriented restaurant in that location (15 N. Fort Thomas Ave), we still feel that the right kind of restaurant would thrive in that location," Warner said.

For selfish reasons, I hope the Warner's, who additionally are the founders of the Merchants and Music Festival, can find a buyer for the property. For the sake of the city as well though, I think the right restaurant could truly be one of the city's crown jewels.

"I hope soon we will be able to announce that we have a secured a buyer and our dream will continue," Warner said.

So do I.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fort Thomas News - Cinco de Mayo

A few quick updates on some stories of interest to you:

  1. The Enquirer confirmed what I have reported in the past which is that there is no hope for progress anytime soon on the Newport Pavilion development.  Despite high hopes by the city manager that things will be resolved and back on track in 4 months - any progress has to be a pipe dream.  A new detail emerged in the story that includes the cost of the repairs at $3 million which will be split $1 by Sanitation District 1 and $2 million by Bear Creek.  Who in their right mind would think Bear Creek is going to find $2 million to fix the drainage situation when they have been sued by every contractor and bank in the area?
  2. Grant opportunity for Fort Thomas: This week's Soapbox Media profiles a funding opportunity for green buildings by local communities looking to improve their energy efficiency.  This is a great opportunity for the city to upgrade facilities such as the city building or some innovative uses of funds for park structures.
  3. Shane Ruffin leaving the Campbell County YMCA and headed for a position in Dallas as an Executive Director at a branch in that Texas city.  Wish him well the next time you see him.
  4. Now that I have the Twitter for Blackberry application I plan to start updating with interesting pictures / thoughts from around town that may not warrant a post on the blog.  You can see my posts on the right hand menu bar.  Follow me to get up to the minute thoughts.
  5. Speaking of which, I have included a picture in a recent twitter post of a sign for a business in town promoting a service to help you contest your property valuation.  When I wrote this post a couple weeks ago about the new assessments I must not have been the only one that noticed how ridiculous the counties assessments were.  
  6. The concept of going after high value homes as a revenue source for municipalities is not confined to Campbell County either.  Hamilton County is reviewing a proposal by David Pepper to add an additional assessment on properties valued over $153,000.  All this makes me wonder where our governments are going to find an end to ridiculous revenue schemes.  With tax receipts way down and governments from Greece to Campbell County avoiding hard decisions I am sure we have not seen the end of outrageous tax ideas. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spruce up for Spring Event Canceled

Just a quick post for those looking forward to the event. Talked to Ken Bowman today of the Renaissance Board to get the scoop on whether of not they were going to try to reschedule.

The rain washed away the Renaissance Board's attempt to get local vendors out and about and in front of potential clients last weekend and with Mother's Day this weekend, the interest simply wasn't there to get those vendors back in a few weeks.

It really was a shame, because I was personally wanting to talk to a few local businesses about some projects on our family's agenda and many that I had talked to felt the same. Maybe things will change and if they do, we'll do our best to get the word out.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Primary Election Overview - Fort Thomas Interests


Two weeks from Tuesday is election day and while it may only be a primary race there are many interests for Fort Thomas residents.  Typically in Kentucky the primary elections have only a fraction of the voter turnout that a general election gets so the race may not be as exciting as the general election but that is no reason to not turn out in order to get the best candidates facing off in November.

This election does not have any Fort Thomas city races - Mary Brown is running unopposed and the council race only has 7 candidates which means no primary is necessary and the top 6 vote getters in the general election gets the office.  But just because there are no city races doesn't mean that there is not a local interest in county races. 

It can be difficult to know who qualified candidates are in a general election but even more so for local races in the primary.  That is why the best resource available for candidate information is the election page of the Cincinnati Enquirer.  This site is a great place to start for what is a very active primary season.  The Enquirer has compiled candidate responses into a database that provides some great information - feel free to email the candidates directly from there for any further questions to confirm your vote.

One race that has generated a lot of attention is the County Attorney's race - Republican ticket which pits Chris Macke against Steve Franzen.  Many Fort Thomas residents (especially those that watch Fox 19 or go to Ruth Moyer) know the Mackes.  I do not know Chris but I do play racquetball with Steve on Monday mornings and he is a great guy with a nasty kill shot on the racquetball court.  A quick look and the edge has to go to Steve on experience alone and their platforms are similar.

The Republican race for Judge Executive has a Fort Thomas flavor as well.  Steve Pendery, the incumbent is of course from Fort Thomas and served as both mayor and on the council.  Pendery is getting a stiff challenge from Kevin Sell and I have to admit that with recent county actions on property taxes I will have to give a long look at Kevin.

Any other races interest you?  Any thoughts on other candidates?  Feel free to debate in the comments section.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Programming that Turns Public Spaces into Community Assets



Great article today in the Enquirer about the redevelopment of Washington Park in Over the Rhine.  A single quote and commentary stood out to me that has applicability to Tower Park and the redesign of the amphitheater.  The article quotes Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces - a non-profit which has consulted on public spaces in over 3,000 communities, as saying:

Design is important, but programming and management represent about 90 percent of the success of a public space.  When a space is highly managed and well programmed, they become extraordinary assets to the community and a real economic catalyst.

The impact of this philosophy has been very evident with the Fountain Square re-design and should be a model for the use of the new amphitheater when it is completed this July.  I am truly afraid that the investments made in the park are going to be wasted on renting the facility out for weddings or watching it go un-used on a Friday or Saturday night.  I think the city should form a group of citizens that would be interested in bringing programming to the facility for the summer and early fall months instead of having an understaffed parks board manage the programming.  Lets utilize the space to bring some real energy to the Midway district.