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Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 Street Resurfacing

From time to time we get emails from our readers inquiring about issues that are important to them. We recently had one asking about some of the streets in Fort Thomas that needed a bit of work.

The document submitted by the Public Works Committee (Haas, Lampe, Doepker) to the Mayor and Board of Council regarding these street improvements noted that "while there were many streets considered for improvement, limited available resources restricted the number of streets that could be included in this year’s recommended program. "

It's a bit belated, but without further adieu here is the list of street improvements that are scheduled to be made this year:

The recommended 2011 street improvement program includes the following streets:

  1. Burnet Ridge (from Riverside PKWY to Lester Lane)
  2. Azalea Terrace
  3. Elmwood Place
  4. Brittany Lane
  5. Budde Court
  6. Devon Court
  7. E. Kimberly
  8. W. Kimberly
  9. Jennifer Court
  10. Patricia Court
  11. Overlook Drive
The total estimated cost for these improvements is $235,775 and will be paid for on a 50% city, 50% abutting property owner basis. (Awesome way to spend a portion of your tax refund, isn't it?)

They are also recommending replacement of deteriorated sidewalks on Highland Ave (Grand to US 27), S. Fort Thomas Ave (Grand to Tower Place), Winding Way and Haywood Court at an estimated cost of $107,000.

Finally, the Public Works Committee wants to improve the intersection on S. Fort Thomas Ave and Tower Place (right by the Water Tower) in order to improve pedestrian safety and improve the intersection, aesthetically.

Fort Thomas News - Week of February 28th

A few news and notes as we move into the first week in March and hopefully the first inklings of spring:

1. The Newport Pavilion Target ( @Target ) is a week away.  You may have seen these billboards in the past couple weeks on 471 building the excitement.  The electronic billboard even has a daily countdown that is real time.  Get ready to drop $100 per shopping trip a lot more often.

2. With the first hint of spring it also means the Farmer's Market will be open outdoors soon as well.  The name "Earth Mother Market" is gone and so are the restrictions on only organic foods.  The market will be renamed the Fort Thomas Farmers Market and Debbie Buckley will run it until a replacement is found.  If you would like to volunteer to manage the market or would like to sell your goods then please contact Debbie at

3. The YMCA ( @ymcagrcinti ) annual fundraising effort is gearing up to raise over $70,000.  The campaign is called "Better Together" and we'll have more on the campaign and why it matters to Fort Thomas in a future post.

4. Fort Thomas Matters now has yard signs to promote our website.  Any volunteers on high traffic locations willing to place a sign in their yard for us?  We really would like to reach those people who are not doing Google Searches for Fort Thomas News or who have never visited the Fort Thomas page.  This is really the first time we have ever placed any advertising despite growing our readership to over 4,000 unique visitors on a monthly basis.

5. Last note on our little news site - you may have noticed that we now have a link just under our logo at the top of the page titled "Fort Thomas Polls" where we will copy in the results of past weekly polls.  This should be good historical reference of what your neighbors think of topics that matter.  The first poll on retail success can now be found here with over 120 respondents and the current poll on smoking (on the right hand side of the page) has over 50 responses.  Vote soon before the poll closes and we move that one to the new page.

Finally, in honor of opening week - how about one of my current favorite SNL cast members - Kristen Wiig - as the Target Lady?

Friday, February 25, 2011

5 Things to Know...

About the Mortgage Market

Ed Vinson and I coach under 12 girls soccer together. Getting to know him over the last few seasons, it's easy to understand how his company, Consumers Mortgage Source, has done well. He's an easy going, incredibly likable, trustworthy guy who knows his craft. The mortgage market has shifted significantly over the last couple years and in this market, it makes all the sense in the world to explore your options to make sure you are doing the best thing you can for yourself and your family.

These are Ed's 5 Things to Know about the mortgage market. His contact information is below should you decide to refinance or if you are looking to buy.

1) Self Assessment - How much of a mortgage you can comfortably afford.

Insider tip: The market is the least important factor you should consider when deciding whether and when to buy a home. By trying to time the market at the very bottom, you could possibly be losing out on very favorable conditions.

2) Getting Pre-Approved - When you get pre-approved for a home loan, we will look at your income, debt and credit.

Insider tip: Working with a mortgage broker referred by your real estate broker or agent may save you money.

A seller will take you much more seriously once a mortgage broker they know and trust has run your credit, checked your income and approved you for a loan, as well as communicated with your real estate pro.

3) Home shopping - The first step is to figure out what neighborhood you want to live in and what type of house fits your needs.

Insider Tip: Distressed doesn't always equal discounted - in some cases a "regular" sale can mean a deeper deal.

Long story short: you can sometimes negotiate a better deal with an individual seller on a "regular" sale that with a bank on a distressed home sale. So, don't limit your house hunt to foreclosures and short sales if you're looking for a good deal on a home.

4) Types of Mortgage Loans - Many loan programs available (fixed, adjustable, conventional, FHA, VA, Rural Housing) which one works best for you.

Insider tip: Credit score and down payment determine which program works best for the buyer. FHA purchases are the most popular, because of the low down payment.

5) Rates are still at historic lows, but won't last forever. Give us a call and get your free loan pre-approval. Call Ed or Jeff and start looking at homes now!

Ed Vinson Jeff Driver

(513) 200-9921 (513) 703- 8049

License #5845 License # 232702

Consumers Mortgage Source, LLC (1755)

Get your free loan pre-approval. Call Ed or Jeff and start looking at homes now!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Introducing Your NKY River Monsters QB

Jared Lorenzen.

This is not a dream. Jared Lorenzen will be slanging the pigskin at The Bank of Kentucky Center for this region's newest professional football team, the Northern Kentucky River Monsters.

The River Monsters just sold a ton of tickets and instantaneously made them a legitimate threat to not lose a game by adding the league's most high profile player. Great move.

Lorenzen, who has been with the organization since its inception as the General Manager, will be starting for the River Monsters when they play their inaugural game 7 p.m. Friday against the Canton Cougars.

From the River Monsters' website: Lorenzen said, "“I (have) been around (football) since September and I have resisted the urge,” said Lorenzen. “Then when the pads came out, I couldn’t resist any longer.”

His NFL player profile has him at a svelte 285 pounds. That scale definitely is may be broken. Either way, I bet the big man still has it.

Also signed by the team is one of Lorenzen's former Highlands teammates, Brett Hamblen, a wide receiver and defensive back who started his career at UK before transferring to the University of Cincinnati. He also played indoor football briefly for the now-defunct Cincinnati Marshals and has been working out in New Jersey for the past three months in hope of playing again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Fort Thomas Matters Feature: 5 Things to Know...

I love reading articles on the internet that have lists. It doesn’t matter what it is. A quick google search just turned out The 10 Cheapest Cars to Own, The Top 10 Best Movie Sports Teams of All-Time, and The 25 Best Places to Retire.

If it’s quick, easy to read and informative, I’m all about it. Mix those lists with Angie’s List and you’ve got Fort Thomas Matters new weekly Feature: 5 Things to Know...

5 Things to Know... will run every Friday and will feature insider secrets from professionals in and around Fort Thomas. I’ll do my best to make sure I can personally and professionally vouch for every professional we feature, so if you are in search of any of these services and want to contact these professionals further, I’ll provide contact information for your benefit.

We’ll try to keep the topics pertinent to the issues that you may be facing, but if you have a suggestion for me, shoot me an email and I’ll see if we can get it covered for you.

We'll start this feature this Friday, so make sure to check it out!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Driver's License Closures Saturday and Beyond

Circuit Clerk, Taunya Nolan Jack, asked if we could help get the word out about this issue. Without further adieu:

Due to a nationwide system outage, the driver's license division of the Campbell County Circuit Clerk's Office will be unable to issue licenses and Id's on Saturday, February 19th and Monday, February 21st and therefore will be closed on Saturday and Monday at both the Alexandria and Newport locations.

"We were notified Wednesday by theTransportation Cabinet, about the outage. We know this will pose an inconvenience to some, and we regret it, but is is out of control," said Nolan Jack.
All systems should be up and running Tuesday, February 22nd when their office opens at 8:00 a.m.

I asked what a system outage was and whether it had something to do with technology or if it was code for budgetary concerns. Word is they are trying to revamp the driver's licensing division, nationally. So... technology?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fort Thomas News - Week of February 14th

1. Has anyone noticed the signs up in the old pottery store front in the Midway?  I had mentioned in a previous post about the coming Chinese restaurant in the Midway - any expectations you may have had about this should probably be scaled back after looking at their sign announcing the impending opening.

Not only has the store front hosted the town's longest running garage sale but the sign announcing the opening looks like a middle school art project.  Not to mention the owners apparently can't decide which Asian country's culinary tradition they would like to treat us to.

A shout out to Randy Adams for bringing this to my attention.

2. Fort Thomas schools has released the school calendar for 2011 - 2012.  You can go to the Fort Thomas Independent Schools website to start planning your end of summer vacation.

3. Finally as anticipation over the Target opening begins to build (only a few short weeks away) - our friends over at the Newport Pavilion Page on Facebook posed a question about whether the expanded food section at Target will make you shop there more or at Kroger less.  The consensus seems to favor Kroger - what do you say?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bad Boys, Bad Boys...

Not the local soccer team- which my buddies Craig and Jason dubbed when they were little. This post is about the navy blue clad Fort Thomas Police and their trials and tribulations from the mean streets of the Fort as detailed by Chief Daly at the latest council meeting.

First and foremost a warning: please start locking your car and house.

I know we never really worried about that when I was growing up but it's a fact that we live in a different time. It's a sad notion, but the amount of communities in which a locked door is a necessity are shrinking. We are not immune.

Saying that, there have been continued break ins around the city. Small items that can easily be carried are generally the merchandise of choice, but in every instance in which something was taken, the resident had reported that breaking and entering the house did not enter the equation. Every door was left unlocked.

Chief Daly cited the Linden/Carolina/Tremont area being a high volume area of robberies as well as some occurrences on the north side of town on Covert Run, Riverside, Sunset and off Rossford.

A robbery that occurred on Linden was stopped when the resident walked in on the assailant as he was rummaging through the refrigerator. He was described as a juvenile.

They are following leads in and around the area.

The chief also detailed an event in which a citizen helped nab a criminal on the run. A criminal who was being stopped by Fort Thomas Police decided to try and outrun the officer near Pentland and Highland Ave, heading toward Ruth Moyer. The officers were chasing behind when a Fort Thomas resident cut in front of him and boxed him in with his truck. Other citizens helped detain him until he could be brought into custody.

What a city.

The police are going to recognize this citizen formally, so I'll leave his identity anonymous until he's recognized.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Smoking Ban to be Repealed Tomorrow?

I predict that it will.

There is a meeting tomorrow at the Campbell County Fiscal Courthouse at 7:00 PM that will, more than likely, produce a vote.

If all county commissioners vote as they said they would (Painter, Garrett, Rechtin), the ban that would have gone into affect would be repealed.

Whether or not you agree with this, four Campbell County bars have voluntarily gone smoke free, and many restaurants are doing the same. I can quote many different arguments for and against, but at the end of the day, the free market and the invisible hand of our capitalistic nature will do (and should do) the choosing for us.

I don't have the statistics, but it seems as if the anecdotal evidence (on this blog at least) points to a vocal majority who have a desire for smoke free restaurants. But perhaps it's just the squeaky wheel factor. I'd like to hear some comments for repeal of the ban.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fort Thomas Businesses Need to Embrace Social Media

I know I belong to a generation that has always used a computer, received their first email account in high school, and have whole heartedly embraced social media even if there are privacy concerns.  However, I don't think I am being overly optimistic about the impact that these tools can have on local retail businesses.  We have seen the impact on my wife's online babysitter placement business so I know it works.  So why haven't more Fort Thomas businesses embraced these technologies?

I know there are a few examples of Fort Thomas businesses who have a Facebook account (I am listing the ones I know of below) but I have talked with business owners who have never visited the Twitter website or installed a mobile application.  These tools are virtually free - doesn't require a major marketing budget - and chances are most Fort Thomas residents under the age of 50 are using them.

I also know that I am being a bit selfish in trying to encourage our local businesses to use these tools.  Who wouldn't want a free cup of coffee from Cake Towne when they buy a donut and 'check-in' on Yelp or Facebook with your mobile phone?  These are the kinds of not so innovative marketing strategies that are working all around Cincinnati and the US - but not in Fort Thomas.  Heck, why not use the mobile check-in during 2011's Holiday Walk instead of the usual stamp card?

Here are the known business uses of Social Media in Fort Thomas:
The Midway Cafe (Facebook)
The Pub (Facebook)
Cake Towne (Facebook)
Sarelli's (Twitter)
Fort Thomas Pizza (Facebook)
Cobblestone Cafe (Facebook)
DEP's Fine Wine & Spirits (Facebook) and Twitter - DEP is quite possibly the only retailer that fully utilizes social media.  I would still like a benefit for check-in though.

Be sure to visit their pages and become a "fan" or "follow".

UPDATE:  I have added additional sites based on the comments left by readers:

Fort Thomas Education Foundation (Facebook)
Fort Thomas Education Foundation (Twitter - @FTEF)
Shari's on the Avenue (Facebook)
Concrete Concepts (Facebook)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

City Council Notes 2/7/11

Quick rundown. Longer meeting that normal. Just finished watching the Cats beat up of UT.

- Meeting started off with Kevin Gordon, of Wilder, addressing council regarding the stance - or lack thereof, on the county smoking ban which was enacted by the lame duck county commission. He detailed how other city councils in the county (Alexandria, Newport, Wilder, Highland Heights, Dayton) had sent resolutions to fiscal court asking for a repeal. More on this story later.

- The Fire Department gained a huge grant for a new "pumper" fire engine. The cost of a new fire truck is around $400,000 and Chief Bailey was "ecstatic" with receiving a grant of $345,000 from FEMA.

"It's the biggest grant the department has ever seen," Bailey said.

- Chief Daly had some interesting notes as well. I will dedicate a post to this later this week. His report included results from a speed traffic detail on Tremont Avenue (perhaps West Southgate version 2.0?), a rash of burglaries and theft in some pockets of the city and a foot pursuit of a criminal which ended in a Ft. Thomas resident helping to stop the criminal with the use of his pickup truck.

Again - detailed post to come.

- The VA homes discussion took the majority of the meeting. Please scroll down to see those details.

- The council discussed doing another deer census at a cost of $8,280 by the same company that completed the census last year. After a little posturing, it was decided that an apples to apples comparison would be most beneficial.

Mayor Mary Brown said, "If (the census) shows that there are more deer this year than last year, then we may need to look into doing something a little more aggressive than what is currently being done."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Go Incognito for the Fort Thomas Education Foundation

It is time again for what has become the social event of the year in Fort Thomas - the annual Fort Thomas Education Foundation Dance.  The event this year is on Saturday night February 26th at the Syndicate in Newport.  The theme this year is "incognito" which basically means you can dress up as anyone without the restrictions of a generational theme.

Tickets are $30 but soon to be $40 if you wait too long to purchase and the event features a good local band - the Karate Girls (formerly named the Naked Karate Girls - I guess the name was limiting their booking capabilities).  You can visit their website (linked above) and order tickets online.

The education foundations is a critical component of what makes our school system successful in the face of a funding formula that penalizes the district (for background see my recent post about the school systems budget).  Proceeds from this event benefit our teacher grant program. To date we have been able to award over $337,000 in technology, books, equipment and programs to our schools through our teacher grant program.

If you have never been to a foundation dance it is truly an experience - local celebrities, all different backgrounds, and no one is afraid to loosen up and have a good time.  Sign up now for a good time.

Monday, February 7, 2011

VA Homes Receive 3 Letters of Interest

The city received three letters of interest after soliciting responses from developers in November. The three developers which submitted initial plans to potentially bid were Ashley Development Company out of Edgewood, Kennedy Homes our of Ft. Mitchell and David Hosea.

Mick Kennedy, President of Kennedy Homes, was the only developer to address council. He has done many restorations like this one, adding, "This is a project that's got to be done first class or not at all."

Now that the city is assured that there is indeed interest from developers to eventually take on this project, the city will move forward with hiring firms to gauge the engineering and environmental challenges to get these homes up to code while preserving their architectural integrity.

The VA estimate to get the environment up to code is $833,000. This number is probably the biggest issue for developers. If some issues creep up that the VA has not already taken into consideration, it could drive up costs severely, and surely scaring the developers away.

Add the cost for surveying, subdividing properties, etc at around $58,000 and the city (and eventually the developers) are looking at approximately $891,000 just to get the land and houses ready to be developed.

Whatever the number ends up being, one of the more important issues to the city was that any developer who takes on this project would be doing so while keeping the original character of these houses in tact.

"I think we are being as flexible as we can, while protecting the integrity of the homes," said Councilman Eric Haas. "It's got to be a situation where the developer can make some money, but the city won't lose money at the same time."

As long as the firms the city hires to do some analysis on estimating these costs don't turn up anything unexpected, the long process of restoring some of the most historic homes in our city is moving right along.

Craft Beer Update from the Fort Thomas Midway

Nearly two years ago craft brews were launched (near simultaneously) with much fan fare by both Vito's and the Midway Cafe.  Today we thought we would check-in with the Midway Cafe's experience at brewing their own beer.

The Midway Cafe will celebrate 107 years of business this February. While I can't verify the claim; the Midway boasts being the oldest saloon in Fort Thomas and the only family owned micro-brewery in Northern Kentucky.

Given the history it only makes since that they have been successful expanding their micro brew concept since it was launched over one year ago.  Since that time, the Midway has expanded their lineup and on a recent cold February day was serving both a Pale Ale and a Porter.  These same beers are "always on" at the Midway because of their popularity.

Tim Gabennesch, the owner of the Midway Cafe, brews the beers himself in the basement of the Midway using a mash brewing process.  I won't bore you with the details of the process but to summarize a fairly complicated concept into layman's terms it uses multiple tanks with heating and cooling with the goal of injecting flavor through the hops and into your frosty mug.

In Tim's words, "We serve the freshest and use only the best ingredients to brew our beer.  We grind the malt, add the hops, boil the wort, ferment it to become beer, then carbonate it and serve it to you. Our beer is brewed with the freshest malts and hops I can buy. Anybody can sell cheap beer, not everybody can sell their own handcrafted beer using only the best ingredients."

For the Midway, what started out as a small quantity of hand-crafted beer has now grown to a production of 3 half barrels per week.  The craft beer business is now a key aspect of Tim's business strategy as he compete's with a rejuvenated Fort Thomas Pub and Fort Thomas Pizza that has an expanded bar.  To continue the successful history of the Midway finding customers from outside Fort Thomas is key to growth and differentiation.  The constantly growing lineup of craft beers says one thing "mission accomplished".

The craft brews have been successful but it requires that Tim's staff push the beer as an alternative to the international beer brewing staples found in any bar and grill in America.  This strategy is most successful when a patron agrees to a free sample of the craft beer - which the Midway will gladly pour to any takers.

Tim will be adding a Lager to his lineup in March and even plans a special Lager in time for St Patrick's Day (colored green of course).  Other expansion plans include future beer tastings of the craft beers as well as a future run on some of the national beer competitions.  The Midway Cafe is continuing the major resurgence of the Cincinnati area's brewing tradition and anyone interested in a good locally made beer has to make a stop at the Midway.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fort Thomas News - Week of February 1st

A quick rundown of the events that impact Fort Thomas for the first week of February 2011.  Have a great weekend!

1. News today from WLWT that Fort Thomas is down to 50 tons of road salt - possibility of running out if the snow on Saturday requires too much to keep the streets clear.

2. Dale Mueller was up for a special honor recently as the Highland's Coach Mueller was one of 26 nominees for the NFL Coach of the Year award.  While it was an honor to be a finalist he was beaten out for the award by a coach in Houston.  I did not realize that he has won the state championship in 10 of his 16 years as head coach of Highlands.  Pretty remarkable career!

3. Rio Grande is opening 3 new stores in Northern Kentucky.  Despite feeling like I just robbed the place everytime I walk out having fed my entire family for $12, it appears they still made enough money to invest nearly $2 million in opening three new stores.  Congratulations to an area business that has been successful despite a bad economy.

4. Fort Thomas Conservancy may have secured some funding to provide tax advantages for easements.  The conservancy hopes to get easements from landowners for woodlands and green spaces that will ensure no development will replace them.

5. Recent updates on Campbell County road construction for 2011 indicates a street resurfacing for Fort Thomas Avenue from Highland Ave to US 27.  Also on US 27 from Grandview Avenue to Fort Thomas Avenue (the intersection at Woodfill)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Different Take on Newport Pavilion Tenants

Goodman Real Estate has an updated site map for the Newport Pavilion development.  Now before you rush off to view the map - there are no new retailers listed on this map.  What the map does do is clearly show confirmed and available spots in the development.  

Each retail spot includes the square footage which allows for an interesting calculation - 91,285 sq ft that is still available.  This combined square footage is less than size of Kroger or Target on a stand alone basis.  The 90K+ remaining square footage equates to 20% of the available retail space meaning 80% has already been leased.  

This is a bit of a good news / bad news story.  Good news for a swift development of the remaining structures.  With commitments on 80% of the development financing should be less of an issue at this point.  

The downside - not a lot of opportunity for a wow retailer.  Only 2 parcels of 20K sq ft or more (less than Michaels or Marshalls) probably means nothing larger than a Dick's or Pet Smart.  14 total open spots and most of those are outlots that will likely be fast food or fast casual concepts.  This doesn't mean you can't be wowed - just means don't expect anything earth shattering with the remaining commitments.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ft. Thomas Media - on the Airwaves, Print and Internet

One of the advantages to living in a small community like Fort Thomas is the connections you create while you're growing up. My tax guy is one of my dad's best friends growing up. The plumber that we use has been coming to my parents house since I flushed my mother's keys down the commode when I was a mischievous little four year old.

When I started calling around to find out a little more about the new arena league football team, the Northern Kentucky Rivermonsters, and found out that Fort Thomas Matter friend of the blog, Will Chambers would be calling the action on the radio, I was familiar with his connection to the team right away.

"The connection with myself and the Rivermonsters comes from Jared Lorenzen (who is now the General Manager of the team). Most know that Jared and I have remained good friends since our Highlands football days, many may not know he was my analyst on the radio in Lexington for Scott County High School basketball games so he knows firsthand how I approach my job and I am thrilled for the opportunity," Chambers said.

Chambers, who has resumed his play-by-play duties with Georgetown College for the fifth year, has also teamed up with another online publication, Cincinnati Profile, as a sports columnist. The Profile is now a free online publication done by editor-in-chief Pete Scalia, who is also a Fort Thomas resident.

Scalia also moonlights as the morning news anchor with Dayton, Ohio's FOX and ABC affiliate.

"Pete's an old friend and his wife Amy is the publisher of CincyChic, (which just celebrated its fourth year in publication - chronicled on Fort Thomas Matters here) a groundbreaking blog that has become the go-to online source for women in the know. I have known Pete and his family for years, they're wonderful people," Chambers said.

Another media match made through the network of small town connections. Who needs Linkedin?

The Rivermonsters start their season in February, but won't have their first home game until March 18. Their schedule is here.

"Getting better in this profession comes from diligent research and repetition. This allows me to do just that. I'm thrilled to have an opportunity here in this market where I grew up," Chambers said.