Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fort Thomas Leads Discussion On City's "Next Step"

L to R: Councilwoman, Lisa Kelly, Mayor Eric Haas, Councilman, Jeff Bezold, and City Administrator, Ron Dill participate in the city's special visioning meeting. FTM file.  
A whiteboard session in December of 2015 started the current strategic visioning process that Mayor Eric Haas has led Fort Thomas City Council through.

The original brainstorming sessions and a slew of spitball ideas has led to the city tapping some local professionals to help steer the process with more purpose.

Haas said that visioning and planning has always been his passion when being a part of city council. He was first appointed to the Newport City Commission when he lived in Newport prior to moving to Fort Thomas.

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"Fort Thomas is different than most cities in that politics doesn't always come into the equation. I’ve always just liked to help and I’m very interested and passionate about visioning. Here, I feel like I’m part of the board of directors of a corporation," he said.

RELATED: Brainstorming Session Could Lead to New Ideas in Fort Thomas 

After introducing Fort Thomas residents, Chris Manning and Tom Fernandez, as the two men who would help council lead the city's future visioning process, the city called a special meeting to begin the process in earnest on Monday, October 10.
Chris Manning and Jeffrey Sackenheim lead the discussion. FTM file. 

RELATED: Pair of Fort Thomas Residents Will Lead Fort Thomas' Visioning 

Fernandez is a Principal at SHP Leading Design, an architecture and design firm. Manning is a Principal for Human Nature, a landscape architecture and environmental planning firm. Both men sit on Fort Thomas Commissions and are being contracted out by the city for their time.

“Tonight is supposed to be conversational and hopefully fun," said Manning. "I hope we can do some dreaming together throughout this process. It's a new chapter and the sky is the limit for us.”

Joining Manning at the council-committee-on-the-whole special meeting were Fernandez' business partner, Jeffrey Sackenheim, Manning's co-worker, Joey Hood, the Fort Thomas City Council, Haas, City Administrator Ron Dill, the three council challengers Sam Shelton, David Cameron and John Slawter, as well as some interested Fort Thomas stakeholders.

A slide show the previous visioning processes the city has undertaken. FTM file. 

Manning started the meeting by setting the tone that the session should be high level. "We are trying to create a framework tonight and don’t want to get too detailed," he said.

Fort Thomas City Administrator, Ron Dill, emphasized that the council meeting of the whole was just a starting point.

"At this point, it's not so much about the content of what we are discussing, but it's about the process. I'm really pleased with the amount of enthusiasm that was received from our council to take the next step forward in our city's planning," said Dill. "We'll build from this. We'll have a similar session with city staff, then the community. Council's discussion is only a portion of this process, this is going to become a community effort."

When Manning was introduced to council, he talked about asset mapping. In other words, which parts of the city were fertile grounds for development. The Midway District, with its proximity to Tower Park and the retail space available for development fits into that asset mapping category.

"Incorporating some spaces in Tower Park into the Midway District is a great opportunity for synergies," said Dill.

Some other ideas that came from the council special meeting:

- Connecting the Stables Building to the neighborhood residential zones behind it. In the past, a committee known as Midway There, has worked exclusively on finding an opportunity to swap land with the U.S. Army Reserves, who currently own the building. Ideas have been tossed around that would convert the building to an open-air market.

- Expanding the use of the city building.

"The city building and what it represents to the community. Right now, it's kind of uninviting. We lock it up at the end of the work day and I think it could be more of a public space. A community space. Maybe some of the items in the museum get rotated into the city building. Something that could help us facility more service delivery as well. It could be an exciting opportunity," said Dill.

- Having St. Elizabeth become a major city partner. It's the largest employer in the city and is the largest healthcare operator in northern Kentucky.

- Using interlocal agreements with neighboring cities, The Fort Thomas-Southgate exit off of I-471 could provide some opportunities there. FTM broke the story that a hotel could be in the works in the Fort Thomas Plaza, just off that exit. 

There has also been rumblings that a developer may be interested in the Beverly Hills Country Club property, which sits in Southgate and adjacent to Fort Thomas.

- Other ideas that were discussed, but not as in-depth as the previous ideas:

- How to develop the Carlisle-owned property off of Memorial Parkway.

- Connecting Highland Park with James Avenue with an access road behind Moyer Elementary.

- Talk surrounded the fact that the northside of the city does not have much opportunity for development.

Council candidate David Cameron said he was excited to be a part of the conversation.

"I was really impressed with the meeting. The city is taking inventory of the city through this process, which is a very worthwhile endeavor in itself," he said.

The next step in the visioning process is to have similar meetings with other city groups before they finish their strategic plan, which they hope to have completed by the end of the year.

The make-up of council could change by then, as nine candidate run for six spots on this year's ballot.

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