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Friday, March 30, 2018

City Council Roundup: 2017 Reports, 2018 Plans

City Administrator Ron Dill (center) shares his thoughts on school safety in light of recent national events. He is flanked by Council member Jeff Bezold (l) and Mayor Eric Haas (r)
The March Fort Thomas City Council meeting included reports looking at economic development, general services and recreation last year as well as some plans for the year ahead.

In light of recent recent school shootings and elsewhere, City Administrator Ron Dill took the opportunity to make a statement reassuring the community that, although Fort Thomas is miles away from the tragedy, officials are taking the safety of our schools and our community very seriously.

"I have been working with the police chief, and we've had meetings with the schools on the whole issue of school safety. We are certainly cognizant of the things that have occurred nationally, and we have made a very conscious effort to sit down with the school district," said Dill.

For several years now, the schools, city staff and public safety personnel have worked together on school safety. All involved are evaluating and refining plans and will continue to do so going forward, he said.

Alexander Circle Project extension and plans

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The council heard from Ken Schon of Bloomfield/Schon, the developers of the Alexander Circle (aka VA Homes) Project. Work continues, but the developer asked for an extension to complete work with the local utility companies as they prepare the property.

Schon also announced a new process for handling the sale of the first homes in the project. With a growing list of those with serious interest in purchasing the properties, the developer has created a registration process.

Those who have expressed serious interest for particular properties would be registered for that property. They will receive the final price once it is established and would be invited to put down a refundable deposit.

Council member Ken Bowman, who is a realtor, said that was an unusual way to handle the buying process.

"We decided to do that instead of holding everyone off and starting what could be a free for all. We worked on the process for months and decided this was the best way," said Schon.

Council agreed to allow the extension on the Stage Two plan for the properties as the developer works with the utilities.

Renaissance, General Services and Recreation look back at 2017

Council heard highlights of annual reports from three city departments on activities during 2017.

Renaissance is the city economic development program. It was created as part of the National Main Street Program and concerns itself with historic preservation, economic development and promotion of local business.

The report focused on the city’s sesquicentennial and the many events held throughout that year marking the milestone. Debbie Buckley, economic development director, said the report outlines related events from the creation of "150-year banners" through the culmination of events on the fourth of July weekend.

She thanked city officials, staff and the more than 100 volunteers who helped with events. "That week made a lot of people fall in love with Fort Thomas all over again. They remembered their history. They saw some things that they’d never seen before, like the inside of the water tower and the Greene Street houses. A lot of people had never heard the stories of Alexander Circle," she said.

Debbie Buckley shares the 2017 Renaissance Report

Highlights of the Renaissance Report

City Banner Project: Banners were created to announce the sesquicentennial throughout the city. Donors could add their names to a banner, and the money was used to purchase a Tour Buddy app for Fort Thomas. The application features historic and tour information about the city and is free to users who can download it to their phone or other mobile device.

The application continues to be updated regularly with new information about the city. A garden tour has been added for this spring.

New city signage: New iron signs, fabricated by Elsmere Ironworks, were installed at the main entrances to the city. A $20,000 grant from Southbank Partners helped pay for the project.

Fort Thomas Museum: The museum hosted several groups throughout the year. Visitors included a group of Korean War veterans, the Contemporary Women’s Club of Cincinnati, the Campbell County Historical Society and many school groups. The museum also hired Deanna Beineke as the new museum director.

Fort Thomas Farmers Market: The market ran 22 weeks and averaged 1,200 visitors per week. Sales were up. The nearby Fort Thomas Antique and Design Center also reported a strong uptick in sales thanks to market activity.

Veterans and historic memorials: Funds are still being raised for a statue of the city’s namesake General Thomas, but in 2017 plans took shape through meetings with the statue’s chosen sculptor, Matt Langford.

Just in time for sesquicentennial events, the city completed the Charters of Freedom monument dedicated to area veterans. In addition to the 150-celebration, the city celebrated its first Veterans Day at the site, and it has become a focal point for related activities throughout the year.

Summer Concert Series and more: The city hosted the Northern Kentucky Legends Hall of Fame and a fundraiser for the Brighton Center with the Naked Karate Girls in June 2017. Much of the focus was on musical events for the sesquicentennial featuring a concert by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Orchestra.

In September, the city hosted its first blues festival, organized with the help of local musician Greg Mebs. The festival benefitted the Band of Helping Hands organization that provides services to teens and families who are dealing with trauma.

Sesquicentennial events:
The week of July 2 was packed with a myriad of events and supported by more than 100 area volunteers. Events included bike rides, concerts, tours, a Fourth of July parade, choirs, contests, walks and runs, plays, dinners and, of course, fireworks. Some of the events created especially for the 150-year celebration were so successful there are plans to do them again this year or in the near future.
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Looking Ahead

Watch for details on a new charity concert featuring a band comprised of oncology doctors from St. Elizabeth. Buckley said a group of Fort Thomas business and city leaders are also working on plans to convert the former U.S. Army Cavalry stable building into an industrial kitchen, open air market, theater and retail space similar to Cincinnati's Findlay Market.

The Renaissance group also plans to bring back some of the bike rides, pub crawl and other events successful during the 150-year celebration and is taking ideas and feedback from community members involved in the visioning project to plan for future events.

"This is a community that loves its history and to finish off the year with the visioning was so appropriate…As much as we love our history, we know that we have to keep on changing and growing. I hope that by the time we finish we will have a whole new slate of exciting things to look forward to this year," added Buckley.

Highlights of the General Services Report

Director of General Services Kevin Barbian gave the General Services Report for 2017. He praised the staff for the many services they perform for the city from snow removal to the maintenance and upgrading of facilities. He also thanked the volunteer base, those on committees who support the city’s work.

"I want to thank the Planning Commission. They are true professionals who do a great job for the citizens of Fort Thomas by making intelligent analysis of any project," said Barbian.

Demand has been great, he added, with some 39 different projects, including a significant amount of renovation carried on throughout 2017.

"The tree commission does a great job. We planted 41 trees in front yards this year. The committee members took a significant amount of their time, going out to the site, to make sure the right tree gets there. Their time and passion for this mission is unmatched," he said.

Barbian noted Arbor Day events and the work that was done to clean up the tree trail. He noted that a local nursery donated 25 trees to the city that will help to restore and maintain the city forest canopy as we go forward.

"I also want to thank the Design Review Board for their passion for what they do, the attention to detail, especially in our central business districts to accentuate the character of those areas. They take their job very seriously," he said.

Building activity was slow this year, he noted, as there were few new single-family homes. There were 10 projects, but most of these were of homes that were raised and replaced. The city receives requests, almost on a daily basis, for permission to renovate and improve properties. Barbian said he was impressed by the work being done and praised owners for projects that go a long way to improve the entire community.

Other projects for general services have included the 2017 street resurfacing program that included significant sidewalk repairs as well as work by city staff on public works and clean up of the Alexander Circle site.

City staff also worked on improvements at the Highland Hills Ball Field, remodeling of bathrooms at the Firehouse, HVAC improvements at city facilities and lighting around the city. City crews were instrumental behind the scenes during the sesquicentennial, taking care of setup, clean up and tear down of the many events, Barbian said.

"And it was a pleasure and honor to work on the Charters of Freedom project," he added.

A busy year outlined in the Recreation Report

Katie Spicer of the Recreation Department, standing in for Director Katelyn Disney, gave the 2017 Recreation report.

"We’ve had a really great year," said Spicer. "We had a Touch a Truck event in October, and it was a really big success with 100 people there and we brought 14 different vehicles."

Katie Spicer lists the many activities of the Recreation Department in 2017.

Spicer listed off some of the many events held throughout the city.

The Pumpkin Walk and contest in October was extended to an additional hour to help with bottle necks. Recreation staff gave out trophies and partnered with the American Heritage Girls to help with pumpkin carving.

The Fort Thomas Lions Club once again cooked and gave away nearly 700 hot dogs.

"We also offered two free movie nights, with 50-70 in attendance for each," she said. In April 2017, staff hid 12,000 eggs for the annual Easter egg hunt and offered free breakfast in the Mess Hall.

The city partnered with the Get Fit with Jared Project and partnered with area businesses to host healthy living events, including workouts with Jared, Tuesday walks and group fitness classes. Mint Yoga hosted weekly yoga in Tower Park this year, some nights drawing 60 people to participate.

"We offered adult leagues in softball, winter and fall volley ball in the Armory, sand volleyball, tennis, flag football by the Mess Hall," Spicer added. Another new sports offering was a middle school boys basketball league that included 42 participants and six teams.

For seniors, city staff hosted senior games in partnership with Boone County Recreation. In winter, there were 150 participants and in spring 350 people took part. For the little ones, the city offered Teeter Tots, a toddler exercise program that drew 145 participants.

The Summer Playground Program included weeklong camps at Tower Park for children age 7 to 12 and tots age 4 to 6. Almost 190 children attended the camps that featured special guests, a petting zoo, a community project for homeless veterans, and interaction with police and fire department personnel.

The city also rents facilities, and Spicer gave a run down of the number of people renting each building for private functions. Use was either the same or slightly more than previous years for the Community Center, Armory rooms, park shelters and the Mess Hall.

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