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Friday, May 22, 2020

City Loans and GROW Grants Give Small Businesses a Boost

The city created a loan program and redirected a facade improvement grant program to support local businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Twenty small businesses in Fort Thomas have received city loans and another 64 have received small but significant grants through the retooled GROW Grant program.

At the May city council meeting, Fort Thomas Director of Finance Joe Ewald shared news of the two programs that were created by the city to help support area businesses during the crisis caused by the pandemic.

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Out of 22 applications, 20 businesses received business loans for $2,500 each, bringing the total of money made available through the loan program to $50,000. The city also reached out to 220 businesses in the area with information about the GROW program and received 70 applications, said Ewald.

It worked out well, he said, 64 were eligible for the grants. With $60,000 available, this allowed the city to give each recipient close to $1,000 each ($937.50 to be exact).

Ewald said both programs proved to be good moves for the city to help where it could. He and City Clerk Melissa Beckett sent a few checks in the mail, but the majority of recipients made arrangements to pick up their checks. "We had a great day staging checks for everybody to be picked up in the lobby," he added.

Updates on other projects around the city

City Administrator Ron Dill provided a report updating a number of projects in the city. In addition to health and safety guidelines, the spring weather has presented some challenges, especially in the areas of resurfacing and maintenance as well as construction in the city.

North Fort Thomas sidewalk project: Drawings for the project have been approved and are with the state for further approval. If all goes well, the project will be bid out in June and the work performed this year with a tentative deadline of November, said Dill. The resurfacing, also planned for the avenue, will then be pushed out into next year.

Tower Park resurfacing project: The weather has not been cooperating this spring, but the plan is to continue as soon as possible with resurfacing and curb work in Tower Park, including new parking areas near the Mess Hall, and resurfacing parking areas in Alexander Circle. Work is scheduled to be completed over the next three weeks, depending on the weather.

2020 Street Program: Dill said it was unfortunate that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, a public hearing on the streets program could not be held in March as originally planned. While the city staff would like to meet with residents in person, he said, the city is looking into alternatives, and is exploring an alternative timeline that may carry the project into next year.

Posing another challenge, two streets identified in the program are also chosen for work by the Northern Kentucky Water District. NKWD is planning to replace a water main on Crowell Avenue. This project is under design now and would be slated for a September completion schedule. The water department is also planning to dredge the reservoirs located off Military Parkway, and this work could also affect the city’s plans for resurfacing.

The work by NKWD could, therefore, push the city’s project into early next year. The plan right now is to work on items that can be addressed in the summer such as prep work, driveway repair, curb repair, adjustments to storm sewers and sidewalks.

The city could hold the public hearing on the items covered under the assessments in September. Then the work would be bid out over the winter and begin in spring 2021.

Interlocal agreement: Related to the street program is the city staff’s request to enter into an interlocal agreement with the Campbell County Fiscal Court concerning Crowell Avenue, one of the other streets in the resurfacing program. Dill explained it is common practice for the city to reach out to entities that may have jurisdiction on other parts of the same roads the city plans to repair. This gives the other agencies an option to share in fixing the entire road.

Campbell County controls part of Crowell. The county agreed to join in the work on Crowell and Eustice off Crowell. The city will bid out the work, and then bill the county for its portion of the project. City council approved the staff request.

One Highland project: Dill said some residents have been concerned about water on the property at One Highland. The developer stopped construction near the beginning of the COVID crisis. Tehy have agreed to put a permanent pump on the property as soon as possible to address the water issues and to spray for mosquitos since the season for those pests is approaching.

The developer is looking to move forward on a bond issue, Dill reported. They have been approved for financing and are looking at a 30-day closing period. The plan is for construction at the site to resume beginning July 1, if all goes well.

Barre3 Ft. Thomas, Located at 90 Alexandria Pike

Chesapeake Avenue speeding and traffic issues: Fort Thomas officials are working with Southbank Partners to submit applications for a federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant to address some of the traffic, speeding, sidewalk and other issues on Chesapeake.

The application deadline is in June. The project, which includes some work on retaining walls and minor road realignment, would cover from the top of the hill to the corporation line. The total price tag for the work is more than one million dollars. The plan is to break the request into two phases to have a better chance for success.

City communications project: The city is working with Shawn Mummert, principal of Cincinnati Creative, on the project. The main focus has been creating an accessible and easy-to-navigate calendar, explained Ewald. Mummert is also working on streamlining and organizing other pages of the site. Once this work is done, residents will be able to request customized notifications for city events and meetings.

The project is ready to be presented to the city committees involved in the coming month. "I have seen the prototype, and it is very impressive, much more functional...Our original goal for this project was to complete by the end of this fiscal year, and I do not see why we would not be able to meet that," said Ewald.

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