|Festival Park, Newport. FTM file.|
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The Newport City Commission has unanimously approved the bond issue, which the city will leverage with grant dollars to improve the Monmouth Street & U.S. 27 corridor - including the underpass railroad bridge section - as well as Festival Park along the Ohio River.
The grants of an estimated $7 million for Monmouth Street and $2.5 million for Festival Park are federal and state funding allocated to the city by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments.
Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli Jr. said he is typically not in favor of the city borrowing money through issuing bonds. But the grant funding combined with low interest rates convinced him that issuing the bonds was the right action for the city to take.
"One of the most beneficial aspects of taking out a bond is when you are able to leverage dollars," Mayor Guidugli said. "That's important to keep in mind because in most instances the city is responsible for 20 percent of the costs. The balance will be paid for by federal and state tax dollars, showing that other entities value these projects enough to put in their funding."
The city's bond rating has improved in recent years to A+ by Standard & Poor, a credit rating agency.
The improvement is a reflection of the city's effective financial management, said RSA Managing Director Joe Lakofka, who advised the city on the bond issue.
"I personally believe you are in a better financial position than three years ago," Lakofka, who has also advised the city on past financial issues, told Newport officials during a recent city commission meeting. "We have been able to make that case to get a better bond rating. And a better bond lowers the interest rate."
"All of this has come together at the right time for us to get value for our community, strengthen our community and make a difference in the lives of our residents," Mayor Guidugli said. "We are taking out a loan that will be worth it in the long run."
The U.S. 27 improvements in the underpass corridor will improve traffic and pedestrian safety and access in the area, said City Manager Tom Fromme.
"This project will make that area safer for motorists while improving pedestrian and bicycle access as well," Fromme said.
Improvements will include sidewalks, streetscapes and access management and will be done in two phases: From 11th Street south to Carothers Road; and from Carothers Road to the city border with Southgate. Bids for the first phase will likely be this summer.
Festival Park will be improved from Columbia Street east to the Purple People Bridge with a $2,428,428 OKI grant that requires a 20 percent city match. The city is in the process of designing the improvement project and does not yet have a final cost, said Assistant City Manager Larisa Sims.
The grant combined with the city's contribution will fund improved transportation connections for vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles along River Commons to public spaces near the Newport riverfront and the city's major development areas, including the Ovation music venue that will open later this year, Newport on the Levee, BB Riverboats and other locations.
The riverfront park is immensely popular with Newport residents, visitors and people from throughout Greater Cincinnati who annually flock to the park for events that include Italianfest, Seafoodfest, Goettafest and Oktoberfest. The proposed improvements will increase usage of the park when events are not taking place.
The improvements will also enhance Riverfront Commons, an 11.5-mile walking/biking path that runs along the Ohio River from Ludlow on the west to Fort Thomas on the east and through the cities of Covington, Newport, Dayton and Bellevue.
Southbank Partners -which manages economic and community development in Northern Kentucky's river cities - has been instrumental in working with Newport and its other member cities on securing grant funding from OKI and the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the project, which is more than 50 percent complete.