Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Monmouth Street revamp gets preliminary OK

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — City commissioners — with Mayor Tom Guidugli and Commissioner Jerry Peluso abstaining — approved first reading of an ordinance Monday to start construction on the long-awaited Monmouth Street streetscape project.

        City Manager Phil Ciafardini said the work, including new sidewalks and curbs, elimination of all overhead wires and utility poles and installation of underground utilities, and new landscaping, could begin by May 1.

        The vote on the $4 million project, came after more than an hour of discussion with a number of Monmouth Street property/business owners. Second reading will be at next Monday's commission meeting.

        Mr. Guidugli and Mr. Peluso did not vote on the ordinance because both own property on Monmouth Street.

        Property owners will pick up slightly more than $1.3 million of the project's cost through assessments that will be paid over a 10-year period that won't begin for three years after the project starts.

        Some of those owners objected to the amount of assessment, which breaks down to $35.98 per foot of frontage.

        “We don't feel the assessment is fair,” said Shelia Schilling, who with her husband, Fred, operates a store on Monmouth Street specializing in police and fire uniforms and accessories. “If the city is applying for another grant, I think we should wait to see how much it is and how much it will lower the assessments.”

        The city has applied for a state grant through the state Renaissance Cities program, and could receive as much as $1 million which could be used for the streetscape project. City officials hope to learn whether they have been awarded the grant in the next three months.

        But Mr. Ciafardini pointed out that “waiting for the grant money could push the start of the project back six months to a year. We have to move ahead now. We've waited long enough and we can't take a chance on construction prices going up.”

        Newport attorney Tom Beiting, a member of the board of directors of the Newport Business Association, said the association is “enthusiastically in support of the Monmouth Street project.”

        “One thing is obvious, and that is that Monmouth Street is decaying and dying,” Mr. Beiting said. “The only thing that will change that is an immediate, unified effort. We must move ahead now.”

        City officials and commissioners have repeatedly said they think a face lift for Monmouth Street, the city's main drag, would encourage new businesses to move in and help connect the business district with the soon-to-open Newport on the Levee entertainment complex along the river.

        Bill Barton, who owns the Pepper Pod restaurant at Seventh and Monmouth, asked Mr. Ciafardini what would happen after the new sidewalks and other work is completed.

        “We have hired a firm to do an implementation study on making Monmouth Street two-way,” Mr. Ciafardini said. “It the study supports it, it could take two years or five years to eventually convert it to two ways (from one-way north).”

        He said that study would also deal with additional parking on side streets and behind Monmouth Street businesses, and the possibility of installing new parking meters.

        “This is just the beginning of a number of issues concerning Monmouth Street that we must deal with in the coming years,” Commissioner Ken Rechtin said. "We must work together, and we must market what we have as a group.”


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