Tuesday, April 10, 2001

River city meshes new with old

Bellevue keeps charm while developments go up

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BELLEVUE - Entering Bellevue on Ky. 8, where it changes from Dave Cowens Drive in Newport to Fairfield Avenue, a visitor gets a perfect example of how the city is meshing the new and the old without detracting from either.

        On the left, just above the Ohio River, workers are constructing Port Bellevue, a development guided by the city that includes three restaurants and office space.

        Across the street is the Bellevue Vets building, a landmark that has been a gathering place for Bellevue citizens for decades. A small marquee sign announces the annual Lenten fish fry.

        It's not just by chance that the new development and the Bellevue Vets can co-exist in such close proximity and help provide for the quality of life in this river town of 7,000, according to four-term Mayor Tom Wiethorn.

        “That was the game plan we adopted very early in this administration,” said Mr. Wiethorn, who grew up in Bellevue where his father and grandfather also were in public service. “We knew we wanted to grow, but we couldn't injure any historic aspect of Bellevue.”

        While encouraging renovation of historic houses through various programs and state grants, city officials also kept a close eye on new development and how the new structures would fit with the old.

        A good example is the United Dairy Farmers store being built on Fairfield Avenue just east of Port Bellevue. The poles supporting the sign and lights above the gas pumps are enclosed in brick columns, and smaller brick columns and wrought iron fencing at the sidewalk complement the large brick homes across the street.

        “Developers must realize they are coming into someone else's front yard,” Mr. Wiethorn said. “Bellevue is a pedestrian-oriented community. New development must be pleasing to the pedestrian.”

        Over the past 12 years, an estimated $9 million has been invested in both public and private funds in Bellevue's historic district, according to the mayor.

        “We invite people who don't know much about Bellevue to stick their nose into the city and look around,” the mayor said. “They'll probably be surprised and pleased at the number of older homes in excellent condition along tree-lined streets.”

        Esther Ries, who also grew up in Bellevue and lives with her retired husband, Bob, on Bonnie Lesley Avenue, thinks most residents are proud of their city and help maintain the image of a comfortable, affordable place to live.

        “We have a lot of gardens and statues and planters in the parks,” said Mrs. Ries, chairwoman of the Bellevue Garden Committee. “We're always looking for ways to beautify the city.”

        Nagel Park received new lighting and a number of new shrubs over the weekend, thanks to volunteer efforts.

        “The riverfront park is wonderful,” she said. “You can be there for a summer evening concert and watch the boats go by and listen to the calliope. My brother visited last year from New Hampshire, and he took a book down to the riverfront park one day just to read and relax.”

        Although Bellevue, like many Northern Kentucky communities, lost some population in the 2000 census, Mr. Wiethorn doesn't see the census figures as a reason to panic.

        “We've had some families move to the suburbs, I'm sure, but what we're seeing in our population is people who have lived here many years and young couples coming in and purchasing large, older homes to renovate,” he said. “I think we're very healthy.”

        Mr. Wiethorn said the city administration has sought to attract “sustainable investment projects, projects that will be an asset and remain in the community.”

        He pointed to three areas — the Sixth Street corridor bordering Newport, the riverfront and the historic downtown area along Fairfield Avenue — as examples of sustainable businesses.

        Bellevue isn't perfect, by any means. It struggles with the same problems as any other small city, including a constant search for new businesses and funds to upgrade infrastructure.

        “I hope we can begin to fill some of the vacant (commercial) buildings along Fairfield,” Mrs. Ries said. “We have some nice stores, but I'd like to see more.”


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