Thursday, September 27, 2001

$550,000 for restoration in jeopardy

Strip-club zone could erase grant

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A $550,000 state grant awarded to Covington to restore the Odd Fellows Hall is in jeopardy because of the city's attempt to establish an adult-entertainment zone in the neighborhood where the hall is located, Gov. Paul Patton said Wednesday.

        “I'm not criticizing the (entertainment zone) decision, but I'm saying we are reviewing” the grant allocation, Mr. Patton said Wednesday while attending an event in Edgewood.

[photo] The Odd Fellows Hall, built in 1856 at Fifth and Madison, would be restored with a $550,000 state grant.
(Enquirer file photo)
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        Mr. Patton's concerns, as well as a negative outcry from business leaders and residents, has prompted the City Commission to rethink establishing the zone.

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery said Wednesday the final vote on the zone — which had been set for next week — will be delayed and a committee will be formed to study the issue.

        “We're tabling the whole thing right now,” Mr. Callery said. “We're going to be meeting over the next few weeks to discuss what we want to do.

        At issue is a $550,000 grant the city has been awarded under Kentucky's Renaissance program. Started by Mr. Patton, the program is designed to help cities maintain or restore downtowns and entice new businesses.

        Covington's grant, announced in July, is earmarked to help convert the historic Odd Fellows Hall at Fifth Street and Madison Avenue into an office and retail project.

        But since learning that it would receive the money, the Covington City Commission took steps to establish a sexually oriented business zone in the downtown neighborhood that includes the Odd Fellows Hall and other areas business people are trying to develop.

        Mr. Patton said because the city changed the area designated for the money the grant is now being reviewed.

        “It would appear that this (zone) would constitute a change in the plan,” he said. “It's just that I think it would be prudent to review whether or not this is part of the Renaissance plan.”

        The proposed zone is in two sections:

        • A four-block area from East Fourth Street to halfway between East Fifth and Sixth streets, with a portion of Madison Avenue and Electric Alley.

        • One square block bordered by East Fourth Street, Park Street, Court Street and Scott Boulevard.

        “We're listening to the public and we've heard what the governor has to say, and we think it's best to just put things on hold right now and talk more to the community before we move forward with anything,” Mr. Callery said.

        Commissioners thought that establishing the zone would prevent the 11 sexually oriented businesses — mostly strip clubs — in the neighborhood from expanding outside the area.

        Commissioner J.T. Spence said strip-club owners have expressed an interest in putting a club near Madison Avenue and Seventh Street.

        “We felt that by confining the businesses to one area, we would prevent them from spreading out all over the city,” Mr. Spence said.

        The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the businesses must be allowed to operate somewhere, but cities can designate areas.

        But residents and business leaders packed a Sept. 17 meeting to oppose the move. They told city commissioners they were hurting the chance for the area to develop by inviting more sexually oriented businesses into the zone.

        “I can see where the city is coming from,” said Greg Shumate, a lawyer and member of the Covington Business Council. “But putting it right downtown in an area that is about to really develop is a bad idea.”

        Republican and Democratic Party leaders have expressed opposition to the zone by lobbying city commissioners and the governor's office. Executives from Ashland Inc., headquartered at the RiverCenter office tower complex near the proposed zone, also have spoken out against it.

        Opponents say the city should look at putting the zone someplace else in the city.

        “It's not easy to do because there aren't a lot of places to go with it,” Mr. Spence said. “But maybe we haven't done a very good job explaining our intentions and we need to step back, get so more input and rethink our decision.”

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