Friday, October 12, 2001

Parking part of jail debate

Merchants see growth potential

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — If there is a neighborhood fight over building a jail along Pike Street, the battle could be over parking spaces rather than convicts.

        A handful of business owners who operate near the latest site being considered for a county jail — a parking lot and some adjacent property at and around Pike and Washington streets in downtown Covington — said Thursday that as long as parking is provided they could live with a jail.

        Business people even get excited over the prospect that the jail and parking lot would be developed in concert with new county offices, a potential new source of customers.

[photo] Dummies dressed as convicts outside a Covington restaurant in March conveyed opposition to the proposed expansion of the Kenton County Jail (rear).
(Enquirer file photo)
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        “We don't see a problem with it as long as parking for our employees and our customers is provided in the area,” said Dan Humpert, manager of Klingenberg's Hardware & Paints, which is on West Seventh Street, less than a block from the proposed jail site.

        Mr. Humpert said he has no safety concerns about the jail.

        “That has no effect on our feeling about the jail,” he said. “We feel like our business would be better because of new people working in and coming to the area.”

        Judi Gerding, executive director of The Point, which provides training and services to the developmentally disabled in facilities directly across the street from the site, said she thinks the project would improve the area.

        “One of our biggest concerns is available parking,” Ms. Gerding said Thursday. “But if there is still parking in the area, and there are also some new buildings and offices developed with the jail, we don't really have a problem with it.”

        Those comments are a stark contrast to the reaction the Kenton County Fiscal Court has received in other places when it has tried over the past three years to build a badly needed facility to replace the existing, chronically overcrowded jail at 303 Court St. in downtown Covington.

        Some people in Edgewood, Elsmere and Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood mounted stiff opposition when the jail was proposed in those areas, eventually persuading the fiscal court to look elsewhere.

        The reaction was the same when expanding and renovating the existing jail was suggested. In most cases opponents were concerned over the safety of having the jail near their homes and businesses and how the facility might affect property values and development potential.

        One restaurant even placed dummies dressed as convicts on its exterior as part of the protest, and T-shirts reading “Covington: Not Jail Bait” were made up.

        But it appears the county may have an easier — though still not problem-free — road with a jail in concert with parking and administrative offices at Pike and Washington.

        “There is no knee-jerk reaction against it,” said Jim Gilliece, owner of Chez Nora restaurant in Covington's MainStrasse Village and president of the Covington Business Council, an influential organization that has yet to take an official position on the Pike and Washington site.

        “We certainly prefer that site over 303 Court St.,” Mr. Gilliece said. “And if (the new location) is handled correctly, and it includes an administration building, then it could do a lot to jump-start development in that area.”

        Still, the debate over the new site is just beginning; opponents of the proposal and questions about the plan are certain to emerge.

        Covington city commissioners, the Kenton County Fiscal Court and Southbank Partners, a nonprofit group promoting development in Northern Kentucky's river cities, are to hold a public hearing on the plan from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22 at Covington city hall.

        Concerns as well as support are expected to be aired during that hearing.

        Some opposition could come from one of the region's best-known business people.

        Covington is in the process of taking the property through eminent domain condemnation from its owner, Corporex Cos. chairman Bill Butler. The city has said it wants the property to createparking so more development could move in.

        Mr. Butler, who developed the RiverCenter office and hotel development on Covington's riverfront, along with several other high-profile projects throughout Greater Cincinnati, wants to build a comprehensive social service agency known as The New Life Center on the property.

        Mr. Butler could not be reached to comment.

        But Linda Young, the executive director of Welcome House, one of the Covington social service agencies spearheading development of the proposed New Life Center, said she thinks the city has changed its mind about the property.

        “The city has always said they were dead-set on a parking lot, now it looks like that has changed,” Ms. Young said Thursday.

        “No one has contacted us about the jail plan ... and that's a problem,” she said. “I understand that this is part of economic development, but why aren't we are part of that? I've read (public officials) want input from businesses, but why not input from us?”


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