Cov’s new Plaza space connects the city to the river, a new vision long after the failure of floating restaurants
The sun was shining but the air reeked of frustration and failure.
It was June 17, 1994 – and barge workers on the edge of the Covington River had just broken the handle of a hammer, unsuccessfully forced with a massive wrench, and finally harnessed the force of a huge crane to loosen the last of the 48 bolts that secure the Spirit. of America replica of the steamboat moored at the foot of Scott Boulevard.
Only a few curious people – and a reporter – were on hand as the tugs slowly relieved the Spirit of the “dolphins” standing anchored to the muddy bottom and slowly vanished toward the Missouri.
What viewers did not recognize was that they were witnessing the first cracks in the collapse of an era.
By the late ’80s and early’ 90s, the sight of a river lined with floating restaurants and entertainment had wowed Covington with neon lights and upbeat dreams.
But that excitement was fleeting, and the reality turned out to be quite different. What started with such a promise was quickly weighed down by debt, bankruptcy and misunderstandings of market demand, as well as the vagaries of an unpredictable river, whose relentless current and periodic flooding deposited driftwood. and mud, cracked welds and caused leaks, washed away gangways and tore off moorings.
To be sure, the end of the riverboat restaurant dream would be terribly long and winding. But when the last floating complex was crushed by a fleeing barge, its sinking was almost anti-climactic.
• • •
This failed experiment explains why today city officials say the near-completed $ 6.5 million Phase II of Riverfront Commons – and specifically the space known as Covington Plaza – represents not only a dramatic physical transformation, but also a fundamental shift in Covington’s relationship with its riverbanks and a new philosophy of public access.
“It’s hard to convey the magnitude of what this project represents in Covington,” said Ken Smith, director of neighborhood services for the city. “For a long time we were blocking the river or trying to tame it. In the future, the city embraces its riverside and offers residents more opportunities to access and appreciate its beauty.
This week, members of Covington’s Public Works and Neighborhood Services met with Prus Construction project managers to make a site “point list”. Prus will spend the next week or two on the finishing touches, such as filling in landscaping gaps, cleaning up gravel and mud, and staining and sealing poured concrete.
The project is actually part of Covington’s contribution to the Riverfront Commons plan proposed by the regional organization Southbank Partners some 20 years ago. The goal is to connect six river towns with an uninterrupted 11.5 mile hiking and biking trail from Fort Thomas to Ludlow.
In Covington, the completed Riverfront Commons will be approximately 2.7 miles long. The following section is currently open for tenders and will extend the current route of the flood gate on Highway Avenue to Hathaway Court.
Phase II, often referred to as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ section, stretches from Greenup Street just west of the Madison Overlook, encompassing the former space of Covington Landing as well as a previously inaccessible muddy and grassy coastline. He understands:
• an amphitheater with 1,350 seats where crowds can watch musicians and others perform, where festivals will be held, and where people can sit and have lunch, like the Serpentine Wall in Cincinnati.
• Two concrete paths – totaling 2,800 feet – used by walkers, cyclists and runners to travel along the water’s edge or along the murals of the flood wall. The paths lead to a concrete path on the west side of RiverCenter.
• A “jetty” under the suspension bridge where paddlers can launch kayaks and canoes.
• upgraded views at the foot of Madison Avenue and Scott Street
Festivals and productions
Smith said the city is planning a grand grand opening in June. But the Covington Plaza space is already in use and scheduled: The Carnegie will organize 10 performances of the dance and the musical production “I Got Rhythm” there this weekend, following on from “George Remus: A New Musical” which had held on April 30. May 1 (Tickets are available HERE.)
Additionally, organizers this morning announced the three-day FedEx Rockin Taco Festival to be held June 25-27. It will feature an array of vendors with creative interpretations of tacos and Latin music and dance. (See HERE for more details.)
Other festivals will be announced soon.
But as exciting as these events are, Smith said he expected more people to simply come to the common area on a daily basis to sit and watch the river, have lunch, hike, cycle. and take pictures. Currently, people who want to watch the river have only one place to go: the benches scattered along Riverside Drive.
“Planners like to talk about ‘activating’ spaces, and we believe that the use and activity of the public at Covington Plaza will fully achieve the purpose of this word,” he said.
The informal and predominantly programmed nature of public use will be very different from the vision that, in the 1990s, inspired floating restaurants up and down the river.
At one point, a veritable flotilla of floating complexes was moored on the Ohio River from its confluence with the Licking River in the west to the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.
The largest was Covington Landing, a conglomerate of restaurants, nightclubs and retail stores spanning three football fields, with primary access via walkways on the Madison and Scott Overhangs. Shortly before the resort opened in August 1990, the Kentucky Post described it as a “mosaic of family entertainment made from historic fragments of riverboat memorabilia, colorful theme park tiles, and stains of glitter of nightlife. “
It consisted of three parts: The Spirit of America was home to the upscale stobart and Steamboat’s Steakhouse, Belle’s River Saloon, jazz and Dixieland music at Moon River Café, and other features. The Wharf – a tiered barge designed to resemble a San Francisco-style seaport – was home to places like the City Lights Dance Club, the Howl-At-The-Moon Saloon, the Sand Bar’s rooftop patio, TGI Friday’s and Sweet Charlotte’s. The Showboat Sensation, made to look like an old-fashioned showboat, features a 136-seat theater playing a historic diorama. BB Riverboats has moored its cruise ships at the west end of the wharf.
But the excitement wouldn’t last.
Business suffered from a sluggish economy and misconceptions about what customers wanted. The themes have been changed and changed again.
All the while, the relentless Ohio Current, debris carried by floodwaters, and fleeing boats and barges hammered through the various complexes.
In 1994, bankruptcy claimed the Spirit, and it was sold and dragged.
Three years later, the City itself will buy The Wharf in a desperate attempt to save it, but the City will later be forced to sell the complex for the cost of the metal that could be salvaged. Ironically, The Wharf would sink days after being towed away from Covington in 2006.
To the east, the iconic Mike Fink closed for repair in 2008 and has never reopened.
And to the west, The Waterfront restaurant and resort – whose owners prided themselves on serving everyone from NBA legend Michael Jordan to King of Jordan to Margaret Thatcher – loosened from its moorings and closed in 2011. In 2014, the closed complex was hit by a barge and sank.
Jay Fossett, who was Covington city manager in 2005-09, said he was told on his second day on the job that The Wharf – then owned by the city – was on the run. He soon found himself below the waterline in her “dirty, dirty and nasty” hull, inspecting the cracks.
By this time, the city was tired of all this ordeal.
“Have you heard that famous adage about the happiest two days in a boat owner’s life – the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it?” Fossett asked a few days ago. “This was our experience with the floating restaurants in Covington.”
Town of Covington