On the drive along Highway Avenue between Covington and Ludlow, the neighborhood commercial area at Altamont Road passes like a little-noticed blip.
But residents of the surrounding Botany Hills neighborhood have created a plan to change that perception.
With help from the local Devou Good Foundation and the City of Covington, the group hopes to energize the neighborhood business “node” by slowing down busy traffic, increasing walkability, filling vacant storefronts with businesses and jobs, planting trees, creating a makerspace café or retail food establishment for restaurants, and increasing property values.
The plan – called the “Botany Hills Urban Junction” – recently emerged as the winner of the City’s months’ long competitive process called The RIPPLE Effect, which will bring $200,000 in publicly funded infrastructure improvements as well as focused application of City services.
In return, members of the Botany Hills group will commit their own contributions by way of volunteer hours, private funding, and in-kind donations.
The project is the second selected to be a part of The RIPPLE Effect, which was designed to help neighborhoods set into motion a series of improvements. (The word “ripple” is an acronym that stands for “Revitalization Includes People, Places, Lifestyles and Economic investment.”)
The first was awarded in 2019 to the Lewisburg Thorofare Project in 2019.
“The RIPPLE Effect is a way to bring public improvement dollars to a part of the city that hasn’t historically received a lot of public investments, and Botany Hills certainly meets that category,” said Jeremy Wallace, federal grants manager with Covington’s Neighborhood Services Department.
The Botany Hills grant proposal’s private investor, the Devou Good Foundation, will contribute $50,000 to the initiative. The organization partners with nonprofits to assess the unique needs of communities within the region and helps facilitate projects to meet those identified needs.
Wallace said the foundation’s record of accomplishment was key in securing the RIPPLE grant.
“The Botany Hills proposal was selected based on the prior track record of the Devou Good Foundation in completing community development projects,” Wallace said. “They’ve been involved in multiple projects to bring new recreational opportunities to Devou Park and other parts of the city.”
City officials will work with members of the Botany Hills group in the coming months to determine which of the proposed public improvements are feasible as well as identify areas that various City departments can bring their services to bear on the area.
The proposal includes a range of public improvements such as enhanced crosswalks at Altamont Street and Highway Avenue, tree plantings, improved bus stops, bike racks, garbage/recycling containers, dog waste stations, neighborhood gateway signs, improvements to existing neighborhood signs/landscaping, façade improvements to commercial buildings, and repairs to Parkway Avenue Bridge/Underpass access steps.
Those enhancements, and the momentum that might come from them, are exciting to businesses and/or organizations in Botany Hills.
Shannon Starkey-Taylor, CEO of Learning Grove, supported the neighborhood’s proposal, speaking from the perspective of a business that has long operated in the area.
“We have operated a high-quality child development center at the corner of Highway and Altamont for over 20 years and believe that greater investment in the neighborhood will allow our Montessori Early Learning Academy to run a more financially sustainable program,” Starkey-Taylor said.
Jody Robinson, a former Botany Hills resident who works with the Devou Good Foundation on some of its projects, said the proposal addresses a “pedestrian-unfriendly” portion of the road that connects Covington to one of its great assets – Devou Park.
“The improvements will help this historic neighborhood realize its potential by providing a desirable pedestrian-friendly neighborhood,” Robinson said. “The proposed traffic calming elements, along with the sidewalk and crosswalk improvements, will serve the diverse population of the neighborhood, including churches, businesses, and visitors, by improving the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and property.”
Robinson said the group expects the completion of a regional walking and biking trail along the Ohio River called Riverfront Commons to increase pedestrian activity. Shifting the focus, she said, from getting cars along Highway Avenue – aka Ky. 8 – to moving people safely is important for both those outside the immediate area and those who live within it.
“It’s an important corridor, but it’s also a neighborhood and a way for people to connect to their jobs and lives,” Robinson said.
The RIPPLE funding will help reduce accidents and speed, while increasing pedestrian usage, Robinson said.
“But it gets better,” Robinson said. “This investment in the neighborhood will stimulate private improvements and business interest in this well-positioned neighborhood connecting Covington with Ludlow and beyond.”
Ultimately, she said, the grant presents “opportunity,” and an important one.
“Economic development can shift neighborhood pride,” Robinson said. “You start seeing tree plantings and rehabs. Those things happen when you’re able to do something important.”
City of Covington