Covington Business Council celebrates 50 year anniversary by recounting history, honoring local business, and looking forward

CBC Executive Director Pat Frew. Photo by Kenton Hornbeck.

The history of the Covington Business Council is intrinsically linked to the history of Covington. The CBC celebrated 50 years of civic and economic development in the community Thursday.

The CBC hosted the networking event at the Radisson Hotel on W. 5th Street. The CBC focused on detailing the past while articulating their vision for the future of business in Covington. Pat Frew, executive director of the CBC, was the host. He gave a moving speech detailing Covington’s past economic struggles and revitalization, and the role the CBC played in it.

The city was greatly affected by housing and retail trends that emerged after World War II. Covington had a population of more than 64,000 people after the war. By 1970, the city’s population decreased to 52,000 people. Over a 20 year period, the city’s population declined 18 percent.

“That population decrease also contributed to a demographic shift as more affluent Covingtonians moved south to Park Hills, Edgewood and Lakeside Park where new homes, quiet subdivisions and backyard cookouts seemed to be vital elements of the American Dream,” Frew said.

Covington’s downtown business owners and banking community knew in the early 1970s the plans for the 940,000 square foot Florence Mall in Boone County were going to hurt the city’s aging business district.

In response to the plans, Covington’s financial community created the Covington Urban Redevelopment Effort (CURE), a banking-driven organization to help revitalize the stagnant downtown business district. Banker Ralph Haile Jr. of Peoples Liberty Bank joined together with 14 other executives from other local institutions to fund CURE. Former Mayor Bernard Grimm and City Manager Paul Royster served on the advisory board and played key roles in determining whether the city would provide support for the organization.

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After CURE’s first key project, the Old Town Plaza pedestrian mall, failed to compete with the booming Florence Mall during the late 1970s, the group rebranded.

“After seven years of mixed results downtown, CURE was positioned for a rebranding, which took place in 1979, when the Covington Retail Merchants Association disbanded and then merged with CURE to create ACT for Covington, which focused on promoting downtown businesses and developing Covington’s riverfront,” Frew said.

ACT for Covington had many successes such as playing a supporting role in the development of the $80 million River Center buildings. In the fall of 1980, former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown was the keynote speaker at the group’s first annual meeting. ACT attracted and promoted new businesses in downtown Covington, advocated for improvements to I-75, and launched an ambitious cleanup campaign in mid-1982.

On June 20, 1980, ACT officially changed its name to the Covington Business Council. The CBC continues to help push Covington’s economic progress forward to this day.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer was the final keynote speaker. He articulated the shared vision between the CBC and Covington’s civic leaders. He also give an important history lesson on how Covington is “the story of a bridge and a road”. In essence, the story of Covington can be told through the lens of I-75 and the Brent Spence Bridge. Meyer described how both of these critical infrastructure pieces affected the city’s past, and how they will affect its future. He thanked the CBC for the positive mutual relationship between the organization and the city.

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“The city government’s relationship with the CBC is good. Tom West, our economic development director, is a former executive director of the CBC,” Meyer said. “We have watched some good people from the CBC come and go through the years. But throughout, the structure and organization, born of the challenges of change, lives on as advocates for a better business environment in Covington. As communicators for the Covington story, champions of purposeful change and supporters of the city’s values. May your next 50 years be as productive as your first 50.”

Before Frew and Meyer spoke, the CBC honored local businesses and nonprofits who are celebrating their anniversaries in 2022.

The Metropolitan Club celebrated their 30 year anniversary. Founded in 1991, the social club is on the 19th floor of the Tower of River Center. The Met Club’s ballroom has the capacity to fit up to 250 people and features high-rise panoramic views of the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati riverfronts.

Northern Kentucky Tri-ED is celebrating their 35 year anniversary. Lee Crume, president of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, stated how the organization has been able to directly help 717 businesses, invest $8.7 billion in Northern Kentucky and provided 69,000 with jobs. Crume is optimistic about the region’s economic trajectory.

“We are 400,000 people which makes us 10 percent of this great commonwealth. We are 20 percent of the metropolitan area in which we live,” Crume said. “We are unequivocally the fastest growing piece of both of those economies. From 2015 to 2020, the state of Kentucky lost 40,000 jobs. Northern Kentucky added 10,000 jobs.”

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The Radisson Cincinnati Riverfront in Covington is celebrating their 50 year anniversary. Art Santamo, General Manager at the Radisson Cincinnati Riverfront, described the property’s transformation from a humble Frisch’s to one of the region’s most iconic hotels.

“Our restaurant is one of the only ones that rotate in the country,” Santamo said. “It’s actually done really well during the pandemic. Overall, the hotel is going pretty strong.”

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is celebrating their 75 year anniversary. Bobby Spann, CVG VP of External Affairs, described the economic impact the airport has on the region.

“The first flight at CVG in 1947 was an American Airlines flight that landed from Cleveland. Minutes later the first Delta airlines flight landed that same afternoon,” Spann said. “Since that time, CVG has grown and expanded into a diversified business with passenger and cargo activity that has resulted in $6.8 billion in economic impact.”

Finally, the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center is celebrating their 100 year anniversary. Karen Etling, Executive Director of Baker Hunt, described the impact their founder’s legacy.

“We were founded by a wonderful, forward thinking woman by the name of Margaretta Baker-Hunt,” Etling said. “She lost all of her family but one in a five year period. She took the steps to create an organization that would provide joy and art in the community. We’ve been following her mission for almost 100 years.”

Businesses that were not in attendance but are celebrating anniversaries are Designs Direct turning 20, Southbank Partners turning 25, and the Point/Arc of Northern Kentucky turning 50.