After getting hit hard during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newport bounced back by attracting new commercial and residential developments, while continuing to update the city’s infrastructure.
That was the message as the Newport business and civic communities gathered at BB Riverboats on Wednesday morning where City Manager Tom Fromme gave his annual “State of the City” address during the Newport Business Association’s monthly meeting.
Fromme addressed the interested crowd, detailing the strides the city has made over the past few years, while also outlining the challenges that lie ahead.
“The past few years have been difficult and challenging, but we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Fromme said. “It is times like this where we discover how resilient our community actually is. Now is the time to reignite our optimism and look both backwards and forward at our accomplishments and future goals.”
Newport is a city of just over 14,000 people, less than half of its peak population from the middle of the last century. Newport suffered economic setbacks, Fromme explained, as the city felt the brunt of deindustrialization. Longtime residents watched as economic stalwarts such as Newport Steel exited the community.
Jobs left the area, causing the city government and business community to pivot. Newport was no longer a haven for industrial manufacturing jobs. The city needed a new economic identity.
“We went from a manufacturing-based economy to more of a professional/office/service-based economy,” Fromme said.
Fast forward to the present day, Newport faced another daunting economic hurdle: overcoming the challenges levied by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s economy was now predominantly reliant on the service industry and office jobs, two industries the pandemic posed an immediate threat to.
Emerging from the pandemic unscathed was impossible. Every city in Northern Kentucky suffered economic setbacks. Newport tried to hit the ground running in 2021 and 2022 in hopes of reinvigorating the community.
Fromme attributes the recent success of Newport to stable city leadership.
“We’ve experienced a tremendous amount of new development,” Fromme said. “Success is due to stable elected and staff leadership.”
Construction on the $1 billion Ovation development along the Ohio Riverfront continues. Completion of Phase II of Corporex’s construction plan draws closer. The MegaCorp Pavilion, previously named the PromoWest Pavilion, is already open. The site’s office building and hotel are nearing completion. 125,000-square-feet of retail and entertainment space are planned.
Newport continues to invest in infrastructure. For 2023 and beyond, the city has plans for improvements to the South Monmouth Street corridor, as well as the renovation of Festival Park. The riverfront venue hosts dozens of annual events which attract thousands of visitors to Newport each year.
Redevelopment of Newport on the Levee continues under its new owners, North American Properties, with several more phases planned. A mixed-use hotel and office building is planned for the site adjacent to the World Peace Bell, and the citywide street and sidewalk paving program will continue. Streetscape improvements are also planned on Monmouth Street, the city’s downtown business corridor.
“We foresee a stable and growing employment and business base with many significant developments on the horizon, and we see growing property valuations,” Fromme said. “We also continue to focus on vacant properties and foreclosures so those can be converted back into housing.”
Other Newport accomplishments in 2021 shared during the address include:
- Completion of the U.S. 27 improvement design.
- Completed the update and adoption of new floodplain maps.
- Established Emergency Medical Services at the MegaCorp Pavilion.
- Purchased and installed solar powered stop signs and crosswalks.
- Developed and implemented the Newport Police Cadet Program.
- Installed youth basketball court, bioswale, and plantings in Bernadette Watkins Park.
- Installed new playground equipment in city parks.
- Excavated an additional 27 spaces for street trees for the West End Citizens Coalition.
According to Fromme, Newport is on a solid financial foundation. The city maintained an A+ credit rating throughout the pandemic and has a cash balance of $4.7 million on an annual budget of approximately $25 million.
“Over the last few years, the City’s net payroll revenues have increased dramatically,” Fromme said. “In 2021, the City gained a net nine new companies and 48 net new employees. This growth is critical since payroll taxes are our primary source of revenue, accounting for approximately 32 percent of our budget.”
Despite the positives, Newport continues to face challenges going forward. The maintenance and repair of aging infrastructure, rising pension costs, inflation, access to quality affordable housing and limited revenue streams are all hurdles the city must overcome in order to continue its growth and development.
Fromme outlined Newport’s seven strategic goals moving forward which are:
- Strong vibrant neighborhoods.
- Establishing meaningful places.
- Economic prosperity and resilience.
- Transportation, access, mobility and utilities.
- Environmental Stewardship.
- Healthy and safe community.
- Good government.
“Our operational goals for 2022 continue to include further redevelopment of residential and commercial properties, working on quality of life issues such as parks and recreation, improved transparency through effective use of social media and maintaining a safe, walkable community,” Fromme said.