Newport Vice Mayor Tom Guidugli Jr. remembers when people were taken aback when he told them he was from Newport.

“They’d kind of back up and say, ‘Oh!’ when I told where I was from,” he says.

Not any more. “When I tell them I’m from Newport today they start to tell you all the things they like about the city.”

The old city at the Licking and Ohio Rivers has taken on new life thanks to a focus on developing entertainment venues and multi-family housing aimed at both young professionals and empty nesters that want to be in an urban setting close to the river.

It’s part of an ongoing transformation that started with the construction of the Newport Aquarium and Newport on the Levee more than a decade ago, says Guidugli.

It’s reflected in recent projects such as the $80 million Aqua on the Levee, which includes 238 luxury apartments adjacent to Newport on the Levee, and two new hotels, the boutique Aloft Hotel, part of Starwoods Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and the Hampton Inn, which replaced the old Travelodge, near the Taylor-Southgate Bridge.

Also in development is the Academy on Fourth, consisting of 200 apartments in the former Fourth Street School.

“That adds residents downtown. More people in the community will draw more support for our Monmouth Street corridor and businesses in that area including the Levee,” says Guidugli.

Over the years, he says the city of Newport has earned a reputation as a place where projects get done without a lot of red tape.

“Newport is simpler than other places and that has value,” he says.

For example, he says, Capital Investment Partners in Cincinnati has developed the Aqua on the Levee and the Aloft Hotel, Southshore condominiums and Vue 180 on the Water Apartments.

“They continue to do projects in Newport and seek them out in Newport, in part because of ease of doing business here,” he says.

Jack Moreland, president of Southbank Partners, a regional development organization, says, “You have to go back to the city fathers in Newport. Back in the late to mid-1990s they focused on the entertainment industry and making downtown vibrant.”
Over the years since, he says personalities on the Newport City Commission have changed, “but the vision hasn’t changed.”

This year promises some major new projects in Newport.

Among them is the completion of the Kentucky Rt. 9 (AA Highway) expansion. The four-lane roadway, which has been in development for a number of years, will provide new access to downtown Newport from Interstate 275.

The project, with two roundabouts, one at the base of the Veteran’s Bridge and one at the base of the Taylor-Southgate Bridge, will take some of the traffic pressure off the overworked Brent Spence Bridge in Covington, Moreland says.

“This isn’t designed to take the place of the Brent Spence,” he says. “But it will increase activity on the Taylor Southgate Bridge and some folks who want to get to downtown Cincinnati may use it rather than the Brent Spence.”

In addition, he says, completion of the highway will open about 75 acres along its route for future development.

Later this year New Riff Distillery’s rickhouse for aging bourbon and rye is slated for completion just south of the 12th Street Bridge in Newport. It will store up to 18,000 barrels of bourbon and there are plans for a tasting room, event spaces and offices. New Riff, which opened in 2014, is located on Newport’s east side and is the northern most point on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Also late this year, the 235-foot SkyWheel, which will offer 360-degree panoramic views of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky from inside 30 climate-controlled gondolas is expected to open at Newport Festival Park.

After several years of effort, St. Louis-based Koch Development, which will build the SkyWheel, hired Woolpert, a national engineering firm, to design the base of the roughly 160-ton SkyWheel, which is being built in the Netherlands.

Moreland, who had one of the first meetings with Koch when they first proposed the project several years ago, says they came to Newport after a failed attempt to develop a SkyWheel in Virginia Beach, Va.

“I think what brought them here was the frustration they had in Virginia Beach and what kept them here was the welcoming feeling they got here,” he says.

“They could have done elsewhere but I think they feel there’s real value in this location.”

The SkyWheel will reinforce Newport’s entertainment focus, Moreland says, that started with Newport on the Levee more than 18 years ago.

“Newport on the Levee has gone through some different iterations since opening,” he says.

Late last year after several months of renovations, the AMC Newport on the Levee 20 opened its doors. The renovated movie theater, which is expected to enhance visitor traffic at the Levee, includes reclining seats, Dolby Cinema, new screens and speakers and an expanded menu.

Moreland acknowledges that the Levee has struggled at times with several restaurants closing. But he adds, “The restaurant business is a tough business. We’ve had a lot of restaurants close on both sides of the river.”

Southbank Partners is coordinating a number of new activities around the Purple People Bridge and it’s leading the development of the 11-mile Riverfront Commons hike and bike trail connecting communities from Fort Thomas to Ludlow.

“That’s exciting and will allow for growth along the trail. We think it all plays together pretty well,” Moreland says.

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