Imagination 2020 is the economic development action plan for the Southbank cities covering 11 miles of Northern Kentucky Ohio Riverfront.

In 1997, Northern Kentucky community, business, government, and civic leaders came together to form Southbank Partners, a partnership of six cities, two counties, and multiple business organizations whose mission is to identify and promote opportunities for additional growth and development in the unique, historic, vibrant, and inviting area that is the Northern Kentucky Ohio Riverfront.

Nearly 100,000 people live in the Southbank area that covers the cities of Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, and Fort Thomas, as well as portions of two of Kentucky’s largest counties, Kenton and Campbell.

Southbank’s success is evident in the hundreds of millions of dollars of commercial, residential, tourism, transportation, and hospitality developments and projects that have emerged along and near the Ohio Riverfront.

Southbank helped accomplish the Newport on the Levee entertainment center; the Newport Aquarium; the Southbank Shuttle bus service; the South Shore and Harbor Greene high-rise condominiums; the Marriott, Comfort Inn, Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express, and Hampton Inn hotels; and restaurants that include Buckhead Mountain Grill, Chart House, Don Pablo’s, Hofbrauhaus, and Joe’s Crab Shack.

Southbank Partners is now prepared to engage in the next phase of riverfront development: growth and enhancement through Imagination 2020.

Imagination 2020 will serve as a roadmap for economic development in the Southbank cities. A plan that will focus on land use, preserving open space, connecting neighborhood districts, creating housing opportunities, bolstering transportation and infrastructure, developing entertainment and cultural areas, and improving the livability, walk-ability, and commerce of the area.

Riverfront Development

Riverfront Commons is a planned 11-mile, uninterrupted walkway/bikeway/pathway that would extend from Ludlow in the west to Fort Thomas in the east and link all of the Southbank cities.

The 15-20 foot wide path will feature open park space at strategic points along the river, accommodating both walkers and bikers. A series of points of access, or nodes, will provide easy linkage to neighborhood, residential, business, entertainment, and historic districts.

Other projects include:

    • Creation of urban villages in Covington’s Fifth Street area and along Rivera Drive in Bellevue;
    • Capitalization of plans to transform the former Kenton County Jail into office space and other uses;
    • Creation of mixed-use development areas along the Ludlow and Dayton Riverfronts
    • Integration of the expansion of the Kenton County Library in Covington with plans for the Gateway Community and Technical College Urban Campus
    • Creation of a pedestrian connection between Mainstrasse and Devou Park in Covington
    • Initiation of efforts to utilize the regional bonding authority, The Northern Kentucky Port Authority.


The Imagination 2020 plan envisions Southbank cities with a variety of transportation choices, such as walking, biking, public transit, automobile, and river transportation. Seamless, easy flow of traffic in these cities, along with uncongested access points, are other key components of the plan. Among the proposed projects that are vital to an efficient transportation system in the Southbank communities are:

    • Ky. 9/Licking Pike extension, which will improve north-south traffic flows and augment riverfront development sites
    • Redesigning the Ky. 8/I-471 interchange to improve traffic flow along Ky. 8, a vital entertainment, business, and residential Southbank corridor
    • Widening 12th Street from Scott Street to the Licking River in Covington to connect with Ky. 9 in Campbell County
    • Improving sections of Ky. 8—the principal route through the Southbank cities—in several locations
    • Implementing plans for the Brent Spence I-75/I-71 project with full access to Southbank cities via Fourth and Fifth Streets in Covington
    • Studying the feasibility of connecting Southbank cities to the planned downtown Cincinnati development projects, including all biking and walking trails
    • Developing the Monmouth Street parking/transit center in downtown Newport
    • Promoting the use of biking through bike rentals and bike racks, routes, and venues, including mountain-biking opportunities
    • Creating and extending walking and hiking trails in Fort Thomas and Ludlow

Entertainment and Tourism

In addition to being a great place to live and work, Southbank is also a wonderful place to play, visit, eat, drink, and be entertained. Th e following projects will continue to make the Southbank of Cincinnati a destination of choice:

    • Expanding the Northern Kentucky Convention Center
    • Supporting the Covington Development Plan, which extends Riverfront Commons and nodes to Mainstrasse, Roebling Point, Madison Avenue, and Gateway Community and Technical College
    • Initiating efforts to enhance Newport Festival Park, a component of Riverfront Commons that serves as a public gathering places and hosts riverfront festivals
    • Exploring development on and around the Purple People Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati
    • Promoting efforts to strengthen and expand Newport on the Levee attractions, a major riverfront asset
    • Coordinating the operation of B&B Riverboats as a major regional and Southbank attraction
    • Promoting the development of the Ludlow Lagoon site for recreational activities, including sports fields, open spaces, walking/hiking trails, and an arboretum
    • Promoting the northern-most point of The Bourbon Trail through support of the Nth Degree Distilling at the Party Source in Newport and Bellevue

Commercial and Mixed Land Use

With acres of available land—including riverfront footage and business-district opportunities—Imagination 2020 envisions new developments and redevelopment of existing areas in the Southbank cities. Southbank will work with the Catalytic Fund to obtain an allocation of new-market tax credits exclusively for the Southbank cities. In addition, it will explore other methods to provide financing and marketing assistance.

Ovation: Located in Newport at the confluence of the Ohio and Licking Rivers, this ambitious $1 billion project includes 1,000,000 square feet of office space, 200,000 square feet of retail space, and 1,000 residential units—townhouses, condominiums, and apartments—in addition to a large entertainment venue.

Manhattan Harbor: More than 100 acres along a one-and-a-half mile swath of Dayton’s riverfront, the project calls for a mixture of residential and commercial uses and will be a major piece of Riverfront Commons, while at the same time working with the city to improve its downtown business district.

Bellevue Business District/Riverfront: Southbank aims to continue working with the city to make the Fairfield Avenue Business District and residential areas a major shopping, living, and destination point.

Fort Thomas Business District: Southbank will assist the city to renovate the Tower Place Shopping District and link it to Riverfront Commons via bike and walking paths.

Ludlow Business District/Riverfront: Southbank will continue to work with the city to improve the business district, by promoting orderly growth of retail and commercial destinations, and will promote efforts to assist Ludlow in redeveloping riverfront tracts.

Covington Downtown Business District: Working with the Covington Business Council, Southbank will help the city on plans to develop residential, commercial, and retail opportunities in the downtown area

Newport Monmouth Business District: Southbank will promote and enhance Monmouth Street as a viable shopping and living area, while improving linkage with Newport on the Levee.

Residential Land Use

One of the primary goals of the Imagination 2020 plan is to identify land-use opportunities to link the Riverfront Commons pathway and park space to existing and future residential developments.

Imagination 2020 will promote the maintenance and revitalization of historic residential neighborhoods in the Southbank cities, including these areas:

    • Botany Hills, West Covington; Mainstrasse National Historic District, east of I-75 in Covington; Mutter Gottes/Old Town National Historic District near downtown Covington; Licking Riverside National Historic District adjacent to the Licking River;
    • Newport-York Street National Historic District on Newport’s West Side; Monmouth Street Management District, Newport’s retail and urban core; and
    • Fairfield Avenue Historic District, Bellevue; both sides of Fairfield Avenue from Taylor Street to O’Fallon Avenue in downtown Bellevue.

Southbank will also work to accomplish these residential housing projects:

    • Complete apartments at SouthShore in Newport; work with Towne Properties to develop Madison Place, a residential housing project in downtown Newport near Monmouth Street;
    • Complete a residential project planned for Harbour Green in Bellevue;
    • Develop residential housing along the Ohio River in Ludlow and Dayton;
    • Develop residential housing in the Roebling Point and MainStrasse areas of Covington; and
    • Rehabilitate existing housing and develop new housing opportunities in Dayton.