With bluegrass playing in the background and images of Covington's dynamic new logo bouncing around the city, the video
announcing Covington's city-wide rebranding campaign ends with four simple words: "High fives all around."
And the city's bicentennial isn't the only thing worth high-fiving about as 2015 dawns
The city's new logo features the letter "C" morphing into a constantly-evolving hand that can do everything from a simple thumbs up to actual sign language. The beauty of the new symbol is its versatility.
"It's not a seal like other cities," says UpTech
's Amanda Greenwell, who was part of the rebranding team. "It's an active, moving brand."
As 2014 came to a close, the branding campaign launched with a newly-designed logo, a slogan, multiple municipal projects and an underlying pride in what the city has been and hopes to become.
The slogan "Covington's alive!" hopes to send a message to Covington residents and their neighbors across the river that the city is experiencing a true revitalization, just in time for its bicentennial.
"We at City Hall felt that this was a perfect time to illustrate what is already happening," says Natalie Bowers, Marketing and Communications Director for the city. "The Cov200
committee has picked up so much positive energy, so many volunteers through their campaign, and we as a city want to support that. The value system is parallel to our brand identity."
Covington's journey to increased high fives began in 2012. When the city received a grant of over $350,000 from the Sustainable Community Challenge Grant
program, provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city manager's initial goal was to create an action plan, which is now referred to as the Center City Action Plan
. With funding secured from the grant, the ideas that had been thrown around the city manager's office in previous years began to weave together to create a cohesive approach to the city's urban revival.
The city's plan was focused on Covington's urban core, an area bordered by the Licking River to the east, I-71/75 to the west, the Ohio River to the north and 13th Street to the south. The team — comprised of City Manager Larry Klein, Assistant City Manager for Development Larisa Sims and others — knew that the plan needed to include both an economic development factor and a marketing incentive. In fact, a third of the budget was to be used specifically for marketing. Out of the latter, the idea for rebranding was born.
With grant money set aside specifically for marketing, the city needed a marketing company that could truly embrace Covington's uniquely quirky, vibrant vibe. They chose Landor
, the Cincinnati-based branding specialists who have worked with cities like Baltimore to revive their image. Though their offices are in downtown Cincinnati, Landor has its own connections to Covington — the city's mayor worked with Landor in 2012 on its "Courage + Vision = Growth" campaign, and Landor CEO Mary Valla is a Covington resident.
Over the last year, the city created a core team of marketing/branding professionals, city staff, business owners and city residents to come up with a brand and image that truly reflected the city's values.
In charge of the brand's implementation is Natalie Bowers, who began her work as the city's Marketing and Communications Director in 2013 after serving as its Art Director for several years. To Bowers, the brand exists to pay homage to the 330 staff members who already feel pride in their city.
"We want the city staff to feel prideful, that what they're doing matters," says Bowers. "Having a unified rally cry is so important."
In the form of the new city logo, the rally cry can already be heard across the city. From parking tickets (the hand shakes a pointer finger in disappointment) to music-related events (the pointer and pinky fingers are up in the easily-recognizable hand symbol for rock & roll), the logo has the ability to morph into just about anything the user wants it to be. And it's not just for city functions — private businesses are free to modify the logo and create their own version of the brand to attach to their restaurants, law firms, boutiques, you name it.
"(The brand) really speaks to the unique, quirky, fun Covington," Sims says. "We're open, accepting and welcoming as a community. That's really what the brand is all about — showing the rest of the community that we are open for business, that this is an exciting place to be."
Greenwell is also impressed with the result.
"The city engaged the community and reached out," she says. "They did a lot of work to understand who we are and created a unique brand."
The city's changes go far beyond the new marketing strategy. As old as Covington is, there are a significant amount of historic buildings within the urban core. Part of the City Action Plan is to rehabilitate the buildings in high-profile areas.
For example, plans are already underway to remodel the Old City Hall building on Madison Avenue into a fully functioning boutique hotel. Called Hotel Covington
, the space hopes to attract business and leisure travelers who want a luxurious experience with local flavor.
Much like the rapid development of Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, there is also a renewed emphasis on residential development. With newly-renovated, attractive options for young professionals, Covington hopes to increase the population of the area and make the city as metropolitan as it can be. Among the developments are a full renovation of the long-neglected Mutual Building
at Madison and Pike Streets, the new Market Lofts
near Madison and Seventh Streets and the Boone Block building
near Roebling Square.
Finally, Covington residents can expect to see a huge influx of students over the next few years. Gateway Community & Technical College
is transforming 12 buildings to house nearly 4,000 students as a part of their transition into the area.
Small business incentives
With a growing infrastructure comes a need for municipal involvement. Sims sees her role as working to retain and recruit new businesses to the area. The city's economic development program is focused on identifying the businesses that want to expand, helping them resolve any issues they may have and then overseeing their development to make sure that they stick around.
Covington also provides rent incentives to brand new businesses hoping to open or relocate to the area. The Community Development Block Grant Program
allows the city to pay a portion of a company's rent until they become stabilized. These aren't loans but rather full-on grants that can even cover the costs of fixtures and equipment. As long as a company is offering jobs to the area, it's eligible for the grants.
One of the businesses that's benefitted from the city programs is the Braxton Brewery
, the record-setting Kickstarter success story
with plans to open on Seventh Street in the old Covington Arts Center building by early spring. The brewery, conceived by the Rouse family of Union, Ky., and Richard Dube of Moerlein Lager House fame, actually started in Head Brewer Evan Rouse's garage. And now Four Seasons Catering
has moved into Covington on Seventh Street, partially to develop a food menu for Braxton.
It's that kind of local edge that Covington hopes to emulate with each business that opens its doors.
Covington's arts scene has also received a boost recently. The Covington Arts
initiative was recognized for its branding work by Graphis
, a national design and advertising publisher, in its 2015 Design Annual.
Conveniently, the timing of the rebranding coincides with the city's bicentennial. Cov200 involves over 200 events spanning several months, with the city's 200th anniversary officially falling on Feb. 8. Cov200 Chair Norm Desmarais, UpTech's Greenwell and volunteer Carolee Schwartz have been working to patronize Covington companies and engage small businesses in the area for quite some time.
The bicentennial celebration officially kicks off on Feb. 7 at a gala
at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. Greenwell, who has spearheaded the event, decided on a "past, present and future" theme.
"It's going to be very over-the-top, unique — not the type of event you would normally see in Covington," she says.
The opening cocktail reception will feature a retro black-and-white theme that pays homage to Covington's past. With dinner, guests will be fully immersed in the present-day bicentennial celebration. Finally, the gala afterparty will feature a futuristic vibe that represents what residents can expect from Covington in the years to come.
Cov200, with a brand designed by Covington's own BLDG
, goes far beyond the actual day of the bicentennial. Local businesses are already gearing up for the event by downloading party packages for their own bicentennial celebrations from Cov200.com. You can find "Cov200" stamped or painted across the city.
The city manager's office plays the roll of the facilitator for Cov200, making sure everything goes smoothly and everyone has what they need.
"This is not a city event," Sims says. "Cov200 does their thing and we make sure everything is organized, providing expertise where they need it."
With a rebirth like this one, everyone involved in both the rebranding and the bicentennial see Covington evolving rapidly over the next decade.
"I see a huge uptick in local pride, local identity and positive progress," Bowers says.
"There is so much momentum," Greenwell adds. "Small businesses are now interested in Covington as an urban environment. You won't find many new buildings or big box stores here. People are attracted to that sort of (local) thing."
By creating more and more residential space, the city foresees a large influx of urban residents and momentum to redevelop its stagnant riverfront. Within the next year, Covington should look incredibly different — and alive — to the rest of us peeking from across the river.