As electric cars buzz through the urban core, this river city's leaders are plotting to keep their drivers happy to stay around.
Car-charging stations are coming to Newport, with the first test site likely to appear within a year. Smart meters also are part of the picture.
The goal: Attract the young and mobile crowd to a city that's growing with new business, high-end apartment homes, entertainment and shopping.
"We have been looking at the possibility of installing these devices for quite some time," Newport City Manager Tom Fromme said. "I would envision that we would begin in a test area to determine what interest and demand actually exists."
Meeting demands of urban living
A huge influx of development has blessed Newport in last the couple of years, and the city wants to keep it going. At last August's State of the City of Newport address, Fromme listed more than a dozen developments and building improvements underway, ranging from Monmouth Row apartments to Ethos Laboratories to facade improvements along Monmouth Street.
"To have $100 million to $200 million in development in a city our size is just staggering," he said then. Young professionals are populating the new apartments, mirroring a trend nationwide.
Vue 180 was completed last fall, providing 93 upscale rental units on the river and just a walk away from downtown Cincinnati and Newport's entertainment district. Neighboring SouthShore condominiums offers 62 condos, bragging riverfront living.
Monmouth Row in the 400 block of Monmouth Street is underway, promising luxury flats just south of the river.
The city will not simply sit back and cross fingers that people will stay, Fromme said. Most of the new hubs are apartments which, as rentals, are transient in nature.
Fromme said smart meters will allow people to use a card to pay for parking in the city's downtown district.
"People don't keep change in their pockets anymore," Fromme said. "Parking is critical. It has to be adequate. It has to be available."
The smart meters are about $1,000 each, Fromme said. He is still researching costs and options on the charging stations but so far anticipates less than $10,000 each.
The nearest public charging stations for electric cars are at the Sawyer Point parking lot across the river in Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati Park Board, in partnership with Duke Energy Ohio, unveiled the four electric and plug-in car stations in April of 2013. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis every day of the week, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. People who use them have to pay for parking, but charging is free.
"They are definitely in use every day at least two of them, and sometimes all four," said Jenny Mobley, supervising parks coordinator for the Cincinnati Parks Department.
Soutbank Partners is considering putting charging stations in a green area that will have a view of the Ohio River between Joe's Crab Shack and the Chart House.
Construction could begin late in the summer. Currently a deteriorating culvert is between the two restaurants, Moreland said. Eventually it will become part of Riverfront Commons, an 11.5-mile hiking and cycling path stringing together Northern Kentucky's river cities.
"We'll populate that area with greenery," Moreland said, "and we're probably going to put some charging stations there."
Newport neighbours want charging stations
Fromme knows there's interest. He's already been approached by several Newport neighbors who are considering buying an electric car and want to be able to put a charging pole at their curbside.
Ian Budd, who lives in the coveted East Row of Newport, is one of those neighbors.
"I'd just been starting the process of looking around at cars," Budd said. He'd thought about getting an electric car. "I thought, I've got to be able to charge it."
To Budd, originally from London but an East Row resident since 1979, allowing residents to have electric charging stations for cars seems obvious.
"Actually, there's quite a lot of them in London," Budd said. Parks, streets, supermarkets have charging points.
He compares them to the black posts folks used to tie their horses up and noted the streets already have lamp posts, stop signs and other posts that don't disrupt a historic neighborhood.
"They're basically black poles," Budd said. "This would be a private expense anyway, and would provide a service."
While Budd hasn't decided what vehicle he'll purchase, he said Fromme was "very positive" about his inquiry.
"Newport's very progressive," Budd said.
Fromme said Budd is just one of several who've asked him about charging stations within the city's neighborhoods. He doesn't see why anyone would object.
"It's something that the city should support," Fromme said. "It's going to be the future.
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