Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Fifth Street reopens after fire

By Cindy Schroeder, cschroeder@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — For the first time since a May 21 fire gutted the Odd Fellows Hall, Fifth Street between Russell Street and Scott Boulevard has reopened to traffic.

        Also reopening to traffic on Monday morning was a block of Madison Avenue south of Fifth Street, said Sgt. Teal Nally, spokesman for Covington Police.

        Half of the 400 block of Madison Avenue remains closed as crews use a crane in the middle of the street to remove debris from the burned-out building.

        “The owners (of the Odd Fellows Hall) didn't even want to hazard a guess as to how long it'll take to clean out that building,” Sgt. Nally said. “I'm sure they want the street open as soon as possible.”

        Despite the reopening of city streets, owners of establishments that depend largely on walk-in customers said that their business has dropped as much as 50 percent since the fire, which officials ruled accidental.

        Other merchants worry about the long-term impact of the street closures on downtown businesses.

        “Once you lose a customer to a downtown area, they don't come back,” said Dave Schroeder, executive vice president of Citizens Federal Savings and Loan Association of Covington. “They generally find someplace that's closer to home and more convenient.”

        Mr. Schroeder will head a delegation of business people appearing before Covington City Commission tonight to discuss the business community's concerns.

        Telly McGaha, Covington's downtown renaissance manager, said that he has been meeting with business owners to determine their immediate needs. He said the Renaissance Covington Board of Directors wants to sponsor a festival or some type of event this summer to bring people back downtown.

        “I know that this has been really hard on (the businesses),” Mr. McGaha said. “I'm trying to work with them and find out what kinds of things they need.”

        The owners of the Odd Fellows Hall said that they still hope to convert the 146-year-old landmark into offices and retail uses.

        Businesses that reopened Monday included The Fifth Street Laundromat and Floyd's 7-11 Club, both on East Fifth Street. Citizens Federal Savings and Loan plans to be open for full service today at its regular location directly across the street from the Odd Fellows Hall. The 116-year-old savings and loan also will continue operating at a temporary location in the old Covington Brewery building at 625 Scott Blvd. through Friday.

        Joe Kraemer, the owner of the Red Light Cafe, hopes to reopen Wednesday morning after getting the business's utilities restored Monday. His East Fifth Street business is next door to the Odd Fellows Hall.

        “This was the first day I could move about my business freely,” Mr. Kraemer said Monday. “Before today, (emergency workers) would only let me in five or 10 minutes at a time.”

        Also still closed are Bottoms Up and Dee's Sports Bar on East Fifth Street and The Computer Guys in the 500 block of Madison Avenue, which has not yet had utilities restored. Callers to the latter business hear a message that says, “We're still closed today due to the fire in Covington. Please call again.”


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