A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Hellmann Creative Center, viewed as revitalization catalyst and artistic hub, preserves family legacy

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The restoration of the Hellmann Lumber building in Covington is expected to do more than just save an old structure from the wrecking ball.

Hellman Creative Center sbys

The transformation of the Hellmann Lumber building into the Hellmann Creative Center is evident in the picture of Thursday’s grand opening, contrasted against a photo from the groundbreaking one year ago. Pictured at right are George and Betty Schuhmacher, siblings and longtime residents of Covington’s Peaselburg neighborhood, who toured the facility at the the groundbreaking (Photos by Mark Hansel, click to enlarge).

The $2.1 million, 14,000 square foot, Hellmann Creative Center houses eight artist’s studios, community event space and the new home for the Center for Great Neighborhoods.

Thursday’s grand opening celebration for the Center at 321 W. Martin Luther King Boulevard, had the feel of a community block party, with food from neighborhood vendors and entertainment.

Covington City Commissioner and Vice Mayor Steve Frank said the gathering really demonstrated the diversity of the surrounding neighborhoods. Frank sees the building as the initial catalytic point for the revitalization of the Martin Luther King Boulevard/Twelfth Street corridor.

“Really, from Linden Grove Cemetery all the way to Pike Street, an area that we are calling Orchard Park, is the next big economic development zone in Covington,” Frank said. “The idea is that you can buy and live here in a nice home, with access to the interstate and be able to walk to our revitalized downtown.”

DiBello at Thursday's grand opening.

DiBello at Thursday’s grand opening.

The move to the new building coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Center for Great Neighborhoods, which was founded when the Fourth Street Center and Downtown Neighborhood Center merged to become the Covington Community Center.

The mission of the Center is to encourage and contribute to positive growth in Covington. Taking up residence in the revitalized building, which had remained vacant for 20 years, was a natural fit for the organization.

Tom DiBello, executive director of The Center for Great Neighborhoods, said it has taken a lot of time and effort for the project to come to fruition.

(It has been) three years in the making from idea to planning to financing, which is very complex for a project like this, to construction and finally to this grand opening,” DiBello said. “Almost a year ago to the day, we did our groundbreaking.”

DiBello admitted he was a little overwhelmed that the Creative Center opened at such a significant point in the history of the Center for Great Neighborhoods.

“It’s hard to get my head around the reality of it,” DiBello said. “We knew if we were able to pull this off is that it would give a big lift to the economics of this area. The diversity of this crowd here today is also very heartening.”

Matthew Lee, who was born in Covington but now lives in Cincinnati, owns two homes on nearby Banklick Street. Lee, who toured the facility with his 10-month-old-daughter Maggie, said it is encouraging to see a piece of Covington’s history preserved.

Louis HEllmann looks over a memorabilia exhibit at Thursday's grand opening.

Louis Hellmann looks over a memorabilia exhibit at Thursday’s grand opening.

“I’m so glad they did something with the building to bring it back to life,” Lee said. “When we sell at least one of our properties here, we are going to move back. This is where I grew up.

Hellmann Lumber, which was founded in 1877, supplied wood for many homes in the area. In a tribute to the company, some of the Hellmann Lumber equipment was left intact during the restoration.

Louis Hellmann, looking over a display of Hellmann family memorabilia said it’s nice to know his family’s place in Covington’s history will live on.

“I don’t know who put this all together but I recognize most of it,” he said. “Not only did they save the building, they preserved our family’s legacy and that really means a lot.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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