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‘People want to move to the urban core’ – Influx of condos, apts expand Covington housing options

In honor of National Economic Development Week, May 7-12, Covington is calling attention to its aggressive efforts to work with its business community and other partners to generate jobs, attract investment and create a vibrant commercial and tourist economy. Today’s article focuses on the influx of housing in the urban core.

Throughout Covington’s urban core, eye-popping housing options are being added at a dizzying rate.

  • Last week, for example, residents began moving into the 110 market-rate apartments next to Braxton Brewing Co.’s taproom on Seventh Street.
  • Over near MainStrasse Village, two separate developments will add over 350 luxury apartments.
  • And in a three-block section of Scott Boulevard: Nine townhomes in a historic building sold lightning quick last year for prices between $320,000 and $530,000 … another historic building is becoming five condos … and a plan is in the works to build 28 condos in a new building.

The RiverHaus project will bring apartments, retail and parking to MainStrasse Village (provided photos)

These are just a few examples of a wide array of housing developments recently completed, under way or in the pipeline. They’re very different from each other – but whether it’s a brand-new studio apartment or a rehabbed townhome in a 150-year-old brick building, their investment was motivated by a fundamental desire:

“People want to move to the urban core,” said Lisa Scovic, a partner with Northpointe Group, the developer of Duveneck Square near the brewery. “They want to be able to walk out their front door, walk down the street and sit in a coffee shop (or a bookstore or a bar) and have people know them.”

City officials say the housing explosion corresponds with both an inrush of shops and entertainment downtown – things like bars, live music, internationally flavored restaurants, yoga studios and event centers – and several large businesses opening, including the corporate headquarters of global clinical trials firm CTI and safety identification company Road ID.

“People, jobs, services, things to do – the question isn’t ‘which came first?’… because they’re all coming at once,” Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said.

Luxury condos aren’t new to Covington.

As early as the 1980s, pioneer David Herriman took a risk by building Riverside Plaza and Riverside Terrace at the foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. Two decades later and a couple of blocks to the west, Corporex Cos. raised eyebrows with the Ascent at Roebling’s Bridge and $2-million penthouse condos of Domaine de la Rive atop the Madison Place Office Tower. Added to the mix were the Roebling Row Apartments on the east side of Greenup.

But then came a lull.

This new surge – Realtors, developers and City officials say – feels different.

“It’s more organic, more widespread, more diverse and driven by an insatiable market rather than just a developer’s vision and willingness to take a risk,” said Tom West, Covington’s Economic Development Director. “It feels authentic, promising and sustainable – and it will create huge volumes of foot traffic from downtown to MainStrasse.”

And according to some, it’s not happening quick enough.

“We have more buyers than there are homes to buy,” said Rebecca Weber, senior sales executive, Realtor at Huff Realty.

To illustrate her point, Weber – who has been selling property in Covington for 16 years – points to listings: One day last week, 64 single-family homes and condos were on the market (with prices ranging from “zero to infinity”) in what’s considered “Covington North,” from about 26th Street to the Ohio River. By comparison, in 2006 there were 300 to 350 listings in any given month, she said.

While this phenomenon in part is tied to national trends and pressures, in Covington “the inventory is extremely low, critically low,” Weber said. “New development is definitely the way to go.”

Weber was part of the team at Huff Realty that last year sold the nine new luxury townhomes in The Boone Block, which Orleans Development carved out of a three-story historic building on Scott Boulevard at Fourth Street.

Officials say its transformation was a large-scale version of what’s happening in smaller buildings across downtown. The first floor housed a liquor store, but the tenement apartments on the upper floors had been vacant since the 1970s or so. The finished product includes garages, a courtyard, lighting and pavers on the exterior and interiors that were custom designed for buyers.

The sale prices ranged from $320,000 to $530,000, but it was “a very succinct sales process,” Weber said.

To see The Boone Block, click here.

“The building itself had some magic to it,” she said. “Its history and architecture were enchanting, and people were attracted to that. These units are so cool. The design element on the inside is something you can’t get anywhere else.”

The Huff Realty team is now turning its attention to another Orleans Development historic rehab, The Bradford Building one block north on Scott. It will include five condos and five retail spaces. Ground was broken last November.

For an article on The Bradford Building, click here.

Meanwhile, two blocks south of The Boone Block, a development team of Tony Milburn and Glenn Kukla is working on plans to build a new 6½-story tower housing 28 condos and a parking garage.

Jeanne Schroer, the president and CEO of the Catalytic Fund – a private-sector organization that helps provide financing and services to economic development in the river cities – says she’s not surprised by Covington’s housing boom.

“If you have a special product that’s unique, people will buy it,” Schroer said. “The issue was never demand. We simply didn’t have a product.”

The first project that the Catalytic Fund helped finance was The Market Lofts, the $1.1 million renovation of two blighted buildings at 209-211 Pike Street into 15 market-rate apartments. Ground was broken in 2013 and the units were fully leased even before the March 2014 opening.

Likewise, the $1.1 million rehab of the Pike Star building at 108-112 West Pike and the $2.7 million rehab of the Mutual Building at 619-629 Madison Avenue proved that developers could rent both loft apartments and street-level commercial space.

And with the success of those and other single-building rehabs, investors gained the confidence to do multi-dimensional projects.

Exterior work on the completed Duveneck Square apartments is almost finished.

Exterior work on the completed Duveneck Square apartments is almost finished

In various stages of completion are $70 million Duveneck Square, $38 million John R. Green and $50 million RiverHaus – all of which will add large numbers of apartments along with commercial space and other uses.

Scovic said the 110 apartments in the mostly completed Phase 1 of Duveneck Square were 30 percent pre-leased. “We’re extremely happy,” she said. The advent of warmer weather has brought even more interest in the apartments, which range from studios to two bedrooms and go from $1,090 to $1,950 a month.

For information on Duveneck Square, click here.

Northpointe thought the apartments would appeal almost exclusively to millennials, but they’re being rented to people “anywhere from 24 to 75,” she said. But no matter what the age, she said, the attraction is the proximity of shops, restaurants and entertainment.

RealtyLink, the out-of-town developers of the John R. Green project at 411 W. Sixth, fell in love with the surrounding MainStrasse area and “the organic feel of the neighborhood,” said local agent Lee Bledsoe of Pivot Realty.

The plan is to turn the historic building into first-floor retail and upper-level office lofts, and then build an apartment building with about 170 luxury units on top of a 300-car parking garage.

Market research showed “a huge hole” in the urban core apartment market “across every demographic we could think of,” Bledsoe said.

“People just want the urban experience,” he said. “Covington is just really becoming a beautiful city.”

The RiverHaus project will bring apartments, retail and parking to MainStrasse Village.

Construction should start this summer, he said. The developer is looking at a number of different possible tenants for the retail space, including some sort of grocery, a taproom, a barbershop and others.

The RiverHaus project will bring apartments, retail and parking to MainStrasse Village.

A block to the north, ground was broken in December on RiverHaus at 501 Main St., which will bring about 190 luxury apartments, retail space and a two-story parking garage to the City-owned property and a nearby parking lot. Flaherty & Collins Properties is developing the project and has said the apartments could be finished by the end of the year.

For information on RiverHaus, click here.

Mayor Meyer noted that both developments in MainStrasse will include studio apartments.

“We need to make sure that we are addressing all aspects of housing demand, by assuring that workers in the downtown and MainStrasse hospitality and retail industry have walkable housing choices as well,” Meyer said.

Over on Madison, the 13 apartments recently developed by Orleans Development as part of the Madison Flats rehab in the 800 block carry rents of $600 to $875, according to the project web site.

For information on Madison Flats, click here.

And smaller rehab projects taking place in buildings throughout the City – especially downtown, where historic structures give rehab projects an artistic feel – carry even lower rents.

Meanwhile, in the Roebling Point area, the county courthouse at 303 Court St. will be renovated into market-rate apartments once Kenton County moves out into the new administration building it’s constructing at the Bavarian Brewery site near Interstate 75.

Another reason that City officials welcome the influx of housing options is that it helps tip the scales when communities compete for new jobs, Meyer said. Companies lean toward locating in communities where their employees want to live, and “their employees want to live where they can walk to work and after work walk to any number of things to do.”

Before CTI made the decision to relocate to Covington’s riverfront in August 2016, it “did its due diligence” in researching the area from an employee’s viewpoint, City officials said. The pay-off? A $36.4 million investment that could create up to 500 Kentucky-resident jobs.

Another benefit of creating a walkable environment where people can live, work, shop and find entertainment in a compact area is that people become less dependent on cars, thus lowering the demand for parking spots and experience parking structures.

In that way, so much of what’s happening in the City is intertwined, with multiple benefits.

So when will Covington’s development and housing boom end?

Not any time soon, predicted Schroer of the Catalytic Fund. “We have a $10 million fund and we feel confident putting our money at risk based on the potential and what we see happening,” she said. “Critical mass creates more demand.”

About the Catalytic Fund click here.

Her philosophy, she said, comes from a quote she heard at a development conference by author Christopher Leinberger, who wrote a book titled “The Option of Urbanism.” When it comes to development downtown, she said, “More is more in the urban core.”

City of Covington

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