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Covington gets underway with intensive process for vision for IRS site, hires planning firm

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

When it comes to the strategic planning for this city’s IRS site, Mayor Joseph U. Meyer puts it simply.

“We need something practical. Achievable. Doable,” Meyer said. “And preferably (finished) in my lifetime.”

Calling it the city’s “single-most important challenge,” the Mayor and commissioners voted 4-0 in a special meeting Thursday night at City Hall to approve a $444,900 contract with Atlanta-based design firm Cooper Carry to create a vision to develop the 23 acres of the IRS site.

A 10-month process led by a global first to create a vision for the sprawling IRS site in a critical part of downtown will begin in earnest after the holidays.

The process will take about 10 months and should begin in January, officials said.

“I think it’s worth it,” the Mayor said. “It’s timely,” he added, noting that when the IRS leaves the building vacant in fall 2019, the city will lose about $1.2 million in payroll tax revenue.

“The loss of revenue is extreme,” Meyer said. “We need to replace it sooner rather than later.”

And that means creating relationships and making decisions now to make sure the land is ready to go when developers come calling.

City Manager David Johnston said the city will be able to create the vision of what the property can be. Cooper Carry has a four-phase process: Investigate, Illuminate, Innovate and Implement. They will work with the city to produce a final master plan for the site, which will include layouts for buildings, roads and greenspace, as well as recommendations for things like zoning, transportation and facilities.

In the summer, the city budgeted $250,000 for a project like this, while the Covington Economic Development Authority has authorized another $250,000, which will come from funds raised by city business growth.

Johnston said the city has two goals for the study:

 Offset the payroll taxes that will be lost

 Be sure to include the opinions of the residents in the five city neighborhoods that border the site

“This is one of the most unique development opportunities between Baltimore and New Orleans,” Johnston said. “But we establish the direction of this development in the marketplace.”

Cooper Carry was chosen from 11 firms and four finalists after a request for qualifications was made. In August, commissioners authorized Johnston to negotiate with Cooper Carry, whom he said was impressive because of their team, which included a real estate group that has experience working with the government on IRS properties.

Still, commissioners needed some convincing that it was necessary to spend such a hefty sum.

Tim Downing acknowledged he was a bit hesitant because he’d never been a part of such a large deal before, but he — as well as Commissioner Michelle Williams — thought some of the money set aside in the proposal seemed extreme.

They had particular issue with something called “civic dinners,” which Johnston explained were community meals hosted by Cooper Carry to obtain opinions from residents.

The budget for the proposed dinners? More than $18,000.

Williams questioned if it will all be worth it. “That’s a lot of money,” she said.

Commissioner Jordan Huizenga wanted to make sure that city residents have a clear expectation of the process.

“Even though we’re taking proactive steps … nothing’s going to be happening with that property for the next five to 10 years,” Huizenga said.

He cited Newport’s Ovation property as an example of another project that has been ready to be developed since 2006, but has not.

But Johnston noted this is why they must take steps now to ensure the site will be developed the right way.

The Commissioners agreed, noting the importance of the study, and went on to vote to approve. (Commissioner Bill Wells was absent Thursday).

“We’re playing catch-up,” Johnston said. “This is sorely needed. Let’s take the bull by the horns.”

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., Nov. 13, at the Covington City Hall at 20 West Pike St.


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