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NKY Chamber December Eggs ‘N Issues focuses on wide range of riverfront development projects

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce December Eggs ‘N Issues discussion focused on riverfront development and there was plenty to talk about.

Panelists included Tom Banta, managing director at Corporex Companies and Corporex Realty and Investment,  Jeanne Schroer, president and CEO of The Catalytic Fund and Jack Moreland, president of Southbank Partners.

The NKY Chamber December Eggs ‘N Issues discussion focused on the wide range of development projects in the river cities. Panelists included (l to r) Patrick Crowley of Strategic Advisers (moderator), Jack Moreland of Southbank Partners, Jeanne Schroer of the Catalytic Fund and Tom Banta of Corporex Companies (photo by Mark Hansel)

The discussion at Receptions event center in Erlanger Tuesday was moderated by Patrick Crowley, co-founder of Strategic Advisers.

During Banta’s time as managing director, Corporex has developed 18 million square feet of commercial real estate, including more than 40 hotels, 24 office buildings and six business parks.

Corporex is a Covington-based development company that builds throughout the United States, but Banta said more recently it has turned its focus back to Greater Cincinnati and the Ovation project.

“The company has always been one that has focused on projects that are transformative to the communities that they are in,” Banta said. “We don’t typically do just kind of the run-of-the-mill real estate investment type project, usually we try to focus on something that really makes a difference in the community.”

As is the case with many development projects, Banta described Ovation as a 10-year overnight success.

“When we originally bought the first piece of land in Ovation, you have to look back, we did not have a TIF statue in the state of Kentucky at the time, which was critical to developing that property,” Banta said. “We didn’t have Route 9 approved at the time to run through the development, we didn’t have the Army Corp of Engineer approval to do anything with the levee wall. So, a lot has happened in that time and we have acquired quite a bit of land out there.”

A rendering of the music venue at Ovation, which is expected to be completed late next year and to begin hosting about 180 events per year in early 2021 (provided).

 There is currently construction activity on the site, which  could ultimately be the size of about four city blocks.

 “What you see under construction right now is the music venue and parking garages along with a pad for a hotel site,” Banta said. “The music venue is probably the most exciting thing, I think, on the riverfront in years and I don’t think people realize the impact it is going to make yet.”

AEG, the company that partnered with Corporex on the project, plans to schedule 180 shows a year in the facility.

Banta called the venue transformative.

“If you think about that, it’s every other night, with an average attendance of about 3,000 people, so you are going have every other night, 3,000 people brought right to the center of Newport on the river,” Banta said. “We will turn it over to them in November of this coming year, so a little less than a year from now, they will need a couple of months to get it outfitted and shows will start in early 2021.”

AEG books its performances in blocks with other venues it operates, so there is not expected to be competition for acts from other facilities in the region.

Schroer described the role of the Catalytic Fund as a company that attracts place-based real estate investments to Northern Kentucky’s river cities. The purpose is for economic development, job and talent attraction, as well as local community development to improve residents’ quality of life and place.

Partnership projects driven by the Catalytic Fund include the Hotel Covington, which just announced this expansion at the former YMCA building on Sixth and Scott (provided rendering).

“We execute projects that are really hard to do,” Schroer said. “We make direct financial investments in projects. We have a $15 million fund of money that we can use to structure complicated transactions.” 

Although its investments are very early underwritten and the Fund expect them to be repaid, it can take a little bit more risk than a regulated financial institution and doesn’t require as high of a return as a private-equity investor because it is not for profit. 

The Catalytic Fund also provides real estate consulting services for a fee. The fund only makes investments in the river cities at this time, but can provide consulting services anywhere, even nationally.

“There’s a lot of projects here, both large and small,” Schroer said. “I think the small ones, even though they are not as heavily publicized as the big ones, they really play an important role because I think they provide the platform and the support to attract the larger projects.”

She provided a quick overview of the river cities projects the Catalytic Fund is currently involved with.

“In Ludlow, we have financed several unique small businesses, such as the North South Baking Co., the Elm Street  Wine Bar, the expansion of the Second Sight Distillery,” Schroer said. “I think these are motivating families and individuals to invest in single-family housing, such as our project at 232 Elm there.”

North American Properties purchased Newport on the Levee late last year and is in the midst of an extensive renovation of the property (provided image).

In Bellevue, clients are just completing the adaptive reuse of an old manufacturing building that Schroer said will have “66 of the coolest loft, industrial-style units” unlike anything in the region.

“In Covington we are very proud of our projects that involve the renovation of historic buildings such as Hotel Covington, the Boone Block lofts,” Schroer said. “The Bradford Building, we have just completed and there is only one unit left, so you better get your bid in to buy that one.”

There have also been several exciting developments, and its not just high-profile project such as Ovation and Newport on the Levee, which North American properties purchased late last year.

Renderings and details for the redevelopment of Newport on the Levee can be seen here.

“The Skypoint condominium projects, which was the site of the old Baptist Convalescent home has just completed its model unit in this project and the views and the units are stunning, they’re gorgeous,” Schroder said. “We’ve done a lot of smaller projects along Monmouth, such as East Row, Tailor Lofts and Jerry’s Jug House and we’re bound to make some significant investments in Newport’s west side.” 

In Dayton, Schroer said the activity within Manhattan Harbour is just exploding. There are scheduled to be more than 1,000 residential units there, which are currently are either under construction or in development.

Riverfront Commons, the signature project of Southbank Partners, will include a $6.5 million development along the Covington Riverfront. (provided photo).

“When we started making some of our initial investments, which people thought were pretty pioneering, pretty risky,” Schroer said. “I think the reason we hadn’t seen more of it is that there just want’t any product. Once we had quality product, people moved there.”

Southbank Partners is a community and economic development organization that promotes and manages development and infrastructure improvement projects in Northern Kentucky’s seven Ohio River Cities.

“We have an interlocal agreement that makes Southbank the primary mover to develop the riverfront area,” Moreland said. “We did this because we work all of the time with the Army Corps of Engineers and it allows us to have a lot more critical mass than we would separately. We work hand-in-hand with all of our cities to allow them decide what they want to do and then we work with them to make it happen.”

Silver Grove recently joined the group of cities, which also includes Dayton, Bellevue, Newport,Covington, Fort Thomas and Ludlow.

Moreland praised the Catalytic Fund for providing attractive residential units in the urban core, but said people also want things to do when they get there.

“Our signature project has been what we call the Riverfront Commons,” Moreland said. “It’s an 11-and-a-half mile walking and biking trail that actually starts at the line of Fort Thomas and goes all the way to the Ludlow/Bromley city line and we are well along in making this happen.”

Those in attendance at the NKY Chamber December Eggs ‘N Issues heard about a wide range of projects in the river cities (photo by Mark Hansel).

The goal is to provide some of the quality of life amenities and necessities that are important to people who live in the river cities.

“Walking is important to them, biking is important to them and overall connectivity is very important to them, being able to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ without having to go 30 miles to the mall to do it is important to them,” Moreland said.”

In the last 30 years, Southbank has written, on behalf of its cities, about $23 million worth of grants that are currently in different phases of development.

The development along the Covington riverfront near RiverCenter represents a $6.5 million investment. Of that amount $4.5 million comes from a grant Southbank was able to secure and $2 million comes from the City of Covington.

The project will include, among other things, a new outdoor amphitheater.

“If you look down there right now, there is major construction going on,” Moreland  “We expect this to be finished in late spring of this year and it’s going to be a destination point for people who want to come down to the river.”

There is also a portion of Riverfront Commons being developed in Dayton that will be completed in three phases.

In Newport,  a $1.3 million project will include a pedestrian bridge that connects the top of the levee to the west side of the Taylor Southgate Bridge. A corresponding bridge on the other side of the span will connect to the top of the levee behind the Newport Aquarium.

All of the Riverfront Commons projects are being funded with grants secured by Southbank Partners.

“We don’t physically actually get the money,” Moreland said. “We write the grants, but never see the money, the money goes directly to the cities. The cities really only have to do two things, they have to agree to do the (80%-20%) match and they have to get a bonafide engineering company to (provide an estimate).”

The Eggs ‘N Issues discussions take place monthly at a venue in Northern Kentucky, usually Receptions Banquet and Conference Center. For more information on Eggs ‘N Issues, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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