A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Covington commission votes 4-1 to help finance 303 Court St. development; Code of Ordinances approved

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

In the early 1970s, the property at 303 Court St. was built with the partnership of the city and the county, and it was known — fittingly — as the City/County Building.

Now, 50 years later, the property needed a similar partnership to be re-developed.

And it’s going to happen.

City Commissioners voted 4-1 at their regularly scheduled legislative meeting Tuesday night to help finance the project, which will help turn the old County Building into an upscale apartment complex.

“It will serve our community even better,” said Mayor Joseph U. Meyer.

The development, located in Roebling Point, will adapt the 148,000-square-foot building into 133 market-rate apartments and 6,000-square-feet of retail/restaurant space. “The building was the former administrative office for Kenton County until their move in fall 2019,” city records report. “As part of their redevelopment, the county entered into a development agreement with Al Neyer and Urban Sites to redevelop the property. The total project cost is approximately $31.4 million.”

The apartment mix will consist of 35 studios, 59 one­bedroom units, and 39 two-bedroom units, starting at $1,111 and going up to $1,714 per month. The development will include 22 on-site parking spaces and the developers have secured 164 spaces in the Kenton County Parking Garage to serve the building’s parking needs.

The bottom line is the project has a funding gap of more than $8.5 million, and the developers want the city to kick in as much as possible in the form of Industrial Revenue Bonds, an associated Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement, and a Tax Increment Finance District reimbursement related to public infrastructure improvements. In this case, that would be about $1.9 million ($500,000 as a TIF grant and $1.4 million in forgone property tax over 20 years).

Commissioners were concerned over the hefty price tag, and a one-hour debate ensued last week, followed by another hour-long debate Tuesday night (the meeting was again held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions). Even County Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann made an appearance to chip in his two cents.

“It’s a critical project,” he told the Commissioners. “We need your help.”

The Board admitted it was a difficult decision.

“This is not an easy vote,” said Commissioner Ron Washington.

The issue? One was the cost, of course, as well as the draining of the city’s TIF funds. With no payroll tax from an apartment complex, there is concern that the project will not generate any money to pay the city back. Plus, the high price of the apartments left commissioners wondering who would live in them.

An appraisal report also detailed the project’s possible pitfalls, and concluded that the idea would ultimately need more money.

Lastly, the project is supposed to be finished in two years. Could that really happen?

After a presentation Tuesday night by Dan Ruh, Executive Vice President & Market Leader for Al. Neyer, most commissioners agreed that it could.

At the heart of his presentation was a commitment to the community — the dedication of a space for an indoor market, something Washington specifically advocated for, as well as the possibility of two to three storefronts at the bottom of the building.

Ruh also noted that their research projected that residents would actually be able to afford the apartments.

Commissioner Shannon Smith noted the “incredible” showing of feedback and support in the presentation, which she called “night and day” different from the message they all heard last week.

Smith said when weighing the pros against the cons, she came back to this question: Can anyone else complete this project with this kind of turnaround?

“The answer is no,” she said, solidifying her support.

Commissioner Michelle Williams agreed, and said she put her faith in Knochelmann. “I’m very confident this will get done in the two years he has promised,” she said.

In the end, Commissioner Tim Downing was also moved by the latest presentation, and he acknowledged it, but still said the price was too much for the city to pay. “There’s a lot of red flags for me,” he said. “The risk is too great.” He was the lone dissenting vote.

Washington noted the plan wasn’t perfect, but he supported it, explaining it was necessary for the building to actually serve a functioning purpose for the city.

Brandstetter Carroll agreement approved

Commissioners approved a one-year contract with Brandstetter Carroll, Inc., for design and engineering services.

Brandstetter Carroll, Inc. is being “asked to perform design and engineering services for the city of Covington, for the assistance in the rehabilitating, updating, and creation of Parks and Recreation facilities and amenities,” city documents say. “Each city selected project will consist of the following phases: base mapping, site analysis, conceptual design, concept design review, final plan, construction documents, bidding and construction administration. Each project must be approved by the City of Covington, before work may commence.”

Ben Oldiges, the city’s Parks & Rec manager, said last week that the relationship with Brandstetter Carroll will “utilize their services for an extended period of time versus separate projects,” which would “save the city a lot of time, money and resources.”

Oldiges said priorities for the firm would include renovations to Goebel Park, as well as (No. 1 on his list) a dog park.

First Financial sidewalk funded

First Financial Bank will be opening their Northern Kentucky hub at 601 Madison Ave. — a $3.4 million investment that includes completely renovating the building’s interior and exterior, including adding a bank branch on the first floor and creating offices, conference rooms and event space for community meetings on the remaining floors.

First Financial also wants to improve the sidewalks on their Sixth Street frontage leading to their Interactive Teller Machine (ITM). They want everything completed for late Summer 2021.

Commissioners approved $25,000 in TIF assistance to pay for the repairs, which would be complete within six months.

Patient reporting product approved

Commissioners approved Stryker HealthEMS ePCR, which was identified as the best available product for the Fire Department.

The cost will be $16,344 annually over a five-year contract, for a total of $81,720, with costs to be paid for by net ambulance billing.

Code of Ordinances approved

Commissioners adopted a new Code of Ordinances codification by a unanimous vote Tuesday night.

It’s the first time in 37 years that the city has recodified.

In-person meetings

Mayor Meyer suggested, and the Commission agreed, that beginning at their next meeting April 6, they could regroup and meet in person at the City Hall chambers — providing everyone followed COVID-19 guidelines.

Of course, if a city staffer or commissioner felt ill or uncomfortable, they could dial in virtually. And a certain number of the public will be allowed to come to the meetings, Meyer said.

The meetings will also still be streamed online, the Mayor said.

Executive Session

After Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioners adjourned, and then went into an Executive Session for two purposes: 1. Relating to personnel, and 2. Relating to acquisition of real estate.

Mayor Meyer said there would be no further action taken after the session.

Next meeting

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., April 6. The meetings can be followed live on Fioptics channel 815, Spectrum channel 203, the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK) website, the TBNK Facebook page @TBNKonline, and the TBNK Roku channels.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment