Member Login

Plans for New Covington Chocolate Shop Stalled

Plans to turn a once troubled bar into a new chocolate shop have stalled, The River City News has learned.

The property at 11 East Fifth Street in Downtown Covington once operated as Bottoms Up. Last September, the City of Covington sold the property to Red Mare Holdings which announced plans to renovate the historic structure with a residence on the second and third floors and a chocolate shop on the first.

Work had been under way for months but stopped several weeks ago for multiple reasons. When the time came for work to begin on the building's facade, it was discovered that a transformer atop a utility pole was too close to the structure for scaffolding to be placed, per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"We are still facing challenges," Assistant City Manager and City Solicitor Frank Warnock said of the project. "We've been communicating back and forth. We've run into some roadblocks."

One roadblock is that if the pole is to be moved it would take just an hour but if the transformer were turned off and the pole remained while work was done, power would be lost on the entire block for up to a few days, said Naashom Marx, business development manager at City Hall.

The City has been involved in the project from the beginning. 

When the city commission approved the sale of the building in September, contingencies included that it would maintain possession of the first mortgage on the property (valued at the time at $17,500), and that that mortgage would be released when Red Mare remediates the mold, repairs, the roof, and opens the chocolate shop, which was to be called Fortvna (Fortuna, with a Latin-style "v" in place of the "u").

The City would also hold a long-term lease for three spaces in the adjacent city-owned parking lot. It was in that parking lot that William Poole and Loren Penton, the couple developing the building and planning to open the chocolate shop, discovered what they believe to be the cause of excessive water entering the property.

According to Marx, Poole (neither he nor Penton wanted to comment for this story) said that before the parking lot was put in a laundromat existed on the site and that an old sewer tank may be responsible for water entering the side of the building. The roof and windows had already been replaced or repaired on the building, which had also suffered the effects of a fire before the City purchased it, so no one knew for sure where the water was coming from.

The Fire Department investigated and could not figure out the precise cause, either, Marx said.

With the water and utility pole issue, Poole and Penton may have to move their plan somewhere else.

"Every development project is unique and you think you've got everything figured out but we were all stymied by the Duke Energy pole," Marx said.

A spokesperson for Duke Energy said, however, that the utility company is ready to move the pole whenever necessary.

"It's in the city's hands right now," said Duke's Sally Thelen. "It's in a holding pattern. We were asked to hold back. It's not Duke holding it up."

A meeting took place between the building's owners and representatives from the City and Duke. It was agreed at that meeting that more due diligence was necessary. "We are willing to do what is safe and as it was in the current case, it was not safe to operate scaffolding," Thelen said.

The hold-up may be how to pay for the move of the pole.

If the bill for the pole's move, which could be anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000 Marx said, there are a couple of options. The City could allocate the money from the current budget year which ends on June 30 or it waits for a state grant expected to be used for work on Electric Alley behind the Gateway Community & Technical College Urban Center, part of that school's urban metro campus plan. Marx said those funds could possibly be used for the pole. 

When the time comes to move the pole, though, power would be lost for businesses on the block such as Odd Fellows Hall which houses offices during the week and receptions on the weekend. The blackout on the block could last two to three days.

Fortvna was an important piece of the City's plans for redeveloping the once predominantly blighted block and the area has seen an upswing. Blend coffeehouse opened a few months ago, the City purchased Floyd's bar, and the former Greyhound Bus station is currently undergoing a facelift as it waits for a buyer. Penton and Poole had previously operated a successful chocolate shop in Denver and were passionate about their plans in Covington.

For now, any light at the end of this tunnel may require turning off the lights on the block. More information on the issue may be known in the coming weeks.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that moving the pole would cost the block access to electricity for several days. The moving of the pole could take as short amount of time as an hour but turning off the transformer and leaving the pole while the facade work is done would cost the block power for a few days. The story has been updated to reflect that clarification.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: 11 East Fifth Street/RCN file