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High Hopes for Historic Downtown Covington Building

There is a recurring theme in downtown Covington's revitalization: former dingy bars and strip clubs are being transformed into showplaces.

A decade ago, the iconic Pad nightclub, home of "Kentucky's most beautiful girls", was purchased and turned into the posh Avenue Lounge (before becoming home to a law firm). Club Venus, another of the city's throwbacks to naughtier times, finally closed this year and is now a hip urban bar called The Globe. Floyd's 7/11 Club and Bottoms Up, neighbors of the Globe on Fifth Street, are also under renovation.

Now, another building that housed one of Covington's infamous girly bars is slated to become something special.

The Bradford Building, which sits on the east side of Scott Boulevard between Fourth Street and Park Place, has been mostly vacant for decades, but through the late nineties was home to Viva La Foxx. In recent weeks, it was announced that the historically significant property - named for Bradford Shinkle, the city's wealthiest resident when he died 100 years ago - was purchased by the Catalytic Fund, the development corporation whose real estate endeavors have helped move Northern Kentucky's urban revitalization forward through projects like Hotel Covington, the Mutual Building, and Duveneck Square.

On Thursday, Jeanne Schroer, president and CEO of the Catalytic Fund, outlined the organization's hopes for the property during the monthly luncheon of the Covington Business Council at the Madison Event Center downtown.

"We have actually acquired the building after two years working on that. I'm really grateful that our Catalytic investors are allowing us to take this to the next level," Schroer told the large crowd at Thursday's event. The Catalytic Fund has never acquired a property but is taking a chance on this one. "It is not without a plan and not without thought."

The property is challenged, Schroer said. It is in poor condition, has no off-street parking, will be expensive to restore, and is a small project at about 15,000 square feet.

The Bradford Building (RCN file)

"It is small and complicated, the kind of stuff not everybody is interested in," Schroer said. "But there are a lot of opportunities."

And if anyone can prove that - it's Schroer and her team at the Catalytic Fund which played a significant role in a neighboring project, the Boone Block, which virtually erased the memory of a seedy liquor store and mostly vacant sprawling mixed-use building from the 19th century and turned it into 9 luxury townhomes that have sold out. Schroer said Thursday that her preferred strategy at approaching the Bradford would include reassembling the Boone Block team, which was led by developer Tony Kreutzjans. He said Thursday that the conversations are very early but that he is definitely interested.

"The Boone Block was almost an experiment, but it worked," Schroer said. Other successful projects in the downtown core like the Globe, the Mutual Building (where a new bar, the Hannaford, will open soon), and new restaurants and residential developments, are creating a critical mass of people and amenities - the necessary ingredients for more successful projects, Schroer said.

Rendering by Hub + Weber Architects for the Catalytic Fund (provided)

The current plan for the Bradford calls for five condominiums on the upper floors that would be sold, with commercial space available on the street level. The initial idea for design would be more European, Schroer said, whereas Boone Block's design was more industrial and rugged luxury. There may also be rooftop access. "To sell the units they have to be unique, high quality, and very appealing," she said. Potential prices for the units are not yet known but Boone Block lofts were sold at $350,000 or higher each.

There will need to be support from a variety of areas to make it work, including the local government and philanthropists. "A lot will have to come together to make this happen," Schroer said. "I hope the community will be supportive of this. I think it's the next phase of the transformation of downtown.

"The River Cities are strongly positioned for real estate and economic development. We shouldn't settle for anything other than the very high quality development that we deserve here."

But when it comes to the types of businesses that previously existed in these spaces, the Catalytic Fund doesn't run away from that memory. In fact, visitors to the Catalytic Fund's offices in RiverCenter may have spotted the iconic Pad sign that used to hang inside the Madison Avenue strip joint proclaiming to host Kentucky's most beautiful girls. Viva La Foxx will also be fondly remembered, Schroer said.

"The carpet is still in there," she laughed, referencing the colorful pattern on the floor of the old club that featured busty animated dancers. "We're going to remove it and clean it and sell pieces as mementos."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Top image: Viva La Foxx and others photos provided
Slideshow Images & Captions: 
Carpet from inside Viva La Foxx