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Covington to Begin Searching for New City Hall

Before the City of Covington moved to 20 West Pike Street five years ago, City Hall was a different kind of hall.

It was a bingo hall.

But, when the city made a deal with the Salyers Group to sell its rapidly deteriorating old home at the former Coppin's department store at 7th Street & Madison Avenue, it moved around the corner. And the old Coppin's building became the signature piece of downtown's revival, Hotel Covington.

City Hall's location at 20 West Pike was not an unfamiliar site. City business was conducted there in the 1980s during another transient period for Covington's government.

The property, also owned by the Salyers Group, underwent an owner-funded $300,000 transformation from a smoky old bingo lounge (and prior to that, a J.C. Penney store) into a trendy, sleek new office building.

The move was expected to be temporary, but as of this month, the City of Covington will have fulfilled its entire original 5-year lease.

Next Tuesday, the city commission is expected to approve a 4-year extension of that lease, with an option to extend one year further, but the government is also eyeing other possibilities.

City Manager David Johnston said that Covington is lacking what other surrounding cities have: a recognizable, and often multi-purpose, city building. He cited Newport, Ft. Mitchell, and Ft. Wright as examples of cities with newer buildings that are multi-functional and also send a message of permanence.

"It's been so long since this city has had a core City Hall, one that looks like a City Hall," Johnston said. Since the removal of the historic Covington city building and its departure from the Kenton County Building on Court Street, the city government has hopped around downtown in nontraditional stops like the Coppin's building, and its two stays at the old J.C. Penney.

It is unlikely that another old department store is in the city's future.

"Right now, the public knows there's a place called City Hall," Johnston said. "A lot of modern city halls have multi-use aspects to it, and are important places within the community. So, those questions have to be addressed through discussion, and once that's done, we'll have a better idea what type of product, what type of place, and where in the city it should be built."

With $50,000 in funding from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Foundation and the R.C. Durr Foundation, the city will soon embark upon the planning for a new home. The process will involve public discussions across the city, from the north end to the middle and to the south end, Johnston said. There may also be a survey and other components in the process.

"And then there will be an investment ask in the end," he said. "Building a City Hall is not cheap."

To Johnston, the effort is about helping Covington and its identity. "We just need to know what Covington wants to say through its City Hall," he said.

In the meantime, the city government will continue to operate at 20 West Pike Street for the foreseeable future. In the new lease agreement, the city will pay an additional $417 per month to add to the $255,000 it already pays each year in rent. It will be the first increase in rent since the agreement with the Salyers Group began.

The city will also have $15,000 to draw on from the building's owners to make desired improvements that are not infrastructure related, such as adding an office or a wall, Johnston said.

The Salyers Group has been a good landlord, Johnston said. 

When there are structural or other issues, the owners respond and attempt to fix it swiftly. "He's been a fair landlord. We bring something to his attention, he usually addresses it to our satisfaction."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher