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Pricey Renovation of Covington Property Approved by City

A towering two-family home at 118 & 120 East Fifteenth Street in Covington will finally be brought back to life.

But the cost of the renovation caused concern at Tuesday night's city commission meeting.

When all the work is complete on the side-by-side townhomes, the price tag will be more than $600,000, far more than is expected to be recouped from the sales.

Money spent on the property's acquisition, reconstruction of its mansard roof, and other preliminary fixes have already reached the six figures.

On Tuesday, the city commission, by a vote of 3-2, awarded a contract to Independence-based Corbin Custom Remodelers worth $446,000 for the renovation and $22,059 for mold remediation at the city-owned property.

The dollars come from a federal program that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). The funds are then awarded to the state which distributes them to cities. When the properties sell, the cash goes back to the state.

"So this is money that is just channeled through here," questioned City Commissioner Steve Frank, who said the price of the project has caused him indigestion.

"I, too, have had indigestion when looking at the price, but this is a shell of a building," responded Dennis Elrod, a Covington attorney contracted to administer the city's NSP funds. Elrod explained that the building has been exposed to the elements and has been neglected for years. The mold is so bad inside, he said, that contractors looking to bid on the project were required to sign a release that promises not to hold the city accountable if the mold caused any problems for the workers.

Though several expressed interest in the progject, Corbin Custom Remodelers was the only firm that submitted a proper bid.

Covington's use of NSP funds has cleaned up several blighted blocks and individual properties. New and renovated homes on Banklick Street in Old Seminary Square are among the latest highlights of the program. 118 & 120 East Fifteenth is the final NSP project in Covington unless more funds are awarded down the road.

Frank is not optimistic about that prospect, citing his recent trip to Washington, DC. "This kind of nonsense is coming to an end," he said. "There's just no more money for it."

Projects like the one on East Fifteenth are not nonsense in the eyes of the neighborhood. Jennifer Rawers, a resident and property owner in the Helentown neighborhood where the property is located, supports the renovation. "Having more home ownership will have a significant impact on our neighborhood," she said Tuesday night. Rawers calculated that $2.5 million in private investment has been made in the surrounding area with an average of $175,000 per property.

"For the neighbors, this is a very strategic building in an up-and-coming neighborhood," said City Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. Most, if not all, of the homes that surround the current project are in good shape and line up on an attractive block.

Just one large eyesore remains.

Mayor Sherry Carran, Eilerman, and a reluctant Frank voted to approve the contract. Commissioners Michelle Williams and Mildred Rains voted no.

"When all is said and done this building is gonna cost $665,000. I don't see that," Rains said.

Elrod explained that stipulations in the NSP program (which throughout the city have mostly been executed by the Center for Great Neighborhoods, Housing Opportunities of Northern Kentucky, and the Housing Authority of Covington) require the properties to sell for less than their appraised value. 

The two properties will sell for "nowhere near what they cost," Elrod said. "The private market was not going to step forward and do this."

The troubled properties were not always in such bad shape and Elrod believes that at their origins in the late nineteenth century they were owned by people of "considerable means". Each unit features a wall safe (which still remain), a rarity for people in that time, he said. 

When completed, each unit will feature 2,000 square feet of living space on two floors with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a dining room. Both units will have a third floor attic space and full basement.

And while the money from the sales will go back to the state, the NSP projects will ultimately add $3 million to the city's tax base, Elrod said. "The impact is significant."

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

Photo: 118-120 East Fifteenth Street/RCN file

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