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With Career Center Near Completion, City Looks Toward Duro Bag Building

At the busy intersection of Madison Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., one corner is not like the others.

On the northeast sits Covington's most famous landmark, the St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. On the northwest is the newly redveloped Lyceum and Diocese of Covington offices. On the southeast is a new Walgreens that, while a controversial replacement of an historic mansion, is the prototype for the drug chain's new image.

And then there's the southwest corner: a sprawling warehouse owned by the Duro Bag company but a building whose history stretches back further than that company's. It was the roundhouse that serviced nearby trains on the C&O line.

But with the recent purchase of Duro Bag by South Carolina-based plastic bag maker and recycler Hilex Poly, changes could be coming again to the building. At least that's what City Manager Larry Klein hopes. "It's another great opportunity," Klein said at Thursday's Covington Business Council luncheon. The guest speaker was Lisa Cooper, head of the Northern Kentucky Area Development District who touched on the new Kentucky Career Center that will soon open at the former Robke Chevrolet site.

It is the latest development in a part of Covington, Klein said, pointing to Health Point Medical Center, Walgreens, Covington Latin's expansion, the Life Learning Center at the old Stewart Iron Works Building, and the Diocese of Covington and Cathedral Square pavers, all along the newly widened Martin Luther King Blvd.

"It's a great potential development site," Klein said of the Duro Bag building, though he mentioned that he does not know what the company's new owners may have in store for it. Only a handful of workers are based there and it is mostly used as a warehouse. "A new owner might not see that as a suitable location," he said.

So what could go there? Klein hopes for something that serves neighbors, like a grocery. The nearby Kroger is outdated and is not highly regarded by many in the community. "It's such a huge site right in the middle of Covington. It would be great for something that serves the neighborhood," he said.

The surrounding area has matured from a mostly vacant wasteland to the city's biggest boom. The Career Center will soon house NKADD, TANK, Brighton Center, and Goodwill offices, in addition to helping employees get the training they need and employers connect with them. It is an appropriate complement to the Life Learning Center at the Stewart Iron Works Building where those who have hit a rough spot in life can be transformed and prepared for another chance.

Cooper, whose husband Brent Cooper of C-Forward and interim president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was, along with former State Senator and Secretary of Education & Workforce Development Joe Meyer, among the first to suggest a new career center for the region, said the new facility would better serve the community than the outdated, cramped spot at the corner of Fourth & Garrard Streets.

"It has become obsolete," she said. "It is not a welcoming environment or job-seekers or employers. It is not ADA-compliant. There are space limitations and safety concerns." The new facility will be the envy of the state. "It's the first facility in the state designed to be customer focused."

Those seeking assistance at the center have changed since 2008. Many customers are well-educated but were victims of the recent recession. The center helps them find the training and/or right positions for them. "Our goal is to meet every individual where they are," Cooper said.

And where they are when they show up at the Kentucky Career Center, which is set to open later this summer, is in the middle of a redevelopment of a long neglected portion of the city.

Meanwhile, what will be the former Career Center at 4th & Garrard will be retained by the state, The River City News has learned, and possibly leased.

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

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BEFORE: Robke site

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After: Kentucky Career Center

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