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Board Rejects Demolition Plan, Owners of Bavarian Brewery Vow to Work with Preservation Groups

There will be no demolition of the historic Bavarian Brewery building in Covington -- at least not yet.

Columbia Sussex, the Northern Kentucky-based operator of hotels and casinos that owns the property, saw its request to tear down the building denied by the city's urban design review board in a unanimous, nine-nothing vote.

The company has thirty days to appeal the issue to the city commission where if rejected again, the following step would land the parties in a courtroom.

The Bavarian Brewery housed its namesake from 1867 to 1965 and was most recently a Jillians entertainment spot but has been vacant since 2006. In 2008, Columbia Sussex acquired the property, optimistic that Kentucky would expand its gaming allowances to include free-standing casinos. That never happened and now the company thinks the property would be more desirable to potential buyers if the building were removed. It sits directly next to Interstate 75 and has an exit/entrance adjacent to its parking lot.

Since The River City News first reported the planned demolition, citizens have made their opposition known and as recently as Sunday night held a protest and light show at the property.

On Monday afternoon, City Hall was filled with supporters of preserving the building who urged the board to deny the demolition request. Covington's historic preservation officer Beth Johnson recommended denial of the demolition and the board followed suit after nearly ninety minutes of discussion and public comments. Johnson argued that the company did not provide any documented support any of its claims about economic infeasibility or structural integrity.

Though attorney Scott Thomas said that Columbia Sussex had spent part of the afternoon speaking with Johnson and other representatives from the city and preservation groups and that the company would move forward with working with those preservation groups, including the Catalytic Fund (the organization behind the redevelopment of the Mutual Building, the Stewart Iron Woks Building, the former Robke Chevrolet lot, the Tanino's Building, and more), supporters of the building targeted the alleged motivations behind the proposed tear-down.

Beth Johnson

"It has only sat empty since Columbia Sussex has acquired the property so any decline has been under their (ownership)," said Carl Fox, a Covington resident who owns Newport's Crazy Fox Saloon and previously renovated the building that is home to Rosie's Tavern. "Please stop this senseless destruction of our heritage by those who don't understand it."

"I know Columbia Sussex took a calculated risk. Unfortunately, that didn't pan out," said resident Sue Heffenberger. "I don't think residents of Covington and Northern Kentucky should pay the penalty for that."

Mark Ramler of Newport-based Mansion Hill Properties, which is in the process of beginning a renovation to the former Flannery Paint building on Martin Luther King Boulevard near the brewery building, said he decided to pursue his latest project because of its proximity to the would-be doomed building. "It's an anchor," Ramler said. Calling it a "tangible link to our storied past" and arguing that Columbia Sussex "made a bad speculative decision", Ramler said that the community "should not suffer" for it. 

"They have no plans for this property, so why allow them to destroy something that no one can replace."

Covington resident Lisa Sauer of Progress With Preservation argued that the building has economic value, and that tourists who visit areas based on historic building often spend more money than average visitors. She cited what she characterized as a mistake, the 1970 razing of the former City Hall where a parking lot still sits. Sauer was present with Jeanne Schroer of the Catalytic Fund when a meeting with Columbia Sussex owner William Yung took place.

"This is a long process," Sauer said. "If the demolition is denied, then it would have to go before the commission. If denied there, then a lawsuit. There would be a time, within six to eight months. (We proposed that) we use that six to eight months in order to develop a plan to bring it to him with a development plan and funding plan for the site."

Thomas was not optimistic but agreeable to the plan to work with preservationists. He also dismissed characterizations by activist Doug Newberry, one of the men behind the recent sparsely attended protests at the site, that Columbia Sussex is motivated by greed.

"You can bank on Columbia Sussex looking at proposals objectively and reasonably as viable economic alternatives," Thomas said. He added the company would likely even be unreasonable toward their own interests in favor of preserving the building if possible. 

Thomas also faced tough questioning from board members Chris Meyer, an architect, and Rebecca Weber, a real estate agent, who asked about the reasoning behind claiming that a plan to demolish the building is not inconsistent with the city's Bavarian Brewery Redevelopment Plan (adopted in the 1990s) and how much the property would be listed for as a vacant lot, respectively.

Meyer and Weber joined members Vic Canfield, Charles King, Sue Sampson, Will Yokel, Brandy Bresser, Jim Guthrie, and Emily Wolf in denying the request to demolish. Thomas said that the next step is to appeal to the commission but that he hopes to work with the preservationists. 

"We're going to burn the candles at every end we can find to ensure the process continues expeditiously," he said.

Thomas listed the investment on the part of Columbia Sussex at $5.4 million over two separate property purchases on the site. Newberry said that the company is asking for $7 million for it. The Kenton County Property Valuation Administrator lists the value at $1,025,000.

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