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Knochelmann: Redevelopment of County Building, IRS Sites Important

Next to his family, the things Kris Knochelmann loves most are Kenton County and Covington.

The Kenton County Judge-Executive said that to the Covington Business Council during its monthly luncheon at the Madison Event Center on Thursday where he discussed his first 90 days in office.

He talked about growing up in Taylor Mill and then Licking Riverside, about bowling at the lanes that were in the building on Scott Boulevard recently torn down to make way for new construction for Gateway Community & Technical College. Since assuming the county's top elected position, Knochelmann has only been to his private full-time job about three days, he joked. He owns Schneller Heating & Air on Ninth Street.

"That speaks to how I do things. I like to bring the best people in and let them do their job, hold them accountable to that, and hopefully do that in a very cooperative nature," Knochelmann said. "I really do have a mindset that the vision for Kenton County and Northern Kentucky that I would like to have is one of cooperation where everybody wins."

Knochelmann said that the county finds itself in "pretty good financial shape" with strong reserves and very little debt, except for the $40 million jail. "No one should worry that the county is going bankrupt any time soon."

Changes on the horizon include a restructuring of the Kenton County Airport Board, a cause that Knochelmann championed during his campaign last year against incumbent and fellow Republican Steve Arlinghaus. A series of media reports and a scathing report by State Auditor Adam Edelen contributed to the resignations of the board's chair, vice chair, and a third member, and changed the way the board spends money for travel and dining. In July, the board will be changed even more thanks to a piece of legislation that passed the Kentucky General Assembly this year, giving voting power to seats occupied by appointees from Boone, Campbell, and Grant Counties for the first time. 

Currently, all seven voting members are appointed by Kenton County's Judge-Executive.

The airport has struggled in recent years with expensive and limited flights, though it has added more low-cost carriers lately. 

"I think we as a community and as business leaders can talk about how great an asset we have in the airport," Knochelmann said, specifically applauding the work of Candace McGraw, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), and her staff. Though the airport is in Boone County, it was originally financed and is still owned and operated by the Kenton County Airport Board.  "It's easy to get in and out of. It's a good environment. It's not old and dingy and we need to continue to spread that word when we're outside the area. We have an obligation to say we have this great thing. Let's just talk about it and make sure it's successful."

Meanwhile, Knochelmann and Kenton County Commissioners Jon Draud, Joe Nienaber, and Beth Sewell meet frequently to discuss a lengthy to-do list of more than 40 items. "We meet every week," Knochelmann said. Though each item may not be completed or accomplished, "We're gonna move every one of these down the field and make progress with them."
"Ultimately, I just want to see movement and every single department and area of the community has some touch-point we can do better with."
Right now, the Fiscal Court is working on a 4-year budget, "so we can plan without these issues of ups and downs." 
Additionally, the county finds itself in the process of a significant move that could see the renovation of the current County Building in downtown Covington to a shared, newly constructed campus with the City of Covington at Pike & Washington Streets, part of a possible $65 million mixed-use development.
The current building is mostly empty since the construction of a new jail in South Covington moved that operation out of it. 
"We have a 10-story tower here in Covington that is almost half empty," Knochelmann said. It would cost $1 million just to clean the old jail out and renovate it so that the space could be leased, according to estimates, Knochelmann stated. The building has its original heating and air units from 1969 and the elevators have consistent problems. "We don't want anybody to locate a business in Kenton County and see our courthouse and think this is what we stand for. It's functional, but it's a problem."
"It's also sitting on some of the most valuable space and is probably worth more as a vacant lot than a tower."
The Catalytic Fund is leading the investigation of what the next best step may be for the nearly 50-year old tower. "We have had some great discussions about whether it should be renovated for us or used as residential. We want to do something with it and I will consider it an absolute failure when I get out of this crazy business as judge-executive if we leave that building in the condition it is in with no vision for the future."
Knochelmann emphasized that he is committed to keeping Kenton County's operations in Covington. "I'll do everything I can to make that happen and yes, I do say that to the suburban mayors. It's the urban core and the core is the heart of our community."
Another government property, the sprawling 1-story IRS facility near the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, is also a priority for redevelopment exploration. Local officials want the IRS and its thousands of employees to stay in Covington but most agree that it has too much of a footprint on valuable land ripe for development. Knochelmann said that he has been meeting with representatives from Senator Mitch McConnell's office to evaluate options.
"We'd love to see the city be able to have more space for development. It would be wonderful to see some life there."
Story & photo by Michael Monks, editor & publisher