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At Long Last, Downtown Covington's Signature Project is Full Speed Ahead

It was October 25, 2012, and the exact one year anniversary of businessman Chuck Scheper taking over as mayor of Covington after being appointed following the resignation of Denny Bowman. Covington City Hall was abuzz with what would be the biggest development announcement in years and certainly the most ambitious and riskiest project in downtown's tepid renaissance. The news was that City Hall itself was primed to become The Hotel Covington, a $28 million independent boutique hotel developed by the Salyers Group in partnership with Chicago-based Aparium Hotel Group.

It was not only an economic win for downtown but a symbolic milestone for Scheper who had been tapped to be mayor to lead the charge of restructuring the city's government, bringing it back from the brink of bankruptcy. To sell off City Hall to make way for new development was a bold statement.

On Thursday, Scheper returned to the site of that 2012 triumph, a building now gutted and primed for the hotel's arrival. It took nearly three full years for tenacious developer and Salyers Group CEO Guy van Rooyen to secure the full financing, a goal achieved through the valuable assistance of the most valuable player in downtown's revitalization effort, Jeanne Schroer and the Catalytic Fund. All three took the barren stage at the worksite to celebrate the groundbreaking, an event that culminated in a champagne toast rather than the ceremonial moving of dirt.

"I have been looking forward to this day since we made the original announcement," said Scheper, chairman of Bexion Pharmaceuticals. "I often referred to The Hotel Covington as the linchpin for the city's recovery."

The development came about as the former mayor made efforts to connect with the city's top business leaders and learned of van Rooyen's aspirations to introduce a boutique hotel to the market to complement the company's thriving Madison Event Center, a posh and popular reception hall sought after by brides. Perhaps the Mutual Building across the street would be a good target, but ultimately, the parties set their sights on the towering Coppins Building, built in 1909 to house the namesake department store, and ultimately the city government from 1990 to 2013. The Salyers have a long history of saving and repurposing downtown Covington buildings. The Madison was once a Woolworth's and the company's Fabulous Bridal is an historic bank building. The Mutual Building is now upscale residential units and commercial space thanks to the Salyers Group in partnership with Ashley Development. Next up is the Doctors Building, another residential redevelopment, barely a stone's throw from the Madison and the forthcoming hotel.

"Today is an historic day," van Rooyen told the assembled crowd of movers and shakers, many of whom have attended luncheons, awards ceremonies, dinners, and other events over the past three years to hear the native Australian talk about his signature development that is finally underway. Since the original announcement, the price tag of the project was lowered to $21.5 million, the deal with the City of Covington (who now rents a Salyers property, a renovated former JC Penney store on Pike Street) changed, and some other initial plans have been altered. However, the hotel project remains the boldest, most ambitious entry to Covington's renaissance, and, as Scheper said, triggered a chain reaction of downtown revitalization that now includes a booming new brewery, new apartment units, new restaurants, and an expanded campus for Gateway Community & Technical College.

"The Hotel Covington will not only generate new jobs within the urban core," van Rooyen continued, "but it will accelerate the transformation of downtown Covington."

"The announcement of a hotel deal was the first real positive sign of development in the urban core," Scheper said. "It was important in that it sent a signal to other developers and investors that Covington was a place to consider and it didn't just have to be on the riverfront."

But it wasn't an easy to sell to banks. Van Rooyen said that when Jeanne Schroer was part of the team looking for banks to back the development of Covington's RiverCenter towers on the riverfront, it took 50 tries. The Salyers Group leader made it to 38, and the Catalytic Fund, headed by Schroer, played a key role in assisting the project put together its "funding stack". 

"The Catalytic Fund was pleased to be an equity investor in The Hotel Covington and to provide development and capital acquisition services to assist with the execution of this high impact project," Schroer said. "The commitment of our Catalytic investors to provide these resources is an indication of their confidence in the quality of the project, the strength and commitment of the Salyers and Aparium development team, and the City of Covington's desirability as a location for those seeking quality urban living, working, and entertainment options."

The hotel project is financed through a combination of private equity, government-issued bonds, historic and tourism tax credits, and financing from First Financial Bank. 

"Some doubted The Hotel Covington would become a reality," current Mayor Sherry Carran said, "but through the work of top-notch developers, tremendous support from city staff and assistance from the Catalytic Fund, we stayed strong and determined." Carran was a city commissioner when the original announcement was made. "The journey of transforming the Coppins Building back to a showpiece and a vibrant corner is a story that many will remember and will be part of Covington's wonderful history."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher