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Kenton County Buys Bavarian Brewery Building, Will Move Government To Historic Site

The Bavarian Brewery Building will remain standing.

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann announced on Friday that the county will buy the historic structure and move the government there. The building - owned by Crestview Hills-based developer Columbia Sussex - had been at the center of a lawsuit between the owner and the City of Covington. Columbia Sussex, which bought the building nearly 10 years ago with the hopes that Kentucky would legalize casinos, which never materialized, had argued that tearing the building down would make it more attractive to potential buyers.

The City of Covington disagreed. First the urban design review board denied the request to tear down the building and then the city commission agreed. Columbia Sussex then appealed to Kenton County Circuit Court where, in May, Judge Patricia Summe sided with the city, nearly 18 months after the UDRB first denied the request.

In June, it was announced that Columbia Sussex would take the case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

With the decision of the county to purchase the building, the court case goes away, and now the neglected building will receive some much-needed TLC - not to mention a fully functioning operation within it. 

"In regards to the physical structure of the old Bavarian Brewery itself, we will make every effort to incorporate it into the planning for the new county administration building. We’ll learn a lot more in the months to come, but I’m confident that the old tower at the Bavarian Brewery will remain an iconic structure in Covington and Kenton County for many, many years to come," Knochelmann said in an announcement. In an interview with The River City News, the judge/executive said that the Fiscal Court, and all other county offices currently operating at the Kenton County Administration Building on Court Street would move to the Bavarian site. "It’s a good day for our community. I believe these actions will provide a strong platform from which to deliver high quality services to our residents for the remainder of this century, and that’s a great outcome for all Kenton Countians.
Kenton County is expected to pay roughly $4.5 million for the 4.5-acre site and building, far below the approximately $7.3 million asking price that Columbia Sussex had put out. 
The news was welcomed at Covington City Hall, with Mayor Sherry Carran and City Manager Larry Klein telling The River City News that it would be a benefit to the neighborhood which has seen some small businesses open up as well as a new location for St. Elizabeth Healthcare.
"That building is so important, not just to Kenton County or to Covington, but to Northern Kentucky overall, so I know the county will do a top notch job with it," Carran said.
"I think it's a huge achievement," Klein said. "It will allow the county to serve its constituents well and I understand the county is going to respect the historic integrity of the site."
Knochelmann said that some parts of the structure may be removed but that every effort would be made to preserve the iconic castle-like front building.
"There is lots of space so we will evaluate the structure. We want to keep the front tower part for sure and then incorporate that into a courthouse and facility so everybody would move, the county clerk, the sheriff, the county attorney, the commonwealth's attorney, and potential other partners," Knochelmann said. The judge/executive noted that the actual planning process for the site has not yet begun.

Timeline of events

Sept. 29, 2014: The River City News is first to report that Columbia Sussex is weighing the possibility of demolishing the building Story

Oct. 7, 2014: Petition launched to stop demolition of the brewery building Story

Oct. 29, 2014: Permission from the City of Covington officially sought by Columbia Sussex to tear down the building Story

Nov. 7, 2014: Pickets planned outside the Bavarian to raise awareness Story

Nov. 17, 2014: UDRB rejects Columbia Sussex's application to demolish the building Story

Jan. 13, 2015: Covington City Commission unanimously upholds the UDRB decision Story

July 1, 2015: Judge Gregory Bartlett hears the appeal in a Kenton County Circuit Courtroom Story
December 17, 2015: Northern Kentucky University students create plan for area around Bavarian Brewery Story
January 11, 2016: The River City News reports that Judge Bartlett has recused himself the case Story
May 21, 2016: Kenton County Circuit Judge Patricia Summe sides with the City of Covington in the case Story
June 7, 2016: Columbia Sussex seeks to take case to Kentucky Court of Appeals Story

The Kenton County Fiscal Court has called a special meeting for Tuesday morning where formal approval will be given to make the purchase. County Commissioners Jon Draud, Joe Nienaber, and Beth Sewell have expressed their support for the move. 

“The new county building will ultimately go down in history as one of Kenton County’s great accomplishments," Draud said. "I am proud to be a part of this outstanding achievement. The new facility will make it convenient for all citizens to participate in their government.”
“The redevelopment of the Bavarian Brewery site into the Kenton County Administrative Building is an exciting opportunity on many levels," said Nienaber. "First and foremost it provides a highly accessible and efficient location for all citizens of Kenton County. Direct interstate access, ample surface parking and opportunities to combine multiple county services in one location will benefit both the residents and businesses of the County. This development will help secure a big part of the history of Covington and Kenton County and help stimulate private investment in a highly visible and vital corridor.”
“The redevelopment of the old Bavarian Brewery will provide more accessible services and make a strong statement welcoming folks to Covington, Kenton County and the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Sewell said. "It’s a great neighborhood complement to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Center for Great Neighborhoods, and the Linden Grove Cemetery & Arboretum. I look forward to collaborating with the Westside Neighborhood Association and other surrounding neighborhoods to put together a redevelopment vision that respects the existing historical character of the site, while utilizing the space to provide quality services. Over the last two decades of living and working in Covington, I have witnessed and been a part of many significant improvements to the community, and this one will certainly be a worthy addition to that list.”
The question of what's to come of the current administration building on Court Street remains unanswered. The county has invited Northern Kentucky University to move the Chase College of Law from NKU's main campus in Highland Heights to downtown Covington. What the building could look like if Chase were to take it over was the topic of a presentation by Corporex, the Covington-based developer.

The Catalytic Fund, which helps create financing plans for downtown developments in the Northern Kentucky River Cities, is also involved in evaluating the current building's future. If Chase doesn't come, Knochelmann said that other private development possibilities would be explored. 
"Several groups have toured the building and expressed interest, and we’re confident that either option will contribute significantly to the renaissance underway along Covington’s riverfront," Knochelmann said. Since the Kenton County Detention Center moved out of the building for a new facility in South Covington, the building has been 60 percent vacant - but still retains the jail infrastructure on several floors. 
Kenton County is also developing a campus plan for its historic courthouse and offices in Independence, Knochelmann said. 
A timeline for redevelopment was not immediately known.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher