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Now that Its Theirs, Kenton County Leaders Discuss Options for Bavarian Building

There is at least a touch of irony in Kenton County's purchase of the Bavarian Brewery Building - a nearly 150-year old historic structure near I-75 at 12th Street/MLK Boulevard in Covington. The very rules that the city used all the way to Kenton County Circuit Court to prevent then-owner Columbia Sussex from tearing it down, don't apply to their colleagues at the Fiscal Court.

Kenton County could knock down the entire building and the preservation rules that withheld a judge's scrutiny would not apply. 

Don't expect that to happen, though.

At least not entirely.

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann seems particularly fond of the so-called "tower building", the most western-facing and historically significant portion of the Bavarian building. It is highly likely that that part will be incorporated into the design of a new Kenton County government campus, a potentially $20 to 25 million project. Some of historic rear buildings may be razed, though.

"The tower structure, to me, is an absolute keeper. The back section, we have options," Knochelmann said during a special meeting of the fiscal court on Tuesday afternoon inside the 1969 tower near the Covington riverfront that the county government aims to vacate. "I think people are very happy with the idea that if we protect that (tower), people are very understanding that we want to have options."

Commissioner Jon Draud wasn't so sure, noting letters from preservationists and a party held in the county's honor last week by Covington City Solicitor Frank Warnock - whose office battled Columbia Sussex tooth and nail to save the iconic building - as a sign of possible blowback should anymore of the former brewery's structure be taken down. 

Draud also suggested that the county could save money by selling the naming rights to the new campus. With the Bavarian's placement a stone's throw from the always-busy Interstate 75 near the Cut-in-the-Hill and the Brent Spence Bridge, it could make for a valuable billboard. Gateway Community & Technical College capitalized on its Boone County campus's closeness to I-75 near Florence in selling the naming rights to a building, so there is precedent, County Attorney Stacy Tapke said. Her office will be evaluating sample requests for proposals in case the county intends to take that route.

Kenton County paid $4.5 million for the property in July.

Commissioners Joe Nienaber and Beth Sewell suggested that more county services should be incorporated into the new campus. Nienaber said that Planning & Development Services, the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky, the Northern Kentucky Health Department, and others are appropriate candidates to share the massive space. Sewell said that she hopes the design includes plans to activate the space even after business hours, suggesting that green space and perhaps a performing arts space could be valuable, along with space that could accommodate food trucks.

"I just want this building to be a gathering spot for people, where people feel comfortable coming to, however that may be designed," Sewell said. That could include benches and trees in the parking lot, "something that takes away all the surface blacktop and makes it feel welcoming." She added that a strong streetscape plan could better connect the site to nearby Mainstrasse Village.

Knochelmann, who took notes during the meeting on a flipboard as a slideshow of the Bavarian site rotated on a television, said that a request for proposals will be published on October 13 for architects. He expects the RFPs to be returned by November 3, after which there will be public meetings held to discuss best use of the site.

The building remains in solid shape, Knochelmann said, and unlike other historic buildings that have been vacant, this one has already remediated issues related to asbestos and other harmful materials because other commercial operations have occupied it within the past twenty years. Nienaber said that it is in better shape than four historic buildings that he has renovated in Cincinnati's Walnut Hills neighborhood. 

But - just in case - the county will also evaluate what the cost of building a new campus would be if the site we completely empty of the historic structure. "There is no way I am going to support tearing the tower down, especially now knowing of the bones," Knochelmann said, "(but) we need to know the price of building a structure on (a flat, empty surface)."

The county may also pursue acquisition of some surrounding properties on MLK that could be razed to make way for more parking to serve the government center.

At Tuesday's meeting it was made clear that there is an abundance of options for the Bavarian site, and that the county is still in the "idea" phase. When the architects submit their proposals on November 3, the applicants will be reduced to three, at which point the county may opt to purchase the intellectual rights to all the finalists' design work with the idea of incorporating multiple ideas from different firms into the final project.

The Bavarian Brewery ceased operations in the 1960s, nearly 100 years after the castle-like fortress of a building was constructed, and was last occupied by Jillian's nightclub which closed more than ten years ago. Columbia Sussex purchased the building in 2007 in hopes that newly-elected Governor Steve Beshear would be able to pass expanded casino gaming in Kentucky and that a casino could operate at the site. Beshear served eight years and his pursuit of expanded gaming was unsuccessful. The Crestview Hills-based owners of the Bavarian sought to tear it down, claiming that the site was more valuable without the old building on it. The city's urban design review board disagreed in a decision that was upheld by the city commission and then a Kenton County Circuit Court judge.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

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