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Open House Announced for Future of Covington's IRS Site

The City of Covington announced an open-house to plan for the future of the Internal Revenue Service site located there.
During the current shutdown of the federal government, in its 27th day as of Thursday, most of the IRS employees who work at the site have not been able to report to work. That is a small glimpse of what is to come when the processing center shuts down permanently in September, a move announced by the federal government more than two years ago.
The City of Covington hopes to use the sprawling site, mostly occupied by a one-story office building and surface parking, for an attractive development.
The city contracted with Atlanta-based architecture and design firm Cooper Carry to find the best use for the 23 acres near the Ohio River.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, the city and consultants will host the public in a two-and-a-half hour open house to explain how residents and others could become involved in the process over the next few months.
The project is named the Covington Central Riverfront Strategic Master Plan, the city announced Thursday.
"For the last couple of years, Covington has been saying, the IRS is closing in 2019. Well, 2019 is here," City Manager David Johnston said in a statement. "We hired a consultant, and we're moving steadily to establish a conceptual plan. But first we want to hear what our residents and businesses think."
The open house will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center at Madison Avenue and Rivercenter Boulevard.
It will begin with a 10- to 20-minute presentation by Cooper Carry.
Cooper Carry will then station members of its team at a half-dozen tables to discuss aspects of the study, including urban design and land use considerations, economic development and marketing opportunities, public outreach, and conveyance, which is the legal process of gaining development rights from the federal government.
Cooper Carry's work is expected to take 10 months with a heavy focus on public engagement. This will include interviews with selected stakeholders, neighborhood workshops called "charrettes", and a device rarely used in Northern Kentucky called civic dinners. Cooper Carry's team and the city will recruit people from neighborhoods and interest groups to host the dinners, which are designed to foster intimate, thoughtful and low-key discussions, a news release said.
Mayor Joe Meyer urged everybody who lives and/or works in Covington engage in the IRS site discussion.
"Covington's future is tied to the development of this site," Meyer said. "From our ability to pay for services to downtown's energy to jobs for our residents, this project will impact nearly every facet of Covington."
Interest in the site is already national in nature.
Johnston said he's heard that developers across the country are enthralled by the potential of 23 acres just a block from a major river in a large metropolitan area. And industry publications like MLex US TaxWatch (owned by a global business newswire) have been closely following the federal government's process for closing the facility.
Cooper Carry has assembled a team of consultants, including a real estate firm with extensive experience dealing with the federal government on IRS properties.
Johnston, who said the 1960s-era "Flat Top" would likely be torn down, said the city has no preconceived notions of what should go on the irregularly shaped site, which is bound by West Third Street, West Rivercenter Boulevard, and Washington Street to the north, Madison Avenue to the east, West Fourth Street to the south, and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge ramp and Johnson Street to the west.
The goals are to offset an estimated $1.2 million loss in payroll tax revenue at City Hall, and to use the site to integrate the different neighborhoods touched byt he site.
The site is adjacent to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center and sits across the street from the Ohio River floodwall. It's also within a few blocks of numerous key Covington areas, including the RiverCenter complex, the Madison Avenue downtown corridor, the hotel district near Interstate 75, MainStrasse Village, the Roebling Point Business District, and the Mutter Gottes neighborhood.
"This a big piece of land in a critical area, and we have a rare opportunity to design something that will not only contribute to the city economically but also tie the city together and give it a focal point," Johnston said. "It's going to be fascinating to see the public and all the players come together to create a plan that will shape Covington for the rest of its existence."
Johnston cautioned that it will be years before the site is developed, given the long process of closing and mothballing the facility, transferring ownership, and designing its use, not to mention construction.
"But we need to start now," he said.
-Staff report
Photo: IRS site in Covington (RCN file)