Op-Ed: NKY River Cities See Banner Year
The following op-ed is written and submitted by Southbank Partners President Jack Moreland
For the seven Northern Kentucky river cities that comprise Southbank Partners, 2019 was a banner year in terms of economic growth, development, and job creation.
These cities saw more than $500 million in construction, development, and infrastructure projects take place last year – the most productive year for these cities since I became president of Southbank Partners more than 10 years ago.
Also last year, for the first time in our 23-year history, Southbank Partners expanded its footprint to add the City of Silver Grove as a member of our organization, joining the original founding members: Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Fort Thomas, Ludlow, and Newport.
While organization was not involved in all of these projects, Southbank Partners is proud to have worked on several of them and we are delighted to celebrate all of the successes and growth our member cities achieved in 2019. Here’s a breakdown of last year’s projects in our member cities:
Development projects: Orleans Development, in partnership with Vision Realty Group and Ashley Development Group, rehabilitated an old manufacturing building at 239 Grandview Avenue into The Kent Lofts, a $10-million multi-family development with 66 apartments and garage parking. The developer used historic tax credits and industrial revenue bonds from the city to help finance the project. Rents at the development run from $995 a month for one-bedroom apartments to $2,000 a month for a two-bed room apartments.
Several new bars and restaurants opened on Fairfield Avenue, including The Fairfield Market, Danyelle’s Bellevue Tavern, and Three Spirits Tavern. The city also obtained a $100,000 federal grant to complete sidewalks behind Grandview Elementary School and installed dozens of new bike racks on Fairfield Avenue and throughout the city, with more to come.
Infrastructure improvements: The City of Bellevue received a $792,100 federal grant to make $1 million in road and sidewalk improvements on Donnermeyer Drive – one of the city’s key transportation corridors. These improvements will make the road and sidewalks safer, more attractive, and more pedestrian and biker friendly. The grant covers both the costs to design and construct the project. Future development is planned on Donnermeyer and Riveria Drives this year, which will include a new Waffle House, next to Kroger where the old car wash was located, a new Burger King, and a new Kroger’s gas station.
Bellevue Vets field renovations: The Cincinnati Reds Community Fund and St. Elizabeth Hospital funded a $1 million makeover of the two baseball fields at The Bellevue Vets at Fairfield and Riveria Avenues. Theses renovations include a new full-size field for the Bellevue High School team, including new backstop, dugouts, fencing, scoreboard, and Groeschen Family Press Box in honor of Leo Groeschen, a legendary pitcher from Bellevue, and his son, Tom, a longtime sports reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Development projects: In Mainstrasse, the $50-million,190-apartment RiverHaus complex at Fifth and Main streets was constructed last year. Commercial space is being finished and residential units are being leased. Site work also began on the $38-million, 177-unit John R. Green Lofts project on Sixth Street. Construction is expected to start this year.
Along the river, Corporex started the $50-million conversion of 290,000 square feet of office space at Madison Place into 187 apartments. The Bradford Building on Scott Boulevard, which turned a former strip club and other space into five condos and five street-level commercial spaces, was completed last year and most residential units have been sold.
The Salyers Group, which developed Hotel Covington, along with vR Group bought the former YMCA building and Gateway Bookstore at Madison Avenue and Pike Street from the city to create a $22.5-million development that will include a “bourbon distillery experience,” an addition to Hotel Covington, and new office space.
About a block away, ROAD iD and Icon Marketing Communications announced a new $5.5 million commercial building/renovation project that will bring 50 new jobs to Covington and Braxton Brewery opened The Rooftop, its new $5-million rooftop bar and entertainment venue.
At Roebling Point, work started on Covington Yard, which will turn ocean containers into an entertainment complex at 401 Greenup St. In Mainstrasse, Paul and Emily Weckman continued the growth of their restaurant enterprise by renovating a former service station at Fifth and Main Streets into The Standard restaurant, which is expected to open this spring.
Near the Park Hills border, site work began on the Park Pointe luxury home community that will complement the nearby Views housing development, both of which offer stunning views of downtown Covington and the Cincinnati skyline.
While the IRS shut down its massive tax-processing facility that covers 23 acres near the Covington riverfront last year, city officials laid the groundwork for its redevelopment by presenting a conceptual master plan for this property that features a mix of office, retail, housing, and public uses with a restored street grid, a levee park, and community plaza. The city is in the process of negotiating with the federal government to purchase this land.
Riverfront Commons: After years of planning, work finally began in September on the $6.54-million “crown jewel” of the Riverfront Commons project at the foot of Madison Avenue and Greenup Street. The project will transform the Covington riverfront with a 1,350-seat amphitheater, two hiking and biking trails of more than 2,800 feet connecting with existing trails, a cobblestone pier for paddlers and anglers, and upgraded overlooks and other amenities.
Infrastructure improvements: The city started its Sixth Street and Scott Boulevard Restoration Project, a $1.37-million infrastructure project designed to attract private economic investment by improving the “look” and “feel” of downtown. This project includes rebuilding sidewalks, moving utilities underground, and adding ADA ramps, decorative lamp posts, decorative brick pavement, streetscape trees, and new trash cans.
Development projects: Last year, developers constructed two new apartment complexes along the Dayton riverfront: Tapestry Apartments, a $30-million development with 267 units near the east end of Manhattan Harbour, and Gateway Apartments project, the $18-million project with 76 units at the west end of the project area. Both developments are expected to start leasing soon.
The city also announced three other housing developments that are also expected to break ground in the Manhattan Harbour area this year:
Waterfront: 98 for-sale units when finished, with an estimated total value of $41.5 million.
The Lookout: 72 for-sale units when finished, with an estimated total value of $25 million.
Boulevard Flats: 70 for-sale units when finished, with an estimated total value of $25 million.
Riverfront Commons: Last year, the city constructed a new section of the Riverfront Commons trail running along the river’s edge, which complements an existing trail section on top of riverfront levee. The first phase of this trail project cost $560,000, which was paid for through grants that Southbank helped the city acquire.
Phases II and III, which are funded and are expected to be completed this year and in 2022, respectively, will add another mile to the river’s edge trail, which will create a three-mile trial loop when combined upper trail.
Development projects: In July, the Fort Thomas City Council approved a development agreement with Greiwe Development and North American Properties to construct a $20-million mixed-use residential and commercial development on 1.5 acres at the northwest corner of Highland Avenue and North Fort Thomas Avenue. The developer razed buildings on this property this past summer and construction is expected to start this spring.
Bloomfield/Schon + Partners began the rehabilitation of 10 historic homes on Alexander Circle, which formerly housed U.S. Army officers in Tower Park. The Cincinnati-based developer purchased the properties from the city, which obtained them from the federal government after 14 years of negotiation. The rehabilitation of these 10 existing structures and construction of a new home at the site are expected to create new 16 new residential units valued at nearly $10 million.
Education: The Fort Thomas Independent Schools, which operates some of the most highly rated public schools in Kentucky, started construction of the new $22-million Johnson Elementary School this past year. This is the third and final elementary school reconstruction project in the school district, which previously reconstructed and/or rehabilitated Woodfill and Moyer elementary schools.
Development projects: Late last year, Paul Miller, the owner of Circus Mojo and Bircus Brewing in Ludlow, announced he had purchased the former home of Doxol Propane at 2 Highway Avenue, which he intends to turn into a new event center.
The city also began discussions with a developer regarding development of the Ludlow Yards project on Elm Street and it started laying the groundwork to develop about 16 acres of land on the river for a mixed-use development.
Housing: In September, Beyond the Curb’s Urban Living Tour visited Ludlow for the first time with 12 property owners participating in the tour of urban living.
Development projects: The Academy on 4th, a 202-unit market-rate apartment building with first-floor commercial space, was constructed on Fourth Street in downtown Newport. The $37-million project is nearing completion and is currently leasing.
Catty-corner to The Academy, the City of Newport approved plans for a mixed-use development on the block that now houses Southbank Partners’ offices, the World Peace Bell, and a parking lot. The new project calls for a 144-room hotel, a 49,000-square-foot mixed-use building that will include retail and office space, and a 350-space above-ground parking garage. The hotel will face Fourth Street; the retail and office building will front Monmouth Street. The Peace Bell will remain on the site.
The first project at the Ovation site -- a new music and entertainment venue and 550-car parking garage – began construction last year. Corporex is partnering with AEG Presents/PromoWest to build the $40-million, 38,000-square-foot concert venue that will accommodate between 2,700 (indoor space) to 7,000 (outdoor space) concertgoers and is expected to host around 180 events a year Other development projects at Ovation are expected to be announced later this year.
Developer 120 Main LLC started work on its $7-million Skypoint residential project, which is a redevelopment of the former Newport Baptist Convalescent Home at 120 Main St. in the city’s Clifton (Spaghetti Knob) neighborhood into 45 luxury condominiums and 110 apartments. The project, which offers spectacular views of downtown Newport and the Cincinnati skyline, is in its first phase of 19 condos, 16 of which face the city and other three with courtyard views. Units are now leasing.
Cincinnati-based North American Properties, which purchased Newport on the Levee in December 2018, announced last year that it would spend $100 million to transform the 360,000-square-foot entertainment destination. The developer has razed the former Mitchell’s Fish Market and is currently making improvements, which area expected to continue throughout this year. New design details, including restaurant and retail concepts, are expected to be announced later this year.
Riverfront Commons: Construction started on two pedestrian walkways connecting Riverfront Commons to the sidewalks on east and west side of the Taylor-Southgate Bridge last year. This $1.2-million project is expected to be completed soon.
Infrastructure improvements: Southbank Partners has worked with the City of Silver Grove, its newest member, to obtain state and federal grants to install new sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements in the city. Southbank and the city obtained four grants totaling more than $1 million to construct sidewalks along Ky. 8 in three phases, the first of which was completed this past summer. A fourth grant -- awarded in 2018 -- will not be dispersed until 2023, when construction will begin.
Jack Moreland is president of Southbank Partners, Inc.