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Building's Renovation Underway as DBL Law Will Return to Covington

Northern Kentucky's largest law firm is coming back to Covington, a city it moved from in 1983.

DBL Law will now move from its longtime home in Crestview Hills to what is referred to as the Monarch Building, named for a telephone company that once operated there in the tall historic structure on Fourth Street between Greenup Street and Scott Blvd.

Much of the building's exterior will be preserved as an additional building is constructed to accommodate more space and some parking for the law firm, which previously operated on the 200 block of Garrard Street before moving in the early eighties.

On Tuesday, the Covington city commission approved an incentives package in which developer, Alan Haehnle, will be the beneficiary of industrial revenue bonds resulting in a 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) situation, where for the first fifteen years, 20 percent of the actual property tax would be paid to the city. The package also includes a benefit from the city's tax increment finance (TIF) district as approved by the Covington Economic Development Authority (CEDA) to offer a payroll tax benefit for DBL.

DBL Law managing partner Bob Hoffer spoke with The River City News about the firm's return to its Covington roots.

"It's exactly the area we wanted to be in, where we really felt there was some vibrancy and growth," Hoffer said. The firm worked closely with Haehnle and Ft. Wright-based PCA Architects in crafting a design to suit its needs.

Among those needs is to operate in a location attractive to new talent and clients.

"We believe in the growth that is taking place in Covington, from the residences and housing, and the business culture that is returning to Covington," Hoffer said.

Hoffer joined the firm in 1980 and was named managing partner a year ago. He remembers the firm's Garrard Street location.

"One of my favorite things at that time was walking at lunch time to get a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. A lot of them are gone now. I'm also a runner and would go running across bridges after work," he said. "When we left, a lot of that (in Covington) changed."

Hoffer credits city leadership in recent years for attracting more young professionals to the city, and investments by larger companies like CTI Clinical Trial Services at RiverCenter, and St. Elizabeth Healthcare's newer hospital in the city.

Work on the Monarch building is expected to begin soon and DBL Law expects to move in by the fall of next year. Hoffer said that his firm will embed itself in the community, something that attorneys at DBL already do, now that it will be in a standalone building.

Bob Hoffer (provided)

"We don't really consider ourselves another law firm," he said. "We value that relationship we have with clients and the community and we wanted to separate ourselves and make a statement. DBL is different in so many ways and this building is going to make that statement - we're here to stay and this is not the typical law firm you find in a twenty-story building. They are unique and very talented, and cutting edge."

Back in 1983, when the firm moved to Crestview Hills, Hoffer was one of five lawyers. It was "pretty much the trend" back then, he said, for professional services firms to look for new homes in the suburbs.

But while operating in their space on Thomas More Parkway in a building constructed when St. Elizabeth, one of the firm's clients, was establishing itself in nearby Edgewood, DBL Law has had to expand its offices five or six times, Hoffer estimated.

"We are at the point where this office and our other offices are out of space," he said. DBL also operates offices in Cincinnati and Louisville. "Last year, we decided as a group we either need to rebuild here or we need to consider going elsewhere."

All the partners, Hoffer said, agreed that it was time to move.

"We really feel the vibe of the urban renewal in Covington and we want to be a part of that and go back home."

While looking to go back home, Hoffer said that DBL looked at multiple places in Covington, but Haehnle's proposal on the Monarch building won over the firm. Hoffer called Haenhle, who has redeveloped multiple nearby historic properties, "an artist."

"I've worked with DBL for years as a client of the firm," Haehnle said. I've seen up close the firm's commitment to Northern Kentucky and investing in and supporting the community. I'm honored to be a part of this tremendous project that will build on the economic development momentum that Covington is experiencing."

The move also puts the firm closer to some clients like Republic Bank, Huntington Bank, and First Financial. "It all clicked," Hoffer said. "We really think that move is going to assist us in drawing and retaining talent. The younger partners are absolutely off the charts thrilled about the idea."

DBL's attorneys are involved on boards and in organizations across the region. "We very much drive and really advocate for our attorneys and our staff to give back to the community," Hoffer said. 

One recent example, he said, was the $1 million the firm's partners contributed to the construction of a cancer center at St. Elizabeth. Hoffer is chairman of the St. Elizabeth Foundation and said it took three seconds for his partners at the firm to commit to the pledge.

"I speak for the entire St. Elizabeth family by welcoming DBL back to Covington," said St. Elizabeth CEO Garren Colvin. "DBL has been a tremendous partner of St. Elizabeth for decades. Not only is DBL respected for its legal expertise, but the firm has a well-earned reputation for giving back to the community. This announcement is another example of how the firm and its people support and believe in Northern Kentucky and Covington."

Other groups that benefit from DBL staff involvement, Hoffer said, are Children, Inc., Life Learning Center, Diocesan Children's Home, Welcome House, and others.

The space itself is expected to be "really cool," Hoffer said, with two outdoor patios on the third and fourth floors with views of Covington and Cincinnati. There will be opportunities to entertain at the new building, too.

The law firm is expected to bring more than 70 employees with an average salary north of $120,000 to the historic Covington building that has been largely vacant for two decades.

City officials said last week DBL's move would bring in $1.65 million in new city revenue over the next 15 years.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher