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Hidden Downtown Covington Building Prepping for Office Tenant, Airbnb

An historic downtown Covington building tucked behind storefronts on Madison Avenue is undergoing a major renovation.

Though its address is 422 Madison Avenue, the building, known as the Pickle Factory, is actually located behind Chops, Cheese & Chives (formerly the location of Economy Meats), where Tobacco Alley runs east to west.

Covington developer Tony Milburn, who has led the redevelopment of many historic properties downtown in recent years, is behind the latest project, a nearly $1.9 million investment.

The three-story building has remained vacant for many years and will be fixed up to house a commercial tenant on the first floor and eight short-term rental properties on the upper floors. There is also a plan for a rooftop deck.

Manning Construction and Work Architecture are involved in the renovation.

The Covington Economic Development Authority (CEDA) gave its blessing for the city to commit $14,500 from Covington tax increment finance (TIF) district funds to help cover half the cost of connecting a water supply line to the building. The city commission is expected to approve the request next Tuesday.

Though development documents reviewed by the city refer to the building as the Pickle Factory, it is more formally remembered as the Henry Wenzel Building, according to 2005 article published by the Kenton County Historical Society and written by Karl Lietzenmayer.

According to that article, the story of the building is "convoluted" but notes that it was home at one time to the African-American Odd Fellows.

Interestingly, the building is a short, half-block walk from the more prominently known Odd Fellows Hall at Fifth Street and Madison Avenue, which was also redeveloped by Milburn.

"The history of this building is just awesome - it's been so many things," Milburn said. "It's just a wonderful example of an 1870s-style industrial building, and it's had a rough life. But its scars are what make it beautiful."

Milburn said he hoped to have the first floor finished by summer's end and the Airbnb rentals ready in the fall. Construction work has been underway for about six months, and he said he acquired it in the nick of time.

"It's been taking on water for decades, and the floors were sagging," he said. "Structurally we had to do a lot to it."

According to the historical society's article, "Henry Wenzel first appears in the Covington city directories in 1866 as a manufacturer of mineral water – we would call this a soft drink factory. The family residence was nearby on the north side of Sixth Street between Washington and Russell Streets. By 1869, Henry’s business must have been significant, because the entry that year was shown in bold. Curiously, it listed his establishment as also a wine and lager beer saloon as well as a manufacturer of mineral water. In 1874, Henry’s establishment was called the Covington Bottling Works, and the building was known as Wenzel Hall."

When Wenzel died in 1876, his widow and two daughters still lived in the building. (His widow, Bertha Wenzel, was a sales lady at Coppin's department store, which was known as California Dry Goods at the time, and which later constructed the Madison Avenue tower that is home to Hotel Covington, and Coppin's restaurant now.)

While the African-American Odd Fellows operated on the third floor, a pickle factory operated on the floors below. 

"More research is needed to fill in the many details of the building’s uses, but this quiet, empty, and somewhat neglected structure had a colorful past," Lietzenmayer wrote in his article. 

"We are excited to see this development moving forward," said Covington Economic Development Director Tom West. "The old pickle factory is a real hidden gem (literally hidden at the intersection of two downtown alleys) and these TIF funds will be used to leverage more private investment and new jobs in another building that has been vacant for decades."

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: The Pickle Factory (RCN)

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