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Developer Targets Specialty Grocery as Part of New Vision for Ft. Mitchell Site

The former site of the Drawbridge Inn in Ft. Mitchell is back in the mix for a future development.

The famed local hotel and meeting space was razed to make way for what Christ Hospital and Bellevue-based Brandicorp had hoped would be home to a mixed-use development anchored by a new outpatient surgical center.

A lengthy legal battle, brought on by St. Elizabeth Healthcare to keep Christ's plans out of the Northern Kentucky market, followed and Christ ultimately waved the white flag on the site after a loss at the Kentucky Court of Appeals, deciding instead to expand its presence in Ft. Wright.

On Monday night, though, Brandicorp's Mike Brandy joined the Ft. Mitchell city council's virtual meeting and explained a new vision the site. 

"We think this is the best piece of property in Northern Kentucky and possibly Cincinnati," Brandy said. "We're handling it with kid gloves and we want to get the best project we can."

Brandy said that his firm has been in discussions with potential tenants, and said that he hopes once one or two agree to join, others would be inspired to follow. Among the targets are regional retail brands, restaurants, and groceries, he said.

"We are looking at regional retail and a lot of that would probably be restaurant-oriented," Brandy said. "We are also in discussions with a couple smaller grocers, specialty food grocers."

Brandy conceded, though, that the section of land upon which the grocery would be planned is not yet owned by his firm.

Brandicorp, he said, executed an option to purchase most of the land formerly owned by Christ, but the Cincinnati-based health care system still owns a 4.9-acre site where the now-empty Montgomery Inn sits.

"We have not been able to acquire that site yet but we hope for the good of the development we will be able to get that site in the future," Brandy said. 

In addition to commercial opportunities, the planned development hopes to include "upscale multi-family housing" and senior living, he said.

"All this would be lined up as a town square where the main artery would have parking on the side," Brandy said. "It would flow well but have slower traffic so retailers and pedestrians would feel comfortable walking the main area."

Royal Drive, which snakes around the outskirts of the land, would ideally be re-routed, Brandy said, and the development would, he hopes, be seamlessly integrated into the surrounding community.

"This is not cast in stone," he said. "We still need to talk to our neighbors and other stakeholders. We are hoping to draw in the rest of the neighborhood to give more energy and vibrance to the project."

St. Elizabeth also purchased property near the development earlier this year when it acquired from the Kenton County fiscal court the vacated Planning & Development Services of Kenton County (PDS) building on Royal Drive. PDS moved to the new Kenton County government building in Covington.

Brandy said that there would possibly be a small medical presence in the new development, but not like what was originally planned with Christ.

"We are looking at a possible medical office, but that is not primary," he said. "That was guiding and really shaping the development prior with Christ. It would be a lot smaller, if at all."

St. Elizabeth's logo appeared on the slide presented by Brandy to city council, just underneath that of Brandicorp, and Brandy said that the health care system "is going to try to partner with this project."

Though Brandy hopes to acquire the 4.9-acre site where a grocery is targeted as a tenant (what Brandy referred to as a "favorite spot for a grocer and neighborhood shops"), a couple of other parcels were also recently added to Brandicorp's ownership at the site, he said. A gas station and salon were purchased, he said, so that the businesses would not be impacted by any changes to Royal Drive. 

Mayor Jude Hehman asked Brandy about a timeline for this new plan.

"We are moving as fast as we can. I'd hate to lock something in," Brandy said. "I think we're going after what we feel are the top tenants in the category we're looking at and as we lock those in nd where they want to go and how they want to be in this development, then we can start giving timetables.

"COVID has really delayed a lot of the restaurant commitments. We're doing everything in our control to get the project moving. We want to go as fast as we can."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Former Drawbridge Inn site in Ft. Mitchell (RCN file)