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Highland Heights Taps Dayton's Giffen as New City Administrator

The City of Highland Heights has turned to another Campbell County city in selecting its first full-time city administrator since the 1980s.

Michael Giffen, who serves in the same role at the City of Dayton, will be moving south.

The City of Highland Heights has hired Michael Giffen, who currently serves as the city administrator in Dayton, Ky., as its first full-time city administrator since the 1980s.

“Our city is in the big leagues now in terms of growth and economic development opportunities and we need an experienced professional to help guide us through these opportunities and challenges,” Highland Heights Mayor Greg Meyers said.

“With the Town Center at Northern Kentucky University ready to kick off at the south end of the city and with the north end of the city a blank canvas for future development opportunities, it’s important we have someone like Michael who is knowledgeable about finances and economic development and issues such as industrial-revenue bonds, tax-increment financing, and grant writing.”

Giffen has experience in leading a city during a time of redevelopment. Dayton has seen significant growth in residential units on its riverfront in the Manhattan Harbour area, and its central business district is also experiencing a renaissance.

Giffen previously served as main street manager in Dayton before being elevated to the city administrator's post in 2014.

As Highland Heights’s new city administrator, Giffen will manage the day-to-day operations of the city and serve as the city’s chief operating officer, managing an annual budget of approximately $4 million and overseeing 18 full-time and two part-time employees. 

City council voted to create the position earlier this month.

Until now, most of the city’s management duties have been handled by Meyers, who is serving in his 14th year as mayor, and Jim Collins, who has provided management services to the city as a part-time contractor for the past 12 years.

“The mayor has handled a lot of the management responsibilities in the past and no one has been more dedicated or willing to do more to move Highland Heights forward than Greg Meyers,” Collins said. “But there’s a lot more that needs to be done and Greg and I realize the need for a person who can dedicate more energy, expertise, and effort, so the time is right to create and fill this position with a capable young man like Michael Giffen.”  

Mayor Meyers said city council has been discussing hiring a full-time city administrator for a couple years now and he believes Giffen will be a good fit for the city.

“Michael has been on our radar for at least two years now and we have been closely following his work in the City of Dayton since that time,” Meyers said.

Now, the City of Dayton begins the challenging task of finding a replacement for the 2019 Northern Kentucky City/County Manager of the Year, chosen so by his peers.

"Michael has obviously had a major impact on the City of Dayton as we know it today, so this is a great loss to the city," Dayton Mayor Ben Baker told RCN. "However, we are very excited for this opportunity for him and his family."

Baker noted that Giffen went from the role of main street manager to one of the region's top city administrators in just five years.

"So, we were very lucky to have had him for those ten years," he said.

Baker credited Giffen for his work on riverfront development, but also how the city staff respects the outgoing administrator.

Baker, who makes the decision on who the next administrator will be, said that he is looking for someone who brings energy to match that of the city.

"I'm looking for someone ready to hit the ground running and looking to make an impact," Baker said.

Dayton will work with Southbank Partners and the Northern Kentucky Area Development District for assistance in the search, Baker said.

Giffen, who graduated from the University of Kentucky with a finance degree in 2008, said that moving to the new role in Highland Heights was "right opportunity at the right time."

“I learned a great deal from my work on the Manhattan Harbour project, including dealing with developers from around the country and development financing issues, as well as with working with businesses in our industrial park and in downtown Dayton, so I think I can bring a lot to the table in Highland Heights,” Giffen said.

Manhattan Harbour is a $500-million project along Dayton’s riverfront. In addition to high-end single-family homes constructed along Manhattan Boulevard, out-of-town developers have constructed Tapestry on Manhattan Harbour, a $30-million apartment complex with 162 units, and The Gateway Apartments, an $18 million, 76-unit apartment building along the river. Other Manhattan Harbour developments that are expected to break ground soon are:

  • The Waterfront. 98 for-sale units with an estimated total value of $41.5 million. 
  • The Lookout. 72 for-sale units with an estimated total value of $25 million. 
  • Boulevard Flats. 70 for-sale units with an estimated total value of $25 million. 

Another program that Giffen instituted in Dayton that helped jumpstart economic development in the city’s downtown area was the Community Commercial Advantage Program (CCAP), which provided economic incentives to local businesses, such as rental abatements and city grants for structural and façade improvements to existing buildings. 

“I’m very proud of the CCAP program and what it’s done to revitalize Dayton’s downtown,” Giffen said. “This program encouraged investment in our community and helped bring great businesses to our downtown, such as Trotta’s Steakhouse, Purple Poulet, Kate’s Catering, and Unataza Coffee.” 

Giffen said he’s also proud of his work with Southbank Partners to secure $2.2 million in grants that has allowed Dayton to complete the final phases of the Riverfront Commons hiking and biking trail along the city’s riverfront.

“This is this type of economic-development activity and innovative thinking that I hope to bring to Highland Heights, a city I see with a lot of potential,” he said. 

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher