Anew construction project is set to pour major curb appeal into Northern Kentucky’s most populous county.

With the recent approval of a proposal by Turner Construction Co., Kenton County is one step closer to moving its administrative offices to the site of the historic Bavarian Brewery building. Incorporating the brewery’s central iconic tower and rounded front into a design that includes the construction of an adjacent building, the county is giving some much-desired style to its northern entrance.

Immediately adjacent to Interstate 71 /75 and located immediately off the 12th Street exit, the site offers 4.5 acres and visibility that not many other sites could offer.

“Not a lot of buildings have the exposure that building has. When you come across I-75, not many structures outside of churches have been around more than 100 years. That’s not just a Kenton County landmark—it’s a Northern Kentucky landmark and we have an opportunity to redevelop it and we will do it right,” says Kenton County Judge Executive Kris Knochelmann. “The new building supports the urban core, has amazing access and tons of free parking. Though it isn’t geometrically center to the city, it is within 15 minutes of 85 percent of workers in the county.”

The new home for Kenton County government services will replace its current administration building at 303 Court St., which will also see major renovations. The nearly 50 year-old building will be transformed into private riverfront residences overlooking the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. Turner Construction will design and execute construction on both buildings.

The work comes with a $25 million price tag, which while not cheap was the most cost-effective option for providing a long-term solution for housing the government offices, according to Knochelmann.

“The new County Administration Building will have much-improved accessibility and free surface parking, continuing our efforts to improve basic services,” he says. “As we move forward in the design and construction process, we want to think through all possible scenarios to make this the best project possible for our residents.”

The Old and the New

Turner Construction’s proposed design delivers modern functionality while paying respect to the historical significance of the site and building, which was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1996 as a property “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.”

Founded in 1866, the brewery opened under the name DeGlow & Co. In 1873, it was renamed Bavarian Brewery and by 1877 the business expanded from its original Pike Street location to include the 12th Street property. The story of the iconic four-story building dims after the brewery closed in 1969, sitting largely vacant and falling into disrepair over the next three decades. Its inclusion on the National Historical Registry in 1996 brought about a partial rehab and a new purpose: entertainment.

It operated as the Party Source and then Brew Works for a short time, then for eight years as Jillian’s, a restaurant and nightclub, until it closed in 2006. The Jillian’s electronic sign still stands, unlit, on the corner of the property. It seemed in 2008 the building would get yet another lease on life when it was purchased by Columbia Sussex, a casino and hotel company, which planned to convert the building into a casino when Kentucky passed gambling laws. It was a bet that didn’t pay off and when gambling legislation failed to pass, the company sought to raze the building, arguing the land was more valuable without it.

The City of Covington disagreed. The city’s urban design review board rejected the wrecking ball plan and the case lingered in Kenton County Circuit Court. In 2016, Kenton County Fiscal Court purchased the property after a third-party analysis of sites in Covington determined it is optimal for the location of a new administration building.

“The historical community thinks this is a tremendous victory,” says John Boh, Kenton County Historical Society secretary. “The building is unique in its looks and style. This won’t be just another modern administration building. It reflects the German heritage of Northern Kentucky and adds to the city’s identity.”

Location, Location, Location

The decision to purchase the Bavarian property was made not to appease Columbia Sussex or to save the building, Knochelmann says, but because it was the best site at the best price and it delivers wide accessibility and maximum free surface parking, two things the current Court Street location lacks.

“I’m not a person who’s all or nothing. I’m glad were able to utilize the building but if it was unrealistic because of functionality or cost to keep it, we would have moved on. I’m thrilled we’re able to save it and make it functional,” he says. “Columbia Sussex was originally interested in a higher price than what we could afford. To their credit, they agreed to sell it for far less than they were asking and, actually, less than they’d invested.” The county paid $4.5 million for the property. Columbia Sussex purchased it for $5.4 million.

Not only is the location convenient for residents, the Bavarian site allows for all county government offices to move under one roof, creating a one-stop shop for residents who now may have to visit different buildings depending on their needs.

Most of the landmark building with its Romanesque details will be saved and restored, though a portion of the back will be demolished. The tower will remain intact as will the cupola and surrounding glass. Floor plans are still being finalized.

“We wanted a design with an approach that takes into account the old building but also one that has some long-term functionality. We told them we wanted it to last 50 years or longer and that’s what Turner gave to us,” says Knochelmann.

History of the county, not only the Bavarian site, was considered when choosing the address for the new building—1840 Simon Kenton Way—which pays homage to the year the county was established and its namesake.

Court Street

The county’s current administration building, opened in 1969, is only about 40 percent utilized and in much need of repair.

In 2015, Corporex, at the bequest of the county, studied the cost of renovating the building. In his report to the Fiscal Court, Corporex Managing Director Thomas Banta says a full renovation of the Court Street property would cost $24.5 million with an additional $2 million needed for relocation costs during construction.

The price covered all costs needed to bring the building into the modern era and make it something “the city could be proud of,” but it didn’t solve other issues with the property—namely, its lack of parking and tenants.

Banta and his team also looked at the value of the building as it stands on a half acre. Its land value was set at $700,000.

According to the report, “if someone buys it for that, they now have to tear the building down and this is not a typical building to tear down. This is a concrete frame building where the upper floors, as you know, have a jail system in it. Our number is that it would be over $800,000 just to tear out the jail. It would be a challenge for anyone to pay that for the land and then have to pay another [$1 million] to tear the building down. It doesn’t work for just a land purchase.”

Short-term fixes were also not an option, according to Banta, who said it would cost millions to repair the faulty mechanics, too much of an investment unless the county planned to remain in the building long term.

Once administration offices are moved to the new site, the 10-story Court Street building will be renovated into a mixed use, mid-rise building with residential units and ground-floor retail.

“Once renovations are complete, we will transfer it to the new owner and put it back on the tax rolls so that won’t be a worry to the taxpayers,” says Knochelmann. “I was concerned that even if we made the Bavarian building site work, then we would have a vacant 10-story building in another part of the city. We felt that this was the best way to ensure the building was sold and renovated without having to take the building to bid.”

Knochelmann is hopeful the ongoing upgrades to the city—the new justice center, updates to the golf course, the resolution of the plans for the administration building and the development of the high-end housing at the Court Street property—are part of a long-term plan to help the county thrive.

Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2018.

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