You’re invited: Open house kicks off IRS site study

COVINGTON, Ky. - For established cities, opportunities like this come along maybe once in their existence: 23 undeveloped acres, one block from a major river, near the heart of downtown.
The City of Covington will soon have that opportunity, and it wants the public’s help.
Next Thursday night, the City and its consultants are kicking off the public conversation on figuring out the future of a major chunk of land that will become available after the Internal Revenue Service shutters its sprawling complex this fall.
The purpose of the 2½-hour open house is to explain how residents and other stakeholders can get involved over the next few months in what for now is called the Covington Central Riverfront Strategic Master Plan, as well as to introduce the site and legalities surrounding it.
Anybody and everybody interested in the City’s future is invited to attend.
“For the last couple of years, Covington has been saying ‘the IRS is closing in 2019.’ Well, 2019 is here,” City Manager David Johnston said. “We hired a consultant, and we’re moving steadily to establish a conceptual plan. But first we want to hear what our residents and businesses think.”
The open house will run from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center at Madison Avenue and Rivercenter Boulevard.
It will begin with a 10- to 20-minute presentation by Cooper Carry, the Atlanta-based consultant hired to help create a conceptual master plan for the site and surrounding areas, as well as to write a strategy to free up the site legally for development.
Cooper Carry will then station members of its team at a half-dozen tables to discuss aspects of the study, including urban design and land use considerations, economic development and marketing opportunities, public outreach, and conveyance, which is the legal process of gaining development rights from the federal government.
Engaging the public
Cooper Carry’s work is expected to take 10 months with a heavy focus on public engagement. This will include interviews with selected stakeholders, neighborhood workshops called “charrettes,” and a device rarely used in Northern Kentucky called civic dinners. Cooper Carry’s team and the City will recruit people from neighborhoods and interest groups to host the dinners, which are designed to foster intimate, thoughtful and low-key discussions.
Mayor Joe Meyer urged everybody who lives and/or works in Covington engage in the IRS site discussion.
“Covington’s future is tied to the development of this site,” Meyer said. “From our ability to pay for services to downtown’s energy to jobs for our residents, this project will impact nearly every facet of Covington.”
Interest in the site is already national in nature.
Johnston said he’s heard that developers across the country are enthralled by the potential of 23 acres just a block from a major river in a large metropolitan area. And industry publications like MLex US TaxWatch (owned by a global business newswire) have been closely following the federal government’s process for closing the facility.
Cooper Carry has assembled a team of consultants, including a real estate firm with extensive experience dealing with the federal government on IRS properties.
About the site
The IRS, one of Covington’s biggest employers, announced in 2016 that it would close its processing facility in fall 2019 and eliminate about 1,630 jobs. The sprawling, one-story building itself takes up about 17 acres, with parking on an additional 6 acres. The complex is controlled by the federal General Services Administration.
Johnston, who said the 1960s-era “Flat Top” would likely be torn down, said the City has no preconceived notions of what should go on the irregularly shaped site, which is bound by West Third Street, West Rivercenter Boulevard and Washington Street to the north; Madison Avenue to the east; West Fourth Street to the south; and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge ramp and Johnson Street to the west.
But it’s mindful of two goals: 1) Offsetting the estimated $1.2 million in payroll tax revenue that will be lost when the IRS leaves; and 2) using the site to integrate the widely different neighborhoods and districts that it touches.
The site is adjacent to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center and sits across the street from the Ohio River floodwall. It’s also within a few blocks of numerous key Covington areas, including the RiverCenter complex, the Madison Avenue business and dining and drinking district, the hotel district near Interstate 75, MainStrasse Village tourist area, the Roebling Point Business District, and the Old Town/Mutter Gottes neighborhood.
How big is 23 acres? The size of over 17 pro football fields, including the end zones.
‘Rare opportunity’
“This a big piece of land in a critical area, and we have a rare opportunity to design something that will not only contribute to the City economically but also tie the City together and give it a focal point,” Johnston said. “It’s going to be fascinating to see the public and all the players come together to create a plan that will shape Covington for the rest of its existence.”
Johnston cautioned that it will be years before the site is developed, given the long process of closing and mothballing the facility, transferring ownership, and designing its use, not to mention construction.
“But we need to start now,” he said.
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