IRS site concepts: Mix of uses

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Three scenarios for 23 acres continue the public discussion
 
COVINGTON, Ky. - “Green on the Levee” features a strong retail street grid oriented diagonally on the site with a gradual slope up to a massive park near the Ohio River.
 
“Love the Covline” features a linear park running north-south through the site with “bridges” from building rooftops to the levee.
 
And “Central Green” features an elevated landscape that rises to the level of the levee in the middle of the site.  
 
But all three of the conceptual site plans presented Thursday night for the soon-to-be-vacant 23-acre IRS site have these things in common: 
  • A mixture of proposed uses, including office, retail, housing, and green space. 
  • A strong physical and visual connection to the Ohio River. 
  • And integration with surrounding neighborhoods and business centers. 
More than 100 Covington residents and business officials attended an unveiling for the scenarios held at City Hall, with the discussion led by Atlanta-based consultant Cooper Carry.
 
The three scenarios represent “drafts,” said Cooper Carry principal Kyle Reis, its director of planning.
 
“We’re only halfway through the process,” Reis said. “These concepts have been put out there to get feedback. None of them represent THE plan.”
 
The concepts - which can be found within the “Reconnecting Covington” report, HERE - represent the visualization of months of public discussion, along with “expertise” gained through traffic studies and market analysis.
 
Cooper Carry, a global architecture and design firm hired by the City to create a conceptual master plan for the site, as well to gain development control from the federal government, intends to set up an on-line survey about the scenarios, which the City will publicize.
 
Reis said the public shouldn’t get hung up on the exact arrangements of buildings within the plans or the exact numbers proposed (such as square footage of office space in one proposal vs. another), since those will likely change. Instead, people should note which elements of the concepts they favor and comment on their general “look” and “feel.”
 
“The marketing analysis helped create a very reasonable strategy for mixed-use development on the site,” he said. But individual buildings represent “placeholders - the plan is to have development partners come in and execute them.”
 
Cooper Carry will integrate the reaction and come up with what it calls “a consensus plan” to present to the Covington City Commission for approval, possibly later this year.
 
The IRS is scheduled to close its longtime paper processing facility at the end of September, mothball the site, and then prep it for eventual demolition. The City hopes to gain development control of the 23-acre site, finalize a conceptual plan for what goes on it, and then divide the project into pieces to be developed by separate companies, a process that could take years.
 
While City leaders are not yet weighing in on the individual scenarios, they said they were thrilled with the work so far and in particular the public’s engagement.
 
“There’s a lot of momentum, and a lot of progress,” Mayor Joe Meyer said Thursday evening. “They’ve given us some great options, this is a great crowd, and we’re getting good feedback from the audience.”
 
Said City Manager David Johnston, in kicking off the presentation: “Public engagement has been a cornerstone (of this process). This is an exciting time for Covington and I think you’ll be amazed with the ideas that you have shared and how the consultants have taken those and put those through their machinations and came out with visual ideas for discussion.”
 
The presentation included a question-and-answer session. Also, around the room were poster boards about the concepts where people could add comments and “vote” on various elements.
 
Questions throughout the night zeroed in on plans for parking (internal to the site in all concepts) ... the height of buildings (generally two to five stories) ... the street grid (all plans have some semblance of a “reconnected grid”) ... pedestrian access (all three concepts aim to make the site “walkable”) ... green space (exists in all three scenarios) ... the possibility of a new City Hall and public commons (one of the ideas) ... whether the one-story IRS “flat top” building would be reused (“not likely”) ... whether development would be staged (yes) ... and temporary uses of the site.
 
Toward that last issue, the report includes a section on various ways the site could be used temporarily, including for pop-up food establishments and retail shops, sporting events and festivals.
 
“We want to get people used to coming to the site ... and foreshadow some of the exciting mixed uses to come,” said Tish Spearman, an associate principal with DaVinci Development Collaborative LLC, one of Cooper Carry’s team members.
 
The name of the report is “Reconnecting Covington (Framework Concept Alternatives),” also known as the Covington Central Riverfront Strategic Master Plan.
 
“Connectivity is super important - how do we connect the site, connect Covington, and connect neighborhoods,” said Nicolia Robinson, senior associate with Cooper Carry.
 
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Showing the significance of the development, Thursday night’s presentation of conceptual plans for the IRS site attracted Cincinnati media attention. Here, Local 12-WKRC reporter Tessa DiTirro interviews residents afterward.

Cooper Carry’s Nicolia Robinson details some of the results of the public engagement process.
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