IRS site: ‘This is real now’

Amid purchase negotiations, consultant pitches mixed-use development with street grid, green spaces
COVINGTON, Ky. - A consultant’s conceptual plan for the 23-acre IRS site includes a restored street grid, a levee park, a community plaza for festivals, and a mixture of buildings containing offices, retail shops, and places to live.
The goal?
That it “not look like anything anywhere else in the United States,” said Kyle Reis, director of planning for Cooper Carry.
The City of Covington hired the Atlanta-based global architecture and design firm about a year ago to create a conceptual master plan for the site while simultaneously helping the City gain control from the federal government.
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Cooper Carry presented the conceptual plan that evolved from a 10-month process heavy on public engagement. In fact, the plan is largely based on input gathered from surveys, open houses, conversations with stakeholders, creative design sessions and so-called civic dinners, Reis said.
The final plan took elements from three different scenarios presented in July.
The Commission won’t vote on formally adopting the conceptual plan but will use it “as a guide” for the important decisions ahead, City Manager David Johnston said.
“This is real now,” Johnston said. “We started negotiating with the General Services Administration a couple of weeks ago on acquiring the site, and we now have a plan on which we can rely to make decisions on how the property should be zoned and to market the site to developers.”
Johnston said the purchase negotiations and the zoning changes will proceed simultaneously if independently of each other. It’s impossible to say how long either will take, he said.
The site came available after the IRS - with several years’ warning - shuttered the doors of its obsolete paper processing facility in September after 52 years of operation.
Cooper Carry’s 45-minute to hour-long presentation Tuesday night gave the Commission ideas in broad strokes about how the site could and should be developed.
(Cooper Carry’s PowerPoint can be seen HERE.)
Reis said it was critical to look at the conceptual plan in the context of the goals and strategies outlined during the consultant’s conversations with City officials, the business community, and Covington residents:
  • Creating jobs and tax revenue from a variety of workplace environments.
  • A mixture of uses and outdoor spaces.
  • Establishing a walkable and drivable street grid.
  • Enhanced connections to the Ohio River.
  • Integration with surrounding neighborhoods and business centers.
  • A flexible framework to accommodate market demand and proposals. 
“It’s clear from looking at the plan that we did listen to the people,” Johnston said.
Using a model that foresaw development of the site in stages, Cooper Carry’s team projected that - as of 2027 - the site would create 1,159 permanent jobs and 1,651 temporary construction jobs. The former alone would bring an estimated $1.7 million in payroll taxes. Subsequent development of the rest of the site would create even more jobs.
The conceptual plan includes:
  • An underground public parking garage, plus two large parking areas that would support the privately developed uses of the site.
  • A park atop the river levee, plus a public plaza that could closed to vehicle traffic and used for festivals.
  • An active street grid that restores Third, Russell, and Washington streets; creates several alleys; and runs Second Street under the plaza.
  • Apartments and condominiums.
  • Office space.
  • A hotel adjacent to the nearby Northern Kentucky Convention Center, plus land set aside for possible future expansion of the center. 
Members of the Commission grilled Reis and Cooper Carry team members about a variety of issues, including the street grid, parking, the height of buildings, and public costs. Reis and Johnston stressed that the plan was a broad guide whose details would be filled in during public zoning hearings and negotiations with developers.
Concluded Mayor Joe Meyer: “Overall, this is a very exciting plan that incorporates the vision of the people of Covington. It’s the next step of a decades’ long process.”
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