500 jobs, $23.4 MM in investment

A rendering shows the enhanced façade at 535 Madison Ave. Photo from WorK Architecture + Design.

Economic development projects move forward with City’s help 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This happened last week. We didn’t have a chance to write about it.)
COVINGTON, Ky. - Nine economic development projects representing more than 500 new or retained jobs in Covington and over $23.4 million in new investment moved forward last Tuesday night with a helping hand from the Covington Board of Commissioners.
The newest (and previously unannounced) development was a $4.9 million renovation of the largely vacant Republic Bank building at Sixth and Madison into modern, Class A office space with a rooftop bar offering views of the Covington and Cincinnati skylines.
When presenting the projects to the Commission the week before, Economic Development Director Tom West had apologized for the low-key nature of his delivery, saying he was toning down what normally would be a “high-energy” display out of deference to the human suffering and economic uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Any other time, this would be above-the-fold, big-time headline news,” West said.
Nevertheless, he said the developments showed the appeal of Covington and the City’s willingness to partner with investors and entrepreneurs.
“I don’t want the magnitude of the momentum going on to get lost here,” he said.
The projects:
535 Madison Ave.
Four of the six floors in what’s known as the Republic Bank building (for its current tenant) have been mostly vacant for some time.
A development team called The Covington Republic LLC - consisting of Sparen Real Estate, Manning Construction and WorK Architecture + Design - bought the building last fall and plans to completely renovate its 27,000 square feet of space, expand its elevator, enhance its historic façade, and add a rooftop bar and restaurant space.
“The bar-restaurant space will have a spectacular 360-degree view of the Ohio and Licking River valleys,” said Joe Stevie, of Sparen Real Estate.
“We’ve been working on the project for the last eight months and are very excited to get it off the ground,” Stevie said. “This wasn’t an easy deal, but I know that it will help continue the upward swing in commercial office development and bring more people back to work in downtown Covington.”
The City is helping to fill a gap in the project’s financing with a tax-increment-financing loan and a forgivable façade loan that represent about 6 percent of the project’s costs.
“This is a crucial city investment that adds amazing office space that today's companies seek, activates a largely vacant historic building, and will bring approximately 60 new jobs and significant payroll tax revenue to the City,” said Ross Patten, the City’s Economic Development Project Manager.
The building includes an array of unique historic features like original woodwork, ornate tile, iron railings, and high ceilings.
To date, one of the challenges to filling the space has been that, as it exists now, it’s not considered “move-in ready” within the 60 days that prospective office users require for occupancy, Patten said.
This renovation will solve that problem and address the need for Class A office space identified by Atlanta-based Garner Economics in the citywide economic development plan written last year, he said.
(The building is directly across Sixth Street from another significant development announced last month: First Financial Bancorp.’s purchase of the four-story historic Fabulous Bridal Boutique building with plans to create the “First Financial Bank 6th & Madison Innovation Center,” which will serve as its headquarters site for the Northern Kentucky market.)

The rooftop bar  at 535 Madison would have a 360-degree view of the Covington and Cincinnati skylines. (Photo from WorK Architecture + Design.)

Gentis Solutions, LLC
The Commission approved a payroll tax incentive to help attract the corporate headquarters of Gentis Solutions to Covington from Williamsport, Pa.
The IT staffing technology company will bring 80 jobs (eventually expanding to 275 jobs over the next 10 years) to the RiverCenter 1 office tower, initially taking 8,000 square feet of space with a $2.7 million investment.
The Commission approved a payroll tax incentive to help STEP CG expand into a new location in Covington from its current location on W. Fifth Street.
The fast-growing technology engineering firm will retain 25 jobs and anticipates adding 52 more jobs. It will take almost 7,000 square feet in the RiverCenter 1 office tower as part of a $4.5 million investment.
Both the Gentis Solutions and STEP CG projects were previously announced in late February by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which awarded state incentives to both projects. The City’s incentives helped both projects leverage help from the state.
Monarch Building
As previously announced, the Commission agreed to issue a little over $11.3 million in Taxable Industrial Revenue Bonds to help finance the restoration and expansion of The Monarch Building, a historic complex in the 100 block of Fourth Street.
The City is not the “obligor” of the bonds (i.e. not “on the hook” for paying them back), and the bond issue doesn’t put the City’s credit at risk. The arrangements do exempt the property from ad valorem real property taxes, but the developer will make payments to various taxing authorities.
The building has sat vacant for over 20 years. After an intensive restoration and expansion (see HERE), it will become home to DBL Law, Northern Kentucky’s largest law firm, with the relocation of as many as 76 employees to Covington.
Façade improvements
The Commission also awarded five forgivable loans for façade improvements as part of the third round of its Small Business Program.
Collectively, the loans total $29,008, leaving $47,840 for the fourth round of the program. So far this year under the Small Business Program, the City has awarded 11 façade improvement loans and seven rent subsidies to help small businesses with first-year rent.
The five new awards:
  • $6,000 to ZH Holdings, LLC toward a $17,882 project at 908-910 Madison Ave. It will repair and replace the corbels and cornice, paint, add new lighting and signage, and add a “diamond” steel plate along the bottom width of the building.
  • $6,000 to Madison Ave. Ventures, LLC toward a $17,820 enhancement of 512 Madison Ave. It will remove the existing awning, replace the storefront, paint the trim, install new exterior lights, and add a decorative gate.
  • $6,000 to 721 Pike, LLC for exterior work at 721 Pike St. in Lewisburg. It will remove the awning, replace the storefront glass, add transoms and window flower boxes, and paint.
  • $6,000 to Mugsy Development, LLC for exterior work at 331 Pike St. It will replace the entire storefront, add transoms, and replace the existing door and frame storefront in bronzed finish.
  • $5,008 to ZH Holdings, LLC toward a $10,016 project at 906 Madison Ave. It will repair and replace the corbels and cornice, paint, install new lighting, and add a “diamond” steel plate along the bottom width of the building. 
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