For 55 years an ‘island,’ IRS site to be woven back into urban fabric

Virtual ‘fly-through’ video, renderings show proposed ‘look, feel’ of 23-acre’s future in The Cov

COVINGTON, Ky. – The takeaway from a new virtual “fly-through” video is immediately clear: The “look” and “feel” of what’s now a 23-acre blank canvas in downtown Covington will be nothing like the expansive and sterile IRS tax-processing facility that occupied the site for decades.

In comparison, the new neighborhood will be downright warm and inviting.

“For decades, the IRS site was essentially an island within Covington – separated from the rest of the city not only by security fences and a sea of asphalt but also by an aura of detachment,” Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said. “But the City’s plan will reintegrate the site back into Covington by restoring the street grid, setting aside spaces for the public to enjoy, and creating land uses that will connect seamlessly with the places that surround it – MainStrasse Village, Mutter Gottes, the Central Business District, and the Ohio River.”

In essence, West said, “we’re going to create the 21st Century version of all the things that make Covington special.”

Today, the City released a virtual video that takes the viewer “into” the developed site. The video can be viewed at IRS “fly-through.” It also released a series of artist renderings illustrating the potential look of the site when it’s developed. Those renderings, and a land-use diagram and rendered site plan, can be seen on the Covington Central Riverfront Development webpage.

West showed the fly-through video for the first time today at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Covington Business Council.

As the City prepares to market the site, he stressed several themes and ideas that will guide that marketing and eventual construction:

  • Multiple developers: Rather than hire a single master developer for the whole site, the City will be seeking multiple developers to build a variety of projects from single-family detached urban homes to office buildings, mixed-use structures, and even a distillery or brewery.
  • Reflective of the city: Smaller local developers will have a shot at some of the projects, as will those owned by minorities and women. Developers have traditionally been largely white and male, but the City wants its newest neighborhood to be built by developers and builders who reflect the diversity of Covington.
  • Connectivity: A spine of public spaces will connect surrounding neighborhoods like MainStrasse Village, Mutter Gottes and downtown to the river. The scale and architecture of the buildings represent a 21st Century version of the parts of Covington that people love most, including downtown, the Village and Roebling Point. “The hope is to provide a canvas for that energy to spread into this district, while allowing architects and developers to express their creativity that represents this time period versus derivative fake historic designs,” West said.
  • Public investment: The cost to build the public infrastructure, including a 670-car garage, is anticipated to be more than $70 million. This also includes utilities, streets, alleys, sidewalks, parks, and other public gathering spaces. That type of investment, in addition to site acquisition by the City, is an incredible incentive that developers should find more attractive than offering tax breaks and requiring them to build the infrastructure, West said.
  • Deliberate and meticulous: Patience and the perseverance will be required to achieve the type of neighborhood Covington deserves. It took 200 years for the rest of Covington to evolve, and it will take several years for this neighborhood to develop.

“In the long run, the leaders of tomorrow will honor the leaders of today for embracing that approach rather than a massive, monochromatic, singular vision,” West said. “We want to build something that – generations from now – is part of the The Cov’s core identity.”

What’s next

Architectural firm KZF Design Inc. was hired by the City to lead a team engineering the “horizontal infrastructure” that will ready the land for private development. The team includes Hub+Weber Architects, which took the lead on the video and renderings. Plans for the public infrastructure will be finished in the first half of 2023, after which the City hopes to begin construction of that infrastructure.

Meanwhile, work will begin in January on a subdivision plan to create development parcels of various sizes based somewhat on the dimensions of those found downtown and in MainStrasse Village.

“If we are going to weave this area back into the existing urban fabric, we should use the same-size thread,” West said.

Covington’s Economic Development Department is working with several consultants on marketing strategies. One consultant is helping to develop financial models geared toward figuring out how smaller local developers can take on projects. Another consultant will be selected to help develop an overall strategy for target marketing of specific parcels and development types. The City is also considering working with a specialty consultant to attract the perfect brewery, distillery, or a “brew-stillery”.  

About the project

The IRS data-processing center was once Covington’s largest employer, but the federal government closed the facility in 2019.

The City purchased the site, the bulk of which sits just west of Madison Avenue and north of Fourth Street, a block south of the Ohio River.

The City also hired Atlanta-based global architecture and design firm Cooper Carry to help it create a conceptual master plan based on Covington’s needs, a market review, and extensive public engagement over a 12-month period. The plan calls for a mix of land uses, including office space, a hotel, apartments and condominiums; a restored street grid; the expansion of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center; and parking garages, a public plaza, and a levee park.

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