Covington site’s $16.3MM vote of confidence

This photo, used courtesy of Bray Construction Services, shows Bray building Phase 1 of the public infrastructure on the 23-acre site.

Federal RAISE grant to fund streetscape, transportation connections at CCR

COVINGTON, Ky. – From the beginning, the City of Covington has proclaimed that its transformation of the 23-acre former IRS site near the Ohio River would create more than just a development but a “mixed-use, multi-modal center of regional activity.”

In layperson’s terms?

A new neighborhood whose very design – its public spaces, its restored street grid and sidewalks, and its transportation connections – would take what for 60 years was a virtual island and not only reintegrate it into the rest of Covington but also tie the city to surrounding communities.

With a newly announced $16,282,700 grant, the federal government is saying that it agrees with Covington’s vision and the City’s ability to implement it.

Today, Covington was informed that it is the recipient of a federal RAISE grant to be used for Phase II public infrastructure at the Covington Central Riverfront site – including wide sidewalks, a land bridge that reaches to the top of the Ohio River levee, and a public parking garage topped by a podium structure that will support festival and park space.

The announcement comes a year after a $1.635 billion investment in the nearby Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project that was delivered by President Joe Biden himself, when Biden in January 2023 became the first sitting president in more than 80 years to stand on Covington soil.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said he lobbied the President and his staff on the city’s behalf during that visit and a follow-up visit to Washington.

“What an incredible day for Covington,” Mayor Meyer said today. “From the beginning, President Biden, the White House, and Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg have been very generous with their time and their attention -- not only giving Covington the opportunity to make our case for our needs but also then investing in those needs and this region. They are a full-fledged partner in this momentum.”

But the $16.3 million grant was no easy “get,” said Elizabeth Wetzel, Covington’s Director of Special Projects and Intergovernmental Affairs, who led the application for the RAISE grant, an acronym for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity.

“This is a competitive USDOT grant with very specific requirements,” Wetzel said. “A lot of communities around the country were vying for these limited funds. That Covington succeeded speaks highly of our collaborative hard work and also of the value of the City’s vision to transform this prime 23-acre site into a connective center of activity.”

The City’s application can be seen at “Reconnecting Covington: Central Riverfront Hub.”

The application details how the City’s vision for the site addresses an array of issues: safety, environmental sustainability, quality of life, mobility and community connectivity, economic competitiveness and opportunity, state of good repair (of infrastructure), partnerships and collaboration, and innovation.

For example, the site will include an estimated 6,228 linear feet of sidewalks, 1,552 feet of off-road trails, 260 trees, and 2 acres of public green space. It will also connect to the Riverfront Commons hiking and biking trail and a reconfigured Fourth Street that will include a dedicated bike lane and better pedestrian uses. The City is also exploring improved bus, streetcar, and water taxi services.

The RAISE grant will help fund Phase II of the public infrastructure at the site. Currently, Bray Construction Services is building Phase I of the infrastructure, a $14.9 million contract that will include streets, sidewalks, utilities, and a public plaza.

The RAISE announcement follows a $10 million investment in that infrastructure by the Kentucky General Assembly.

The City has subdivided the site (more about its history can be seen below) into many different parcels that will accommodate many different uses, including offices, retail, hotel, housing, tourism, and public green spaces. A series of announcements this spring have begun filling in those parcels:

  • Drees Homes will build 16 townhomes. That $7 million project will go on block B, a 0.88-acre parcel fronting Fourth Street just east of Russell Street.
  • Silverman and Company Inc. will build an estimated 257 market-rate apartments, 7,700 square feet of retail space, and 194 parking spaces in a partially below-grade parking structure. That $67.2 million development will go on blocks M and N, also on Fourth Street just west of Madison Avenue.And the Kentucky General Assembly allocated $125 million toward the relocation to the site of the Salmon P. Chase School of Law and the Northern Kentucky campus of the University of Kentucky’s four-year School of Medicine.

Covington Economic Development Director Tom West, who has been leading the charge to recruit developers to build out the many different-sized parcels that make up the site, said that one of the City’s top goals for the 23 acres is to create jobs that produce tax revenue that fund services in the rest of the city. But, he said, the City is at the same time looking to create a modern site that not only complements the evolution of modern communities but also helps set those trends – a vision that the RAISE grant picked up on.

“As I tell many of the groups I speak to, ‘we live in a region which is designed for cars and accommodates pedestrians. This new neighborhood is designed for pedestrians and accommodates cars,’ ” West said.

Site history

The 23-acre site, located just west of Madison Avenue and north of Fourth Street, was home to a sprawling one-story IRS tax-processing facility for more than five decades. As told in a 2020 City of Covington news release titled “$1 grows to $20.5 million,” the City had assembled the site from 161 properties in its aggressive attempt to woo the federal government.

The attempt successful, the processing facility opened May 15, 1967, and would employ about 4,000 full-time and seasonal workers during its heyday. But the facility was decommissioned in 2019, the City bought the site in 2020, and the building was demolished by O’Rourke Wrecking in 2022.

During that time, the City worked with the public and Atlanta-based consultant Cooper Carry to create a conceptual master plan for a mixed-use site seamlessly integrated into the surrounding commercial and residential districts. It also worked to address environmental and archaeological concerns and worked with an engineering and architectural team led by KZF Design to design the so-called horizontal infrastructure of the site.

More about the site and its history, as well as the City’s master plan and conceptual renderings, can be found at Covington Central Riverfront.

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