13. The Former Bavarian Brewery Acquired By
COLUMBIA SUSSEX CORPORATION
& The SAVE THE BAVARIAN MOVEMENT (20008 - 2015)
COLUMBIA SUSSEX PLACES A BET
Columbia Sussex (CS) is a family-owned hotel business, which has also owned casinos. The firm was established in 1972 by William Jung III, who presided over the firm at the time of this writing. It is based in Crestview Hills, KY, which is located in Kenton County, the same county as the city of Covington and the former Bavarian Brewery property. Jung's firm acquired the property that was occupied by Jillian's and owed by Ken Lewis for $7 million in January, 2008. He speculated that the Kentucky State Legislature and residents would approve of gambling and that he would able to acquire a gambling license for this property, which would become a casino. A photo of the property shortly after it was acquired by Jung is on the side.
To improve his odds of successfully converting the property into a casino, Jung poured $1,038,500 into Democratic political funds that helped get Steve Beshear elected as Governor, even though Jung had previously been a Republican supporter. Then he gave $10,000 to Beshear's inauguration fund. A few years earlier, CS had made a major commitment to enter the casino market. At the time the former brewery property was acquired, CS owned 13 casinos, along with 89 hotels. But the 2008 financial crisis was underway and placed the casino properties CS owned under a great deal of financial pressure. This made hard financial decisions necessary, including massive layoffs of workers in his casinos, a move that was not well-received in localities where those operations were located. In three of the states where his casinos were located, Jung was being investigated for extraordinary layoffs and extreme cost cutting, according to an article by Janet Patton in the Lexington-Herald Leader on February 10, 2008. There was also some speculation that this effort to turn the former brewery in Covington into a casino was a desperate attempt to alleviate the financial problems he was facing. According to the article referenced, Jung displeased some local authorities who believed that Covington and other river communities would have some say in the location of a future casino and a share in its profits - an arrangement that didn't occur.
The measure to approve gambling in Kentucky failed the year after Jung acquired the former brewery property, while residents in Ohio passed a law that permitted casinos shortly thereafter. The passage of this law in Ohio virtually eliminated the prospects for casinos in Kentucky. Within about four years, a casino was built and opened in downtown Cincinnati next to the Great American Ballpark known as the Horseshoe Casino (now a Hard Rock Casino), not far from the former brewery. No longer able to develop the property into a casino, Jung demolished some of the smaller brewery buildings in 2009 and listed the property for sale at the excessive amount he had paid for it. Over the next few years, Jung and his firm neglected the remaining buildings on the site, without providing any repairs or security. Although some $14 million that had been invested in the buildings the previous decade, the physical structures deteriorated rapidly. CS appeared to view these structures as potential liabilities and desired to eliminate any risk inherent in these structures by demolishing all of them. The City of Covington had previously allowed Jung to demolish some of the secondary buildings on the site, but only on the condition he would not demolish the larger and more iconic, historic structures.
The above photos were taken in 2015 and show what are essentially four different structures connected together. The upper right shows the Mill House and the Brew House, plus part of the original Stock House on the far left. Beside it is the foundation of a former Ice House that was located on the far right of the image on the left. On the second row far left is a view of the original Stock House on the left, the Brew House in the center and the Mill House on the far right. The bottom right photo depicts the Stock House, looking south. The original Stock House protrudes outward on the far right, with the Stock House Addition somewhat recessed and comprising most of the view.
However, in the fall of 2014, Jung applied to the City of Covington for a zoning application to remove the remaining historic buildings. Jung also claimed the demolitions were necessary to make the property more attractive to potential purchasers. Most other former breweries in the Cincinnati area, which had been a vibrant part of the area's heritage, had already been razed for development. So, Jung's effort to eliminate the architecturally significant brewery structures alarmed many residents, historians and local officials. Before Jung was able to demolish these remaining brewery buildings, he had to seek approval through Covington's Urban Design Review Board. This spurred a grassroots movement by area residents to save the former brewery buildings.
SAVE THE BAVARIAN
In an effort to preserve the brewery buildings, Doug Newberry created a website called SaveTheBavarian. He also posted an appeal on Change.com for people to join together to protest Columbia Sussex’s efforts to demolish the brewery. Some 1,150 people joined this effort. Another active area resident who opposed the demolition was Dave Gausepohl, known by the nickname "Beer Dave". Dave had relatives who worked in the brewery, was an employee at BrewWorks (when the former brewery was renovated) and has been active in local Breweriana organizations. (See www.BavarianBrewery.org/Breweriana.) To gain more attention, a large laser display was reflected against the building, as shown by the photo on the right.
When the Urban Design Review Board met in November, 2014, they heard from the men mentioned as well as other residents, and received many letters and emails supporting the preservation of the historic buildings. The Board decided to reject the motion by Columbia Sussex to demolish the Bavarian structures. The developer had other avenues they could pursue. However, with a portfolio of around 70 hotels, and as one of the largest holders of Marriott properties with a majority of their properties under that affiliation, the Bavarian site was not a major asset. CS undoubtedly had other priorities, and the Jung family must have also realized that they were attracting negative publicity for their name and firm.