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14. The KENTON COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER
-  On The Former Bavarin Brewery Site (2016 - Present)

Officials in Kenton County and Covington, Kentucky, wrestled with ways to improve their municipal buildings and provide better services, especially after 2010. It was not readily apparent that the former Bavarian Brewery property would offer a solution to these challenges for the county, until sometime in 2015 or early 2016. However, after the prospects of legalizing casinos in Kentucky failed in 2008, and as events unfolded over the next several years - along with various studies commissioned to evaluate alternatives - this site provided a unique opportunity for Kenton County to develop one complex that consolidated five different departments. These included the Fiscal Court, the County and Commonwealth’s Attorneys offices, the Sheriff Department, the PVE  (Property Value Administrator), the County and Circuit Clerks Offices, and the PDS (Planning and Development Services of Kenton County). The combination of these entities would allow for greater efficiencies and also make it more convenient for residents and businesses working in Kenton County. It was an enormous and challenging undertaking which took over a decade. Even though the acquisition of the Bavarian site did not occur until 2016, there is some background information that is covered several years before then below. However, most of the project was completed over a five-year timeline that began in 2015, as explained chronologically in the following with specific milestone dates.

KENTON COUNTY'S
OFFICE SPACE DILEMMA

The Kenton County Administration Building (KCAB) was located at 303 Court Street in downtown Covington, KY. (See the photo on the right.) The structure was built in 1969 and was occupied by different Government entities. The main occupant was the Kenton County Fiscal Court (KCFC). However, in 2010, the jail in the KCAB was moved to a new Kenton County Detention Center, some tenants had moved out, and the building was only 40% occupied - mostly by the KCFC. The structure had never had a major renovation, there were mechanical issues (with one of three elevators totally inoperable), and parking was not convenient or free. Elected officials began discussing their options to use the building shortly after the 2000 millennium.

​In August of 2010, the Kenton County Fiscal Court (KCFC) commissioned planning and programming services to study the viability of remaining in the building by renovating the KCAB. The main issues for the KCFC were whether they should stay or leave, i.e., renovate or relocate, and how to repurpose the building if they left. Over the next few years, the Kenton County Fiscal Court and Covington officials considered various alternatives.

In early 2015, Kenton County and the City of Covington launched discussions to develop a facility that they could use together. In particular, the development of Duveneck Square, named after a famous Covington-born artist (see Frank Duveneck), was considered. However, with a site size of only 2.29 acres, the location was unable to adequately support on-site surface parking and would require the construction of a garage at an additional cost.

​​In July of 2015, Kenton County Fiscal Court (KCFC) hired Corporex to spearhead such an evaluation of this cost. A closer examination to renovate the existing KCAB and to explore the costs to repurpose it was deemed necessary. This firm has developed projects around the country and is headquartered in Kenton Co. Corporex has been committed to the county and Covington, and consequently, only charged a fee of $1 for the evaluation. They also had support from Brandsteeter & Carrol Inc., SFA (an architectural firm) and Turner Construction.

In the fall of 2015, Catalytic Funding Corporation (of NKY) was engaged to prepare a comparative relocation analysis of possible sites. The KCFC, presided by Judge Executive Kris Knochelmann, desired not only to relocate their offices from the KCAB, but there was also an interest to consolidate other departments into one county government center.  One of the major objectives for the new county office complex was that it needed to have sufficient and free surface parking.  It was estimated this would require a site for parking alone of about 3 acres.

In February of 2016 Corporex presented their findings to renovate the existing county building.  They estimated the cost for a complete renovation of the existing KCAB, as well as for a possible alternate use for Northern Kentucky University's Chase College of Law, at between $24.5 and $31 million. If work was limited to more mechanical and immediate repairs to make it more inhabitable for the next decade only, the cost was projected to be around $11 million. However, it would likely require the relocation of about 50,000 square feet of space for a year, which would cost another $2 million and create logistical issues.

Repurposing the jail on the top floors would be another expensive proposition. An additional concern was that the site had no onsite parking, other than a public garage across from the structure, and metered street parking. Finally, the county's building was on a rather small site of one-half acre in downtown Covington, and it seemed more feasible to repurpose the building rather than raze it, according to Corporex.

 

In evaluating other possible locations in Covington, only the former Bavarian Brewery property, containing 4.5 acres, was available and sufficient to meet the noted size requirements. Before this recommendation and during this period, local officials became well aware of the Bavarian Brewery property, shown in the picture above taken in 2016. As discussed in period 12. Columbia Sussex section, there was a "Save the Bavarian" movement to retain the iconic brewery tower. The Urban Design Review Board decided to deny Columbia Sussex's request to demolish the iconic Bavarian Brewery buildings in November, 2014, placing the property in limbo. However, by developing the old Bavarian Brewery property, Kenton County was not only able to solve their space problems - they also had an opportunity to save and repurpose the iconic brewery structure. This provided an opportunity to preserve an important part of the area's heritage. Since Columbia Sussex had been trying to sell this property for several years, it was also an opportunity for them to finally dispose of it.

ACQUIRING THE BAVARIAN BREWERY SITE PROVIDED MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS

Based on the noted factors, the Bavarian Brewery property was considered to be the best location for the new county complex. In addition to its size, it also had other important attributes, including ease of access at an I-75 interchange, good arterial street access, excellent visibility and room for expansion. Furthermore, it gave Kenton County the chance to improve the surrounding area, while still preserving a key portion of the historic brewery. Kenton County began negotiations with Columbia Sussex about acquiring the Bavarian site in early 2016, if not somewhat earlier.

In May of 2016, the KCFC secured an option for the Bavarian Brewery property, and purchased it three months later in July of 2016. The acquisition was unanimously approved by Kenton County Commissioners, Draud, Sewell and Nienaber. Judge Knochelmann was present, but because he owned a partial interest in a property a couple blocks away, he declined to vote. The county acquired the property for $4.5 million, which was less than its selling price of $5.4 million in 2008 and much lower than its listing price for several years of $7 million. Diagrams of the site at the time the property was acquired are shown below. The only buildings that remained on the site are shown in different colors on the lower left diagram.

DESIGNING THE NEW COUNTY FACILITY

In September of 2016, the KCFC issued an RFP for project management services.   The winner was a large international engineering and design firm headquartered in New York City, WSP/Parsons Brinkerhoff (now simply called WSP). 

On December 14, 2016, in order to obtain public input for the design of the new county facility, a Bavarian Brewery Open House was held for the public at the Covington Latin School. At this event, a summary of alternative sites for the county's project was presented by the Catalytic Funding Corporation, which recommended the Bavarian Brewery site. This study also addressed the county's second county seat and Court House in Independence, KY (see the sidebar) and justified the need to retain it.

In late December, 2016, Kenton County issued an RFP for desing-build teams to submit their qualifications to submit development proposals for the new KCAB.

On January 16, 2017, another Open House was held in Edgewood, KY. 

One County, Two Courthouses

 

A unique aspect of Kenton County is that it is just one of 32 counties from over 3,000 in the U.S. that has two county seats. (The only other county to share this arrangement in Kentucky is adjacent Campbell County, which has county seats in Newport and Alexandria.) Kenton County considered consolidating their courthouses, as addressed in the aforesaid study by Catalytic Funding Corporation. However, to adequately serve the county's residents, it was deemed necessary to retain the Court House in Independence, while providing it with some needed repairs and improvements.

On February 27, 2017, three teams were selected to provide proposals. The lead firms were Turner Construction, HGC Contstuction and Megen/Turnbull-Wahlert Construction. Of note, Megen was previously involved in renovating the property for Ken Lewis as the BrewWorks two decades earlier. 

On March 2, 2017 the short list of bidders was released and their proposals were due by June 7, 2017. 

On June, 21, 2017, the Fiscal Court unanimously voted to approve a contract with the Turner Construction Co. team, which included AL. Neyer, Brandsteeter Carrol Inc., SFA Architects, Inc. (now Elevar Design Group), THP Limited Inc., and Urban Sites.  Completely separate new and old buildings were proposed in the "alternative concept" by the Megen team. In contrast, the Turner team created what the county considered the "preferred concept": connecting the iconic tower edifice (the south building) to a new modern structure (the north building) with a four story atrium. This atrium provided bridges on different levels that joined the two building together. Some of the initial and preferred renderings for the project, which resulted in the Turner team winning this project, are displayed below.