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Kenton County Government Center combines history and modern functionality at iconic Covington site

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The new Kenton County Government Center gives a nod to the past with an eye on the future.

The new Kenton County Government Center, located on the site formerly occupied by Bavarian Brewery and Jillian’s, will allow the county to consolidate several agencies in one central location (photos by Mark Hansel, click to enlarge).

The building, which has combined new construction with historic renovation, replaces the Kenton County Administration Building at 303 Court Street in Covington. It will allow consolidation of  Kenton County government services previously at several locations into one facility.

The Government Center is located at 1840 Simon Kenton Way, on the former Bavarian Brewery site.

The decision to move from the partially vacant Court Street location was borne out of necessity.

 “We did a study in 2015 to evaluate the existing building at 303 Court Street, Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann said. “With it being half empty, we knew that we had to find somebody to use the other half of the building, mothball it for the next 20 or 30 years, you know, determine the options.”

Prior to that Kenton County officials had determined that it would cost $1 million just to renovate the former jail because the most valuable empty space in the building had cells in it.

Then there was the question of who would use the vacant space.

A rendering of the mixed-use project envisioned for 303 Court Street alongside a photo of the recently vacated Kenton County Building (file images).

“There was a desire not to compete with the private sector because, at the time, many were struggling to fill existing office space,” Knochelmann said. “There was also a widely held belief that the county should not be in the commercial real estate business.”

In addition, there is no parking to accommodate new tenants as the building exists today.

Corporex volunteered to do a construction estimate for $1, to determine what it would cost to renovate the space and make it usable for the next 30 years. 

Corporex had no intention of bidding on the project if the county decided to go forward with renovations, so there was no conflict.

The estimate was $25 million, plus $2 million to find a temporary home for county offices during renovation. 

The Fiscal Court then decided that the County would be open to moving to a new location, if one could be found. 

A view of the cut in the hill from the new Kenton County Government Center. Renovating a building that served as the front door to Covington, while providing convenient access for residents were factors in Kenton County’s decision to locate the Government Center along the 12th Street/MLK corridor.

“The consensus of the Fiscal Court was to evaluate options,” Knochelmann said. “We contracted with Jeanne Schroer and the Catalytic Fund to look at sites in the county and determine what would be the most reasonable.”

Among the factors considered were where people worked and lived within the county and how they had to travel to get county services. The conclusion was, that a location still in Covington but more to the south of downtown nearer to other Kenton County cities would be ideal.

The next challenge was to find available property, with access to parking, the interstate, public transportation and other essential features.

“All of the arrows pointed to the 12th Street Corridor and then we settled on this property,” Knochelmann said. “That’s how we got to this spot. This was a unique process because we didn’t want Court Street to be vacant, so we packaged it.”

When the contract went out to bid, Knochelmann said the proposals that came back and the teams that presented were impressive.

“Turner Construction had local leadership, they had the bandwidth nationally to handle this project – it’s complexity – as well as the financial wherewithal,” Knochelmann said. “They had the contractors, they could keep costs down and (Turner VP and general manager) Dave Spaulding, from day one, was a key part of this process.”

Turner is a national company, but they hired local contractors to do a lot of the work.

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann said it was important to preserve features of the original Bavarian Brewery, such as the exposed brick in this office.

“This project had more local contractors than probably anything we’ve ever touched,” Knochelmann said. “I have seen Bray (Construction Services of Alexandria) on this site since day one. The architectural teams are from Kentucky, across the board, they are local, they care about this region and they have helped us to save money.”

An important part of the  bid process was what developers had planned for 303 Court Street. County officials did not want to just abandon a building in the center of the urban core.

The team of  Turner Construction Company, Brandstetter Carroll Inc., SFA Architects Inc., THP Limited Inc., Al. Neyer and Urban Sites agreed to develop the site into a property that will include residential units, restaurant/retail and onsite and adjacent parking.

“It’ll start to be renovated, gutted and turned into residential, which will further impact the Roebling Point neighborhood and Riverside area to bring hopefully hundreds of people down there,” Knochelmann said. “All of the experts say can manage hundreds of new residents a year because of the amenities to support restaurant and retail.”

Preserving an old building is always expensive, but Knochelmann said the history and memories the Bavarian building conjures made it important to keep.

A marker on the Bavarian Brewery building identifies the year it was constructed. A similar marker adorns the newly constructed portion of the Kenton County Government Center.

“I believe the old Bavarian building that we’re used to seeing, and thankfully that’s the portion we were able to save, everybody in Northern Kentucky kind of has a piece of that,” Knochelmann said. “There is nothing in Northern Kentucky, I would argue, that has more people across all the counties who remember and know that building.”

The people who are going to work in the building are housed in what is now the oldest office building in Northern Kentucky.

Not that it would happen, but because of the history, the new construction, connected to an historic structure and with the expressway access, ensures the county could sell the property and recoup its investment.

“The building is very functional as the Kenton County Government Center, but the value is here for the county,” Knochelmann said. “We fell like we are helping this side of Covington, but also (the 303 Court Street neighborhoods), to further our residential options for workers in the urban core.”

The Bavarian property had been in disrepair for so long, it’s dilapidated look became acceptable to many. 

All floors of the Kenton County Government Center are connected via walkways, except the fifth, providing convenient access to both buildings.

“We all got numb to how bad it was looking and thinking it was no big deal, but it is a big deal. It’s the front door to the city,” Knochelmann said. “When the landscaping is done, the lighting starts going up and the fencing starts coming down and we see the vitality of the building and the area around it, this is very exciting.”

The project cost is about $29 million which is slightly over budget, but that was anticipated when renovating an historic structure. The Bavarian Brewery building was constructed in 1911.

All of the floors of the two buildings that make up the Kenton County Government Center are connected via walkways, except for the fifth.

In a nod to tradition, the Riedlin-Schott Bavarian Room, named after the brewery’s former owners, will be a public space. The room is in the Bavarian side of the building and will retain many historic features.

“People can use it for parties, public meetings business training,” Knochelmann said. “We’re going to use it for community education.”

Ried Schott, whose family was the last owner of the brewery, is donating $250,000 to help curate the history of Bavarian.

Ried Schott, whose family was the last owner of the brewery, is donating $250,000 to help curate the history of Bavarian. A permanent display will be located in the Kenton County Government Center lobby.

“That will be in the lobby,” Knochelmann said. “Plus, it allows us to have the space on the second floor of the Bavarian, with exposed brick, that is set to hold about 135 to 150 people.”

The Government Center allows for several departments, some of which were at various locations throughout the county, to come together under one roof.

The merger of so many county departments into one building created challenges for the County’s IT department.

The techs had the monumental  task of consolidating programs of almost 250 employees from four locations, using seven computer networks, into one integrated system.

“We’ve got departments under the same umbrella with individuals who did not know each other,” Knochelmann said. “We (recently) had a planning question and I was able to walk over to the staff at PDS and ask them, whereas before we had to pick up a phone for that.”

The Government Center is also expected to spur additional development along the 12th Street MLK corridor.

A view of the Kenton County Government Center from the 12th Street/MLK corridor. The Government Center is envisioned to spur new development along the corridor.

“I think this makes the corridor coming in here, which is already on the upswing, even more desirable,” Knochelmann said. “The City of Covington is working hard and we are totally partnering with them and supportive of getting from the expressway all the way up Madison and up Pike Street redeveloped.

The building was designed to make maximum use of all available space. The square footage is about 15 percent less than just that of the Court Street offices and the PDS facility in Fort Mitchell.

The complex has two conference rooms on the third floor so employees don’t have to go into the office spaces to meet. It also has a mother’s room and a large break room.

  “We want it to be open so people are invited to come in to all the spaces,” Knochelmann said. “People are able to come in and have lunch and get away from the work space for a while.”

The building also houses the Kenton County Attorney’s offices, which include child support services and other programs, as well as the Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

A worker finishes construction of the new Kenton Chamber, which will be shared by the Fiscal Court and the other county agencies in the Government Center.

The Fiscal Courtroom has been replaced by the Kenton Chambers, which will be used by the PDS Council, the Planning Commission and other agencies, in addition to the Kenton County Fiscal Court.

The new building also includes an emergency operations center.

“If we lost our dispatch operation in Independence, we’ve got the ability to move dispatch into this facility, we’ve got back-up energy generation,” Knochelmann said.

The facility is set to withstand a natural disaster and can operate independently from the rest of the building.

Other offices that have moved to the Kenton County Government Center include the Kenton County Clerk and the Property Valuation Administrator (PVA).

The last several weeks were spent moving employees from all of the consolidated County agencies into the new space and the first Fiscal Court meeting in the Kenton Chambers took place September 24.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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One Comment

  1. Langdon says:

    Deh spent more money rehabbing that old junker builder than itd be to build a new one. kiss your tax money goodby. wastefullness.

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