McDaniel’s budget plan includes $150M biomedical center, Chase Law School, UK med school at IRS site

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

A lofty economic development plan for Northern Kentucky was unveiled Wednesday that would create a biomedical center campus in downtown Covington with a new facility for Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law and the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in it.

Sen. Chris McDaniel (Photo by Sarah Ladd/Kentucky Lantern)

Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ryland Heights, chairman of the state Senate budget committee, said the Senate version of the next two-year state budget includes $150 million to establish the “Commonwealth Center for Biomedical Excellence” at the old IRS site in Covington.

The site is now called Covington’s Central Riverfront development. The plan calls for it to be an innovation, entrepreneurship, and life sciences campus a block south of the Ohio River.

“The Senate’s proposed budget, thanks to the work of Sen. Chris McDaniel, aided by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, is a historic opportunity to diversify Northern Kentucky’s economy beyond its core strengths in industrial, commercial, and residential real estate,” said Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann in a release.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said, “We appreciate Sen. McDaniel’s leadership and hard work in bringing the parties together to make this happen on Covington’s riverfront. The addition of Chase Law School and the UK School of Medicine will be significant additions to an exciting site.”

Covington is home to an emerging cluster of life sciences companies led by CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services, Gravity Diagnostics, and Bexion Pharmaceuticals.

Two years ago at the request of the city, McDaniel secured $15 million to build a life sciences laboratory within the OneNKY Center, currently under construction with a planned opening in 2025.

(Rendering of the new Covington Central Riverfront)

The establishment of the Commonwealth Center for Biomedical Excellence is designed to further support the existing life sciences community and create new opportunities for innovation and economic development.

A key component of the center will be a new facility for Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law. Founded in 1893, Chase Law delivers high-impact legal education with specialty programs focused in entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation. The new Chase Law will be within two miles of Greater Cincinnati’s 25 largest law firms and five federal and state courthouses. It will give Chase Law immediate access to training and career development resources, and it is hoped that its location in the urban core will enhance student recruiting.

In particular, Chase Law’s proximity to the planned SparkHaus, an entrepreneurial hub in Covington designed to foster Northern Kentucky’s next generation of business leaders, is expected to generate opportunities for its students.

NKU President Cady Short-Thompson (Photo provided)

“We are excited about Sen. McDaniel’s proposal to make NKU Chase College of Law a cornerstone in the Commonwealth’s Center for Biomedical Excellence in Covington, said NKU President Cady Short-Thompson.

She said it will not only benefit our students’ academic and professional development but also strengthen our ability to serve our region.

The other foundational element of the new Commonwealth Center will be the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine – Northern Kentucky campus. The UK College of Medicine will anchor a biomedical hub that will permit up to a 20 percent increase in the size of its classes.

Also, UK’s involvement will facilitate engagement with additional biomedical assets that support economic development within the life sciences sector and permit collaboration with potential partners, including Be NKY Growth Partnership.

Kenton Judge-Executive Kris Knockelman. (File photo)

“The Covington Central Riverfront is critical real estate for Northern Kentucky and future economic development in Covington and Kenton County,” said Lee Crume, President and CEO of BE NKY Growth Partnership. “We applaud Senator Chris McDaniel’s appropriation of $150 million for the ‘Commonwealth Center for Biomedical Excellence’ and his collaboration with the City of Covington, Kenton County, University of Kentucky, and Northern Kentucky University to bring this key development to the CCR. BE NKY Growth Partnership looks forward to marketing the CCR in our business attraction efforts.”

UK President Eli Capilouto shared the excitement.

“Powered by Sen. McDaniel’s stirring vision for the future, we are excited about the opportunity to join with our partners at Northern Kentucky University as cornerstones of the Commonwealth Center for Biomedical Excellence in the heart of Covington,” he said.

“We want to grow with the Northern Kentucky region as we seek to advance this state in all that we do. Through a partnership with policymakers, health providers, NKU and many others, we can educate more physicians to provide care and work collaboratively in ways that will help build an even stronger region.”

The Commonwealth Center for Biomedical Excellence is expected to have nearly 600 graduate students, faculty and staff, contributing significantly to making the city of Covington a powerhouse for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer surveys the prime IRS site, prepped for building. (Photo provided)

“We appreciate Sen. McDaniel’s leadership and hard work in bringing the parties together to make this happen on Covington’s riverfront. The addition of Chase Law School and the UK School of Medicine will be significant additions to an exciting site,” said Covington Mayor Joe Meyer.

“Sen. Chris McDaniel’s proposal is a significant development that could further transform Covington and elevate our trajectory, marking a pivotal moment in our history as we continue our exciting growth,” said Mayor Pro Tem/City Commissioner Ron Washington.

“We’ve been working to diversify Northern Kentucky’s economy to add strengths in innovation, entrepreneurship, and life sciences. As easy-to-develop land in Kenton County runs out, we must add more knowledge-driven enterprises to continue elevating the region’s prosperity,” said deputy Judge-Executive Knochelmann.

“Sen. McDaniel’s proposal will help unlock our region’s incredible
potential. It is incumbent on all of us to lean in to see his vision realized and continue building a better future for our children and grandchildren.” Dan Hassert, communications director, said the proposed center “will take years to plan and build.”

He noted that the plan first must be approved by the General Assembly this year.

Other major items in Senate budget plan

Besides the new center, the Senate budget plan includes:

• A  2.6 percent pay increase for all state employees in fiscal years 2025 and 2026.

• The continued reduction of working Kentuckians’ income taxes.

• $890 million transfer to the state Road Fund to support road, bridge, and highway improvements in high-growth.

• $75 million for nuclear development siting.

• $75 million to support a 13th check for Kentucky state employee retirees.

• $36 million for improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

• $35 million in airport economic development. This is financial support for the state’s largest airports and $200,000 supporting smaller regional airports: $5 million for Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF), $5 million for Bluegrass International Airport (LEX) and $25 million for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

• $30 million for the Home of the Innocents-Kosair for Kids Expansion match

• $25 million for The University of Louisville Cancer Center at Bullitt County.

• $25 million for Ashland Conference Center.

There are five key differences in the Senate budget proposal compared to the House proposal:

• Increases SEEK funding for public schools by nearly $100 million.

• Doubles performance-based funding for postsecondary institutions to approximately $201 million from approximately $100 million.

• Corrects a funding source issue related to Medicaid funding, increasing funding by $120 million in fiscal year 2025.

• Increases jail performance funding by $15 million to result in long-term savings.

• Pays off $200 million in bonds related to the KYWired statewide Internet effort.

The budget plan will now go to a House and Senate conference committee to work out differences. The final plan would have to pass both houses before it is sent to the Governor’s desk.

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