The 87,000-square-foot Kent Building in Bellevue once housed a supplier of medicine cabinets for Sears. It is on the market. (Photo provided)
BELLEVUE, Ky. -- Nestled near the heart of Bellevue, within the city's newly defined tax-improvement zone, sits an 87,000-square-foot property that could be poised to become Northern Kentucky's next large-scale, mixed-use development.
The structure at 239 Grandview Ave. -- known locally as the Kent Building due to its history as a onetime medicine-cabinet supplier for Sears -- was built in the 1920s and is currently home to a handful of small businesses that focus on woodworking, office furniture and commercial design. It is currently 40 percent to 50 percent occupied.
The building's owners used the space primarily to house their own business ventures during the last decade's economic downturn but have now relisted it for sale by Colliers International for $995,000.
WCPO Insiders, check out the historic building and hear what Bellevue residents, business owners and city officials have in mind for its future.
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"A qualified buyer would respect the history of the Kent Building and the history of Bellevue," said Colliers representative Michael Daly. "(Owner) David Hosea has got ‘Northern Kentucky' written all over him, so it would certainly light a fire under him big time if someone wanted to turn it into a junkyard."
Its owners aren't the only ones with a vested interest in the future of the Kent Building. Area residents and city officials have thoughts on what it might become, as well as what it could mean for the surrounding community.
For young urban professionals, the logical choice is a brewery in the vein of Over-the-Rhine's Rhinegeist or Braxton in Covington. City manager Jody Robinson said one local brewer toured the building extensively and considered planting operations there, before choosing a Newport location.
Others think the rooftop views would make for great condo living, with retail and restaurants filling in the ground floor. The location, directly across the street from a hardware and lumber store, could appeal to those considering a move to the urban core.
"The building is in really great shape and is very sturdy," said Robinson. "It's nice and open, with lots of skylights and freight elevators that would make it easy for moving furniture. Can you tell I really love this building?"
Daly confirmed the Kent Building's clean bill of health, describing a cast-concrete, steel-reinforced framework with pre-World War II windows and opportunities for interior parking.
"We have had a lot of interest, and we've had a great, cooperative process with the city, but we have not had a prospect whose plan is consistent with what the city wants," said Daly. He said despite Robinson's enthusiastic support for converting the space for residents, "Our prospective buyers have reported to us that the city is not favorably disposed to residential development."
Other Bellevue residents think preserving the building's unique history as an industrial space makes the most sense.
"We don't need to look at every empty industrial building in town and imagine a brewery," said Kevin Wright, Bellevue resident and co-author of the Neighborhood Playbook, a regional guide to community redevelopment and activating underutilized spaces. "The Kent Building could potentially add more vibrancy as a linchpin for commercial developments along (neighboring) Donnermeyer Avenue and trigger substantial growth in that area, which has long been a connector between residential and commercial sectors."
Wright said he has been part of conversations about re-deploying the Kent as a light-manufacturing hub and "makerspace," with a possible education component for area students, but he has no immediate plans to purchase or lease the space.
These queries, though diverse in scope, beg the question of how a large-scale development might impact Bellevue's economy, since the building falls squarely within the city's newly defined tax increment financing (TIF) district.
On that point, city officials are clear: The Kent Building is a prime example of the type of properties for which the TIF district was enacted. By capturing portions of tax revenue from property value increases within the district and funneling those dollars back into that defined area, the city hopes to drive improvements and new developments.
"With the TIF district, what you're doing is focusing on the buildings and businesses in this area, so we're going to count on them to produce more jobs, better buildings, street-scape improvement and other investments in that area," said Robinson. "We drew a line in the sand when we developed the district, for that tax year and whatever taxes are produced."
As conversations continue, all parties agree on one thing: It's the right time for substantial development in Bellevue, and that starts with activating key spaces like the Kent Building.
"This is a building whose time is coming because of the progress and the refitting and upgrading of properties within Bellevue," said Daly.