Levee-headed: Residential building boom in Newport, elsewhere driven by the draw of downtown

Developers see no end to the region's attraction

NEWPORT, Ky. -- Newport is flush with residential offerings these days, with new condos and apartments springing up from the riverfront levee to the west side of town, but the flurry of activity in recent years has prompted some to wonder if current demand matches the growing supply.

Organizers say it does, citing a considerable residential influx. Although they don’t claim to be fortune tellers, they’re confident that plenty of folks will be excited about relocating to Newport and other riverfront communities for a very long time.

The current wave of new housing developments in Newport started in 2013 with Monmouth Row, whose one-bedroom units were snatched up quickly by young professionals; it’s now 97 percent occupied.

That was soon followed by an announcement that a developer had purchased the nearby Fourth Street School building with plans to offer approximately 200 more upscale rentals. This year saw the grand opening of Aqua on the Levee, an $80 million expansion of the riverfront complex that includes 239 rental units, with retail and the area’s first Aloft Hotel coming soon.

Now, the ongoing expansion of Ky. 9 promises to divert that busy roadway to the outskirts of town, freeing up valuable real estate for retail and entertainment offerings like New Riff Distillery’s forthcoming Whiskey Campus, which is currently under construction. On that same side of town, developers are competing to purchase 22 acres owned by IPSCO steel company.

“Will that be more residential property? We don’t know yet," said Jack Moreland of Southbank Partners. “But what we do know is that, based on the new comprehensive plan for the city of Newport, it won’t be heavy industry going in there."

And that’s all just in Newport.

With ground now broken on the long-stalled mixed-use Ovation project, Newport will soon be home to even more housing options. Meanwhile, east of the levee, Dayton’s riverfront is being developed for residential offerings that will join Bellevue’s Vue 180 condos and tie into the Riverfront Commons project.

"The trend of younger people moving downtown where they can walk to work and ride bikes is not really a trend. It’s the reality,” said Moreland. “So far we’ve seen a tremendous response from that demographic, and I think we’ll continue to see that for a very long time.”

So, just where are all these Northern Kentucky transplants coming from? The current influx is coming from both sides of the river and beyond, according to Gregg Fusaro of Capital Investment Group, which manages Aqua on the Levee.

"We’re seeing a lot of people who want to live closer to downtown, and that includes people relocating from other parts of Kentucky as well as some of the more distant suburbs of Cincinnati," said Fusaro. “Some are empty-nesters, but most are young professionals who want a more urban location. We certainly offer that, along with really irreplaceable views of the city. We’re adjacent to the Purple People Bridge, which creates tremendous walkability to downtown, the riverfront parks, the Banks as well as obviously to Newport On the Levee, the movie theater, aquarium and all the restaurant and entertainment venues there."

Fusaro said 91 of Aqua’s 239 units have been leased, despite the fact that construction on the building is not yet complete. Fusaro sees this as a good omen for the future.

The Levee’s management group recently tapped Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc. to serve as its exclusive retail leasing agent with the goal of adding even more amenities for the influx of young professionals -- a move that both Fusaro and Moreland believe will be key in sustaining the current momentum.

With regard to a long-awaited 180-foot riverfront Ferris wheel and rumors of other forthcoming Newport attractions, Moreland said the right conversations are still happening.

"There are some things stirring, and I’m optimistic about it, but I don’t think it’s to the point where I can talk about it right now," he said. "It’s not my role to talk about something that might be confidential now -- but I can tell you it’s a ‘good’ confidential."

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