'A behemoth project:' Covington City Hall opens at a new location, hotel will occupy former space

COVINGTON, Ky. - Covington City Hall, which formerly occupied the first, second and fourth floors of 638 Madison Ave., opened for business Nov. 18 at 20 West Pike St.

The offices closed Nov. 14 and 15 to allow employees to transition to the new location, but converting the historic Pike Street building to offices required months of redevelopment.

The project required “a complete gut rehab,” of the building, which was constructed in the late 1800s, said Natalie Bowers, marketing and communications director for the city’s department of development.

The restoration cost the city about $80,000, which included a build-out analysis, gutting and rehabilitating the building and purchasing new furniture.

“It was a behemoth project,” Bowers said.

Historic redevelopment

The building at 638 Madison Ave. was constructed in the first decade of the 20th Century as an expansion of John Roberts Coppin’s California Dry Goods Company. It was designed by architect James Gilmore and was the first reinforced concrete skyscraper in Kentucky.

The seven-story structure was remodeled in the 1930s and operated as the popular Coppin’s Department Store through the 1940s and 1950s.

In the late 1980s the building was renovated and became the home of the city offices.

The decision to relocate has been in the works since 2012, when former Covington Mayor Chuck Scheper began conversations with representatives from Salyers Group and Aparium Hotels about bringing a boutique hotel to Covington.

At the time, City Hall employees were only occupying about 20 percent of the Madison Avenue office.

“The work space itself was very compartmentalized. I sometimes wouldn’t see some of my colleagues for weeks,” Bowers said.

The building also was in need of about $7 million in repairs, including roof maintenance, brick work and replacing old fixtures and furniture.

“Against the backdrop of the city’s then financial condition, that wasn’t really looking like a good prospect for us. So, it’s sort of like stars aligned. You know, the mayor has conversations with these business entrepreneurs looking for a place to launch a boutique hotel in Northern Kentucky. At the same time, we’re having internal discussions about our financial situation and the looming cost of repairs. And suddenly it’s like, ‘Why don’t you have your hotel here, and we’ll go somewhere else?’” Bowers said.

A new location

The 22,500 square foot building at 20 West Pike St. is made up of two stories, a basement and a mezzanine, offering “a more cohesive space” for city employees, Bowers said. “In this space … we’re much closer together. There’s no space being wasted."

City representatives signed a three-year lease with Bopper Properties for approximately $20,000 a month for the new location.

The new City Hall will house the same offices that operated out of the former location, including:

  • Department of Development
  • City Manager's office
  • Mayor's office
  • Legal department
  • Finance department
  • Human resources
  • Community services
  • Recreation department
  • Housing development
  • Commission chambers

While the city offices will operate out of the building for at least the next three years, it is uncertain if the new location will be City Hall’s long-term home, Bowers said.

An "open, friendly atmosphere"

The city’s investment in rehabilitating the building will not be a loss if the city offices relocate after the lease expires because it will foster economic development, she added.

“One of our biggest challenges, or barriers to entry for getting new business here, is having available space prepared and ready for business. So, if we do move, the city has just acted as a catalyst to gut rehab an old building and put it back in play for potential lease later. Should we leave that space, the likelihood of it being re-leased is very high,” Bowers said.

While the new City Hall location is freshly renovated, many elements of the historic building have been retained.

Interior elements such as raw brick walls, exposed ceilings and original subway tile give a glimpse into the building’s history. The new City Hall also features a foyer with a front desk.

“We didn’t have a foyer in the old building. You came in and you didn’t know where to go,” Bowers said. “It’s a beautiful space,” Bowers said.

The building’s design lends itself to a good work space while creating “a more open and friendly atmosphere” for visitors, she added.

Moving in: A boutique hotel

While the former Coppin’s Department Store was no longer suited to the needs of the city offices, it is in an ideal location for the hotel Salyers Group and Aparium Hotels representatives had in mind.

The Salyers Group also owns The Madison Event Center directly across the street, said Guy van Rooyen, CEO of Donna Salyers Fabulous Furs.

“We wanted to provide a hotel for wedding guests. It’s a perfect fit,” van Rooyen said.

The building is also in close proximity to the Madison Theater and the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.
The redevelopment project for the old City Hall building is valued at $26.5 million, he added.

The boutique hotel, known as Hotel Covington, will feature:

  • 116 rooms
  • a fitness center
  • a spa treatment facility, meeting and banquet centers
  • a full-service restaurant

“Basically, we’re bringing a primary market hotel to the Cincinnati area,” van Rooyen said.

Aparium Hotels, with whom Salyers Group representatives are partnering, is known for its luxury hotels. The company built and operated The Elysian in Chicago before selling it to Equity Group Investments who renamed it to the Waldorf Astoria Chicago. Aparium also operates The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee.

“They definitely have an excellent reputation for operating four-star hotels, and that’s why we chose them,” van Rooyen said.

While the hotel is the type of place one would expect in big cities like New York or Chicago, the project is a “home-grown” and “locally influenced,” he added.

Hotel Covington is expected to be complete in the spring of 2015.

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