FORT MITCHELL -- It's been nearly four years since plans were announced to develop the former Drawbridge Inn site at Buttermilk Pike and I-75 in Fort Mitchell. Now, those plans hinge on a legal dispute between healthcare giants Christ Hospital and St. Elizabeth -- and local leaders and residents are anxious to move the project forward.
Christ Hospital Health Network purchased the site in 2014, partnering with Brandicorp developers to create a $135 million plan for a mixed-used Fort Mitchell Gateway project that would include:
- 200,000 square feet of medical office space (including a $24 million Christ Hospital ambulatory surgical center)
- 150,000 square feet of multifamily housing units
- A 60,000-square-foot hotel
- 11,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space
- 20,000 square feet of additional retail space
The state approved the plan in early 2015. Later that same year, Sharmili Reddy came on board as Fort Mitchell city administrator and focused quickly on expediting development.
"The Certificate of Need process started last February, and the latest update we heard is that we're hoping a decision will be made sometime in late April," said Reddy. "That's almost a year and a half on top of the three years we've been waiting for the site to be developed."
Right now, it's a waiting game. St. Elizabeth announced opposition last May to Christ Hospital's application for Certificate of Need, which outlines the development's proposed economic and quality-of-life benefits to the community. Court proceedings began in August, and both parties presented a second round of testimony last week before the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services in Frankfort.
Other local leaders share Reddy's sense of urgency for the project to be completed, since the City of Fort Mitchell is limited with regard to developable real estate due to its size and residential makeup.
"Fort Mitchell City Council is fully behind this project because they know that this was once a vibrant site that has fallen on some hard times and (is now) a prime piece of real estate," said Pat Crowley, who is handling public relations for the project. "(The new development) will bring not just health care, but jobs, investments, tax dollars and develop what is a prime location that certainly doesn't need to stay vacant."
Although leaders express enthusiasm for Christ Hospital establishing a presence in Northern Kentucky, the needs of community residents take top priority.
"For us it's just important that we get good businesses coming in," said Reddy. "I'm very excited about Christ Hospital, but from a development standpoint, we would be open to a good development that benefits residents the most."
In a statement on the group's website, Christ Hospital Health Network President and CEO Mike Keating said, "The former Drawbridge Inn site presents an exceptional opportunity for us to expand our presence in Northern Kentucky and provide more choice and access for consumers."
Brandicorp could not immediately be reached for comment, but so far neither Reddy nor Crowley is aware of any prospective tenants pulling out of the project due to delays caused by the legal dispute.
"That's not to say that if it's going to take a lot longer than anticipated, we won't look for other ways to get those additional components going," said Reddy. "We do get occasional inquiries from residents, but I think everyone is waiting to see what happens with Christ Hospital before starting on anything else."
Drawbridge Inn/Fort Mitchell Gateway timeline
- December 2012: Drawbridge Inn ceases operations
- June 2013: Brandicorp LLC announces plans for development
- January 2014: Christ Hospital announces plans for site acquisition
- April 2014: Drawbridge properties demolished
- January 2015: Christ Hospital purchases 15 acres of property at the site for $8.7 million from Brandicorp LLC
- February 2015: State approves $135 million mixed-use development plan
- May 2016: St. Elizabeth announces opposition to the project
- August 2016: Court proceedings begin
- December 2016: Second round of testimony is completed
- April 2017: Anticipated court decision deadline