FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- Tower Park in Fort Thomas is home to basketball courts, an outdoor amphitheater, walking paths, swing sets, volleyball pits and a number of historic buildings -- including 10 Victorian-era mansions along Alexander Circle that have been vacant for the last 15 years.
Those properties are about to see new life, however, as the city’s historic district prepares to enter into an agreement with Bloomfield Schon developers, with plans to renovate the homes and make them available for public purchase. A timeline is yet to be announced for the project.
The spacious homes at Alexander Circle are positioned around a circular green space overlooking the Ohio River at the park’s northeastern edge. The homes are constructed of the signature red brick used in other historic buildings around Tower Park. Each boasts the broad porches, towers, turrets, decorative trim and bay windows characteristic of Victorian architecture.
“These properties have never been used as anything other than residences, with the largest one reserved for a commandant or higher,” said Fort Thomas city administrator Ron Dill. “We are very excited to see them restored to their former glory and put into active use again.”
Dill said after renovation, the homes will likely sell for $600,000 or more.
The residences -- five single-family homes and five duplexes -- were constructed in the 1880s and reserved for ranking officers and their families when Tower Park served as an active military post and induction center after the Civil War.
A museum near the park’s amphitheater offers a full history of the grounds and related properties, including the renovated armory. Home to basketball courts and breakout rooms, the converted armory in 1977 served as a temporary morgue and identification center for more than 100 victims of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.
Nearby, a historic mess hall has been converted into an event space, hosting weddings, parties and community events year-round. Barracks were once located on the land that now houses baseball and softball fields adjacent to Alexander Circle.
The city obtained Tower Park in 1973 after the post closed, and the homes on Alexander Circle were taken over by the Veterans Administration hospital and used to house visiting employees. The Fort Thomas Historic District engaged in a 15-year process of purchasing the homes from the VA.
The acquisition process was hindered further by the necessary and costly removal of asbestos and lead-based paint discovered in the antiquated structures. The FTHD will close on the properties in the next few weeks, Dill said.
Visitors to the park are allowed to use the sidewalks and roadways at Alexander Circle, but the vacant, deteriorating homes were at some point deemed hazardous to the public. “No Trespassing” signs are posted at the cul-de-sac entrance, warning visitors to keep their distance from the homes.
“We do not expect the renovation process to disrupt park operations,” said Dill, adding that the green space in the middle of the Alexander Circle cul-de-sac will likely be retained by the park as public property.
Dill said the choice of Bloomfield Schon as the preferred developer was intentional. In addition to quoting the best cost, the company has extensive experience with regard to managing historic renovation projects in an environmentally responsible way.
A spokesperson for Bloomfield Schon could not be reached prior to deadline, but the company’s website shows a number of recent and ongoing projects that include the historic Ford Factory in Walnut Hills and the American Can Lofts on Spring Grove Avenue.
“We are committed to involving community representatives, being environmentally responsible and to finding and using all available resources to address difficult development projects,” the website states.
Construction crews have frequently unearthed pieces of Tower Park’s history over the years. In a recent example, extensive underground tunnels measuring three feet in diameter were discovered in the process of constructing a war memorial.