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With a cool vibe, former school supply building in Covington could be live-work-shop development

$38M Green project needs zoning change
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-18 12:00:50-04

COVINGTON, Ky. -- It’s what millennials and baby boomers both want: walkable, safe, upscale urban space with “buzz” or “charm” (depending on your age group).

Covington’s poised to meet that need and save a historic building while combining it with upscale living in Mainstrasse if the John R. Green apartment, retail and office project moves forward after a public session last week.

“Covington has a really cool vibe,” said John Whitson of Birmingham, Alabama-based developer RealtyLink. “I like this site better than any other site in this city, any other site in this market.”

It’s what the National Trust for Historic Preservation says is worth saving: “Simply put, ‘historic’ means ‘old and worth the trouble.’ It applies to a building that’s part of a community’s tangible past,” officials of the trust said in a November 2015 article.

The John R. Green School Supply building fits the bill, with more than 60 years in the same location providing schools, teachers and students with school supplies.

Whitson called the Green building “beautiful,” adding that his group would preserve the structure. “We don’t want to do anything to mess it up.”

It’s more than just apartments with office space. It’s about the neighborhood and keeping its distinct look and appeal.

Whitman said what’s missing in the Mainstrasse area is what he calls a “New York deli” with fresh vegetables and flowers out front. “It’s essential,” he said.

Residents in this historic district seem mostly concerned about traffic, apartment turnover and building height. But city officials and developers say it’s a part of the vision.

“Here we are reviving Mainstrasse with more energy and life,” said Vincent Terry, associate director with project architects Moody and Nolan.

If the city approves zoning changes to allow higher-density units in Mainstrasse, the $38 million John R. Green development will include 186 higher-end and mostly one-bedroom apartments behind businesses that line Main Street and the homes that line Bakewelll Street between West Sixth and West Seventh.

Rental prices will be higher, similar to Over-the-Rhine and new apartments near the river in Newport.

“There are a lot of renters in this Northern Kentucky area who are making do with renting substandard facilities,” said Whitman. He said there were not enough quality apartments to meet the demand.

The apartments will replace current warehouse space for the John R. Green School Supply Co. at 411 W. Sixth St. It also will replace a public garden space on West Seventh and fill the Green parking space on the corner of West Sixth and Bakewell.

But green space, landscaped alleys and access to Main Street from the parking garage are also part of the plan, said Whitman.

The first three floors of the apartment building will provide parking for residents and 100 public spaces. Public spaces will be city-controlled.

Jillian Thomason, who lives in the neighborhood, said she didn’t want Covington to be just for the rich. “I’ve had too many friends move who can’t afford it anymore.”

And while a rental price hike may happen in Mainstrasse and other areas including The Banks and parts of Newport, the developer and others said the city itself would still offer a variety of price points.

This development, however, will target young professionals and empty-nesters who want want an urban apartment and can afford the space.

“The hope is that the young professionals will eventually want to move into their first home and will choose Covington,” said Whitman.

Residents know the final project will change the neighborhood, and the final outcome remains to be seen. But fitting into Mainstrasse and Covington is important to neighbors, as well.

“I really appreciate the architecture,” said neighbor Ron Padgett. “Thank you for taking our neighborhood into consideration.”