|Northern Kentucky Eye Care Center is a standalone property located at 92 Alexandria Pike in Fort Thomas. To get there, you must climb up the same hill as Fort Thomas Plaza. FTM file.|
Hotels are currently only allowed in the highway commercial zone in Fort Thomas. There is only one such zone in the city, which sits just south of exit 2 off of I-471, next to DEPs Fine Wine and Spirits.
If the text amendment is approved by the Planning Commission and then City Council, hotels could move into any general commercial space within the city. Originally, a request was also made to amend the height regulations to ten stories or 100 feet, but that request may need to be heard separately.
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There are five general commercial zones in Fort Thomas, including the Fort Thomas Plaza and the aforementioned DEPs. The other three are the Highland Plaza (654 Highland Avenue), a parcel in the 1600 block of Alexandria Pike near the edge of Highland Heights and the Inverness Business district in the 900 block of N. Fort Thomas Avenue.
A contentious zoning amendment change that allowed an adult daycare to move into the Fort Thomas Plaza was passed in February after a contingent of tenants strongly opposed that amendment. Those businesses cited, among other items, safety and non-compatibility with the current business environment as reasons for opposing that zoning amendment.
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Active Day, the adult daycare, has since moved into the Fort Thomas Plaza and is occupying around 8,000 square feet of the near 50,000 square feet available of the center.
Throughout the course of the combative planning commission meetings that started in December of 2015, a "hypothetical hotel" was pitched as the preferred alternative to Active Day.
Rob Robinson, owns Fort Thomas Antiques and Design Center and leases nearly half of the plaza's square footage. He told the Planning Commission in January that the owners of Northern Kentucky Eye Care would move into the space now occupied by Active Day and sell their standalone property within the plaza to hotel developers.
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“A hotel would have such a huge economic impact,” Robinson said at that January meeting. “The Fort Thomas Plaza is 5-minutes from downtown, P&G, Kroger & Macy headquarters, five minutes from Fidelity’s campus in Covington, 15-minutes to the airport. A hotel is a true game changer.”
Now, with Active Day moved in with a longterm lease signed, it looks as though part of Robinson's prognostication could happen.
|Jim Parsons addresses the Fort Thomas Planning Commission at the public hearing on August 17. (L to R - seated: Dan Gorman, Jerry Noran, Larry Schultz, Kevin Barbian and Julie Rice). FTM file.|
Richard & Julianne and George & Linda Georgilis, owners of Northern Kentucky Eye Care Center, were the applicants behind the request for the most recent zoning change. The building they own is adjacent to the plaza and located at 92 Alexandria Pike.
They were represented at a previous planning commission meeting by Jim Parsons, an attorney at Keating Muething & Klekamp. Parsons was in attendance at the public hearing representing Premier Real Estate Partners LLC of Cincinnati, the group interested constructing the hotel.
"We'd like to move forward with the project. It's not been designed and we don't have the plans in place yet, but at this point we need to get together the concept after we know that a hotel would be a permitted use," said Parsons. "We do understand the concerns with allowing this text amendment. Technically this would allow you to build a hotel in all general commercial zones in Fort Thomas, but from a practical and market standpoint, it would be very unlikely a hotel could be constructed in these specific areas."
Dan Gorman, who chaired the public hearing on Wednesday, said that parking requirements alone would likely keep hotels from being able to build within the other four general commercials zones.
Parsons said that the real estate group is interested in working with the city on design concept and working with neighboring residents and businesses on items like lighting and traffic flow.
"We want to design a product that the residents of Fort Thomas would be proud of," he said.
Andrá Ward, who was at the meeting representing Premier Real Estate Partners, said that a feasibility study would be conducted to determine what brand of hotel may be constructed.
"After that, we'll be looking at how to move forward financing the project," said Ward.
Jerry Noran, a member of the Planning Commission, was the most vocal opponent on the commission to the previously text amendment that allowed adult daycare to be classified as general commercial. "I didn't think that adult daycare would support commercial use," he said. "I think this is entirely different. A hotel would be perfectly compatible with the uses we have in general commercial zones."
Gorman said he would support the text amendment as well.
"If I had guests in from out of town, I'd be happy if there was a place within the city limits where I could put them up, so they'd be spending their money in town instead of going out of town to do that," he said.
The text amendment to allow hotels as a permitted use in general commercial zones passed 4-0. Gorman, Noran, Hans Tinkler and Larry Schultz voted aye. Tim Michel recused himself from the vote because his wife works for the same law firm as Parsons.
The commission's recommendation must now be passed to city council for approval.