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Monday, September 28, 2020

"New" Newport on the Levee seeks to be Community Hub, Engage Visitors with 18-Hour Experience

 

A recent panel held at the Newport on the Levee outlined some of the changes planned by North American Properties.



By Jessie Eden

Since 2018, North American Properties (NAP) has been making changes to improve connectivity and community engagement at Newport on the Levee and a couple weeks ago, some of the major players involved with the redevelopment of the Levee came together to discuss recent efforts to jumpstart the property.


At a recent discussion, hosted on September 17 by CREW -- the leading organization for mid and senior-level executive women in the Greater Cincinnati commercial real estate field, called "Reinventing the Future of Live, Work, Play, at the “New” Newport on the Levee", a group of panelists addressed some of the most recent changes and challenges at the Levee. The panel was moderated by Christine Russell, the Vice President of Strategy for Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.


The panel included the following individuals;

- Barbara Garrett, Senior Vice President, Asset Management, North American Properties

- Regan Thomas, Retail & Restaurant Leasing, North American Properties

- Todd Pease, Vice President of JLL

- Rebecca Foster, Guest Experience Director for Newport Aquarium



New Scope & Scale


One topic of the discussion was some of the construction changes. The Levee's new look focuses on connectivity and accessibility. "We purchased the Levee a little more than a year ago and we were trying to figure out how to crack this nut. I’m from Atlanta and when I visited and walked across the bridge, I couldn’t figure out how to get in," said Barbara Garrett, Senior Vice President for Asset Management for North American Properties. "All improvements we have made are about accessibility. There will be a new vehicular experience on 3rd Street, adding connectivity to the Purple People bridges so that you can get in from every direction, in addition to the painting and restoration of the building."

NAP also approached the City of Newport to understand how the city felt about the Levee. "When we were first interested in this acquisition, our first stop was to speak with the Mayor. We really wanted to understand what kind of environment we were in. These are the most pro-business and friendly advocates down there in City Hall and the City Manager made life so easy," said Barbara. "We went to them and said this is our plan, what do you think? City Manager Tom Fromme whipped out a master plan and said he had wanted to do this for years! He then introduced us to Southbank Partners. We also invited the Public to give feedback on how to use the Levee."

There are also new efforts to bring in tenants that work with this new initiative of connectivity and community engagement. "When we purchased the Levee, it was a mix of existing vacancy and tenants so we were really intentional about about the type of tenants we wanted here," said Regan Thomas, Retail and Restaurant Leasing for NAP. "We want to be the living room of Newport, an attraction for families taking long weekends, a place to walk around with dogs and kids, a place to have dinner before a Reds game or a Promo West concert. We are being very intentional about the tenants selected in order to make sure they’re providing that experience."


In terms of office space, Vice President Todd Pease with JLL weighed in on current efforts to redevelop the space...and the space is LARGE. According Todd, there is nearly 3,000 to 70,000 square feet of space for office use. It's a very large, flexible floor plan with thousands of parking options and centrally located to the Central Business District of Cincinnati. "When NAP approached us to help with project, they had already figured out generally where things were going to go. There was plenty of re-imagining and shuffling of the deck. The whole shell of what we have here, that old Barnes and Nobel, there is not a river view like that anywhere," said Todd. "It’s amazing. There is 20,000 square feet available. It's an awesome opportunity for any office. In the mezzanine level, where Dewey’s Pizza used to be and Bar Louie, the space is all up high with good window light, high ceilings, open floor plans and natural light. The building already has that."

Todd also revealed that a tenant has signed for the former Dewey’s Pizza space at 40,000 square feet...but they have yet to reveal who the tenant is yet but the idea is to build the Levee around an 18-hour experience. "Success in our space is intentionally trying to put bodies into the development at all times, an 18-hour day," said Barbara.

The 18-hour Experience

That 18-hour experience is going to be a focus moving forward as tenants fill the space at the Levee. The location and activities that the community can enjoy in the space on any given day are now more of a priority. "We're lucky to be here and attract people looking for other things to do. They can come out for an experience and get something to eat. There are very few guests walking out and going straight to their car and leaving, whether they're going to the aquarium or not." said Rebecca Foster, Guest Experience Director for the Newport Aquarium. 

A large part of the experience at the Levee is the Newport Aquarium which just celebrated its 21 year anniversary this year. Rebecca emphasized that, over that time, many changes have had to take place. "We've invested and changed the shape of new programming. If you come back 6 months later, we hope there will be something different that you can see and do. The content and species are unlimited," said Rebecca. "It can be a family field trip and now, we’re having kids who are learning in different ways so we are trying to tap into needs of community. How can we make an aquarium experience more meaningful? How can Mom and Dad can connect with their child? It's a great way to have dialogue at dinner about what you learned about the Newport Aquarium."




"We just really want to make this a place where people come and dwell. Sales is the goal, it has to function and be inviting," said Barbara. The Levee is actually the fifth development project of its kind by NAP. "What we’ve learned, when we identified the site, was that the location, parking, and bones were great. You have connectivity to the City of Newport, walkability is huge and there were spaces where we could program activities." 

Newport on the Levee also came with the staffing needed to support such efforts. "You’re not going to go to a regular real estate group and have a social media person on hand. Those bones were already here so we’re just leveraging them."

"It's a very friendly and safe environment thats also family-friendly and contained," added Todd. "It's safe, friendly and just a great environment for that."

"Yes and we want to lease space to tenants who fill out their {visitors'} days," said Regan. "Visitors can hit a coffee shop, go to work, then work out, go to dinner and have drinks all in one place."


A rendering released in early September highlighted some of the changes to the Newport on the Levee as planned by NAP.


Re-designing in the age of Covid-19 

The biggest challenge that NAP has encountered with Newport on the Levee is something that has impacted all life as we know it -- Covid-19. But -- Barbara says that's where some of NAP's special programming comes into play. 

The "Flip the Switch" program centers around small, fully outfitted spaces for tenants. "What we really figured out is that we could take those small spaces that were vacant, prepare them and wire them," said Barbara. "Then, we went to tenants and asked if they had a need for flex space. We also flexed the duration of leases and we even allow tenants to pay rent with a credit card."


Bridgeview Box Park


On the retail side of things, Regan said that the Bridgeview Box Park has been a great success. "It's not something that changed in our plans but now we have Open Container for the entire Levee and we're blessed to have plaza space and gallery building with seating and leasable square footage to spread out," said Regan. "Planning started in December 2019 to utilize this pad here where Mitchell's Fish Market was. It was supposed to be temporary and we were fully leased in March but had to re-lease again after Covid. It has been a blessing for tenants who have other restaurants that had more inside space. Since it's been so successful, it will become more of a permanent space. Space like this allows us to offer flexible lease terms. Extending for another month or a year is ok. These spaces allow us to do that."

Another creative space planned by NAP is The Exchange. The Exchange comes as part of NAP’s ongoing redevelopment of Newport on the Levee and creates opportunities for local businesses to lease flexible, short-term retail and office space, meeting the changes requested by tenants in response to recent macro business impacts. It will launch sometime in November.

Ripple Wine Bar, known for its charcuterie and wine in Covington, Kentucky, will operate a bar in the center of the space during the holiday season.


 A rendering of Ripple Wine Bar's space at The Exchange, Newport on the Levee


Although the pandemic did halt some things, it didn't completely stop NAP's progress with the Levee. "It definitely put the breaks on things...but not entirely. Year One is for design and learning about the environment. We don’t just rush in and we did not assume that we knew how Newport wanted the Newport on the Levee to look. We took a lot of time on the front end for design," said Barbara. "We knew we had tenants that were not performing and not relevant. Leasing has slowed but development was on track and it has stayed right on track. Regan and her team tirelessly work to make stuff work. I can build it but I have to have the right businesses that want to occupy it."



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Regan, who is local and grew up going to the Levee agreed. "I grew up in Fort Thomas and my first job was at Cold Stone. I think there was a perception that had to be overcome as well and we certainly knew about that," said Regan. "Our plans in place differ from the old Levee and it's all intentional too. We've been very thoughtful about changing that perception."

On the Newport Aquarium side of things, Rebecca said that although changes had to occur, attendance is good. "It drastically reduced our capacity for how many people can come in but we are usually selling out every weekend. We are also encouraging people to re-purchase their tickets if they can't get in. The timed entry helps with this. In a strange way, Covid has been a blessing in regards to that since it’s so easy."

To learn more about what the Newport on the Levee is working on, check out these related articles;




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