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Friday, October 22, 2021

City Deadline to Purchase BB&T Building Delayed, Development Group Steps Up

The former BB&T bank building at 25 North Fort Thomas sits empty and waiting for a solution. That solution may be on the horizon thanks to new interest.

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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

While the official deadline on an agreement to purchase the former BB&T building has passed, the city of Fort Thomas will not have to purchase the building at this time thanks to interest expressed by a local real estate developer and his partners.

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As part of the initial development agreement for One Highland, the developer of that project was charged with finding a tenant for the building at 25 North Fort Thomas Avenue, preferably a sit-down restaurant. If the developer could not find a suitable tenant within a year, the city would step in and purchase the building for $825,000, which was the price the developer had paid for that building.

Due to the pandemic, the deadline was extended another year. The new deadline passed last Friday, October 15, and the city prepared to discuss the matter at its October 18 meeting.

Rick Greiwe, the One Highland developer and owner, had been working to find someone to purchase and develop the building but had had no success. The city also had been looking, knowing that the deadline for purchase was coming up. 

A solution may be on the horizon

The biggest issue has been finding a buyer that would develop the building and then bring in a restaurant. Greiwe discovered that independent restaurants simply did not have the funds to build out or replace a building, and could not secure loans for such an ambitious project. Many expressed interest, but the need was for a developer willing to transform the property to accommodate and attract a restaurant tenant.

Enter Quarter Group, an LLC created specifically for the potential development of the property at 25 North Fort Thomas Avenue. Led by Jeff Hudepohl who represented the group at the council meeting this week, the group formed to explore development of the property.

"I’m a lifelong resident of Fort Thomas, and I know the need for a sit down restaurant in the middle of the city," said Hudepohl. "I was hoping to get involved in something for the good of the city."

Hudepohl, a former owner in the construction firm Valley Interior Systems, recently formed Valley Realty. He came together with other partners, he said, to create the LLC and explore a solution. They would develop the property and then seek a restaurateur to be a tenant.

"We're working with the city and working with Rick [Greiwe] and getting a group together to purchase and develop the building. That would be my dream," he said. "I am hoping finances can come together over the next few weeks. Maybe the city will have more to announce at the next meeting." 

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Working to bring the pieces of the puzzle together

At the council meeting, City Administrator Ron Dill elaborated. He said the city had prepared a Memorandum of Agreement intended to bridge the time period while the investment group was working through the costs and finances involved in developing the property. The MoA would ease the situation for the city.

Through conversations with the Quarter Group and Greiwe, it was agreed the One Highland owner would not press the city to purchase the property yet, extending the deadline once again and allowing time for Quarter Group to move ahead with its exploration.

Dill urged council to approve the move. The original agreement for the city to purchase the former BB&T building if the developer could not find a solution had been a controversial one, with the previous council split down the middle. Mayor Eric Haas cast the deciding vote in favor. Adam Blau is the only member still on council who voted against the agreement. If they can find the financing and come to agreement on a development plan, the Quarter Group's involvement could ease concerns and open the door to finding a restaurant.

"We are very interested in meeting the goals of the comprehensive plan, including the idea of a sit down restaurant," said Dill. “That and the recent purchase of the extra parking spaces, are all pieces of the puzzle.”

He said the plan is for all parties to work together to create a plan within the next 30 to 60 days.

"We got into this rather late and that is why the deadline has been extended by the owners," explained Hudepohl. "They’re very excited to talk with us. The city is excited that someone is excited about it. Let’s hope we can turn this excitement into action."

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