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Friday, October 15, 2021

Fort Thomas City Council to Discuss Future of Former BB&T Bank Property, additional parking

Plans for the former BB & T Bank building at 25 North Fort Thomas Ave., is expected to be a topic of discussion at the upcoming city council meeting.

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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

The City of Fort Thomas is set to discuss two major developments in their Central Business District at the next council meeting on Monday, October 18.

In July 2019, as part of the preparations for the One Highland project, the city of Fort Thomas entered into an agreement with the developers that outlined the parameters of the project, as well as financing details, commitments and responsibilities for all parties.

Included on the agenda for the next council meeting is an item from the list of responsibilities falling to the city. In the initial agreement, the developers were given until October 2020 to secure a tenant for their proposed commercial building that would replace the old BB&T bank building at 25 North Fort Thomas Avenue.

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If the developer was unable to do that, and the city subsequently notified the developer that the requirement had not been satisfied, the city agreed it would have the "right and obligation" to purchase the site of the commercial building from the developer for $825,000. It followed from there that the city would attempt to find a suitable tenant.
The initial deadline passed, but it was extended another year in consideration of the previously unforeseen affects on the business community by the Covid-19 pandemic. The final deadline, therefore, became October, 15, 2021 — today. 
Developer Rick Greiwe outlined the difficulty faced with trying to find a restaurant for the building as outlined in the initial plans.

"The intent was to find someone who would tear down the old BB&T building and build a brand new building that would have a restaurant in it. We have had a commercial broker go out and try to find anybody with the means to do that, but we were unsuccessful. The only people who wanted to build a new building there were banks. We did have several banks who would be happy to buy the property...but the city did not want another bank," Greiwe explained.

He said they pressed to find a bank that would consider having a restaurant on the first floor, but there were no takers. The search for a suitable restaurant was a problem, he said, because chain restaurants were not interested in such a small market, and the local independent restaurants who might have been interested in the spot did not have the means to retrofit the bank building to serve their needs let alone do a complete tear down and rebuild.

"There are plenty of restaurants who would like to come to Fort Thomas, but they would need a developer to partner with who would build out the building," he said.
The retail and hospitality industries have been hit hard during the pandemic, and in this climate, it has been very difficult for these entities to secure loans for the money needed to take on such an ambitious project without some help, he said.

The city must now step in

As of the October council meeting, scheduled for Monday, October 18, the ball is in the city’s court. City Administrator Ron Dill agreed that the city must act on the matter and said there would be discussion at the upcoming meeting on the plan for the property. 

Questions that could arise are whether or not the plan for a sit-down restaurant could be achieved, and, if so, would the city need to incentivize a restaurant owner or group to facilitate the purchase of the property? If a restaurant could not be found or if too much of an incentive was required to make it happen, could a developer be found willing to partner with a restaurant? Or, would selling instead to a bank or other similar entity, be an alternative option?
Also on the agenda for the council meeting is a consideration of a purchase agreement for parking behind the Hiland Building at 18 North Fort Thomas, which would provide additional public parking to serve the Central Business District. Although the city has been studying the parking issue in the CBD, this is the first discussion of purchasing additional parking for that purpose. In the development agreement for One Highland, the city agreed to spend $1.6 million to purchase public parking for that project on the One Highland site, but now is considering additional parking for the area.
With the One Highland Project well underway and the Comprehensive Plan complete, focus is again on the Central Business District (CBD). The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission is starting its work on examining and revising the zoning ordinance to support the vision outlined in the plan. The Central Business District will be one of the first topics of discussion as the commission looks to update zoning in the entire city. 

RELATED: Fort Thomas Planning Will Discuss Update of City Zoning Ordinance

City Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 18, in the Mess Hall in Tower Park (801 Cochran Avenue). The upcoming Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will be Wednesday, October 20, starting at 6:30 p.m., also in the Mess Hall.

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