Mixed-use development coming to former Drawbridge Inn site in Fort Mitchell

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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A mixed-use development that will include office, commercial and residential space is coming to Fort Mitchell on the long-vacant site of the former Drawbridge Inn.

The iconic hotel and convention center closed in 2012 after 42 years in operation. While several possible developments have been considered over the years, nothing has yet come to fruition.

But that may finally be changing after the city of Fort Mitchell came to an agreement with the Buttermilk Pike Development Company for the mixed-use development. The project will be built out along a nearly 25-acre parcel of land along Buttermilk Pike, Grace Court and Royal Drive. Work is expected to begin at the end of 2023.

“This site will be transformative for the city of Fort Mitchell and the Northern Kentucky region,” said Mayor Jude Hehman. “We have spent the last year negotiating the terms of this development agreement and this project is a long-time-coming. I am happy council unanimously moved this agreement forward and I am excited for the development team to break ground.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Greenbriar Development, a Dallas-based senior housing developer, and Bellevue-based real estate developer Brandicorp LLC are working together on the project. Architecture firm Perkins Eastman is in charge of the building design in the development.

Since the development agreement has been approved, Fort Mitchell is now working on a text amendment for the necessary zoning.

“Although we cannot stand here today and say ‘this building will be this user and this building will be that user,’ conceptually we’re telling you the types of uses,” said Strauss Troy attorney Marty Butler, who helped advise developers.

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The construction process is broken up into three phases and will take place on five different lots, each of which will be designated for a different use. Here’s a look at what is slated to happen when on each lot:

An overview of all five Lots within the development. Photo provided | City of Fort Mitchell

Lot 1

A continuous care retirement community center is planned for the first lot. Named The Ormsby after the late Major General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel of the Union Army, the yet-to-be constructed building already has a website advertising “luxury retirement living.”

As the main anchor of the entire development, plans for the over nine-story retirement center feature between 195 and 203 independent living units with access to catered living, memory care, gerontology and skilled nursing. A 400,000-square-foot parking garage will be underneath the building.

“In essence, this is really to allow seniors to age in place and hopefully enhance their health and vitality as they are aging,” said Gary Blank,  executive vice president and chief operating officer at St. Elizabeth. “Our goal is really to create an environment that keeps people healthier in own their place of residence and hopefully keeps them out of the hospital setting.”

Blank projects the retirement center to employ 104 people with an approximate annual payroll of $7.2 million.

So far, “about 191 people have already signed up for priority deposit,” Blank said. The building’s website says Priority Club Membership deposits cost $1,000.

Lot 2

Across the street from the retirement community center will be a medical office building.

Construction on the office building would take place during Phase 2 of the development plan. Blank anticipates the building will be ready for occupancy around 2029.

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Blank told the council the office building could bring in as many as 450 to 550 new full-time jobs to Fort Mitchell and that Kentuckians would occupy 80% of those projected positions.

“The payroll that we would calculate that would live in Kentucky would be about $40 million,” Blank said.

Lot 3

Much of the development is still in flux, with the decision-makers still mapping out the best uses for each area.

As of now, Lot 3 includes space for three buildings that could be used for retail, a drive-thru restaurant or a sit-down restaurant.

Butler told the council that if Lot 2 were to expand in future planning efforts, there would be less space available in Lot 3.

Lot 4

Developers are planning to build either a hotel, drive-thru or sit-down restaurant or retail space in Lot 4.

“At this time I think it’s safe to say on behalf of our client that they’re leaning toward the select service hotel,” Butler said.

Lot 5

The smallest lot outlined in the plan, developers are planning to use the space for a drive-thru coffee restaurant or something similar.

How the deal came to be

In 2014, a Tax Increment Financing District, or TIF, was created on the land to help finance the infrastructure improvements on the site — one of the key parts of the development. This includes items such as stormwater drainage, sanitary sewer lines, water lines and traffic lights.

Since the plans for the site have changed since 2014, Fort Mitchell is resubmitting an updated TIF application to the state, which would extend certain dates and amend the project description. The Kentucky Economic Development Financing Authority, KEDFA, must then approve the updated TIF application.

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“We’re not going to build buildings overnight,” Hehman said. “The infrastructure that’s going to take place — the roads, the utilities, the capacity change of the sanitary, the changes of the stormwater and the water main — are big elements to this development.”

Under the outlined plan, Royal Drive will be removed, relocated and reconstructed. Butler said Royal Drive currently does not properly utilize the land it’s located on. In its place, a new roadway will be constructed down the middle of development to offer better connectivity.

“The developer put together a plan which proposes a nice, new roadway running down the middle of the project, following the contour of the topography of the project,” Butler said.

The newly developed Royal Drive will include two inbound lanes and five outbound lanes connecting to Buttermilk Pike. At the behest of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, a hard median will be introduced on Buttermilk Pike, which divides the eastbound and westbound lanes.

Developer Greg Berling told the council that the original Drawbridge Inn had a stormwater system that was “patched together.” The proposed new stormwater system would be designed to handle runoff on the development and also upstream of the site.

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