Covington’s Sims Building to undergo multimillion-dollar transformation

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

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A previous version of this story reported that the Kenton County Fiscal Court approved giving $13 million to the Northern Kentucky Port Authority for the project. The Fiscal Court approved $3 million for the project. LINK nky regrets the error.

Since Covington’s Sims Furniture permanently shut their doors last April, the historic department store building has sat vacant. Now after a year, there’s new progress regarding the building’s future.

At the Kenton County Fiscal Court meeting Tuesday, members discussed a plan for renovating the building’s exterior and interior into a large office space. The space will be able to accommodate growing companies that have the potential to scale from 10-20 employees to 200-400. Amenities such as meeting spaces and presentation rooms are included in the plan.

“It’s a really great project,” Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann said during the meeting.

Additionally, Cincinnati-based venture capital firm eGateway Capital plans to relocate its own operations into the building, according to an outlined plan shared with the Fiscal Court.

Northern Kentucky entrepreneurial support nonprofit Blue North will also have a space in the building. Overall, the space is expected to accommodate over 100 jobs.

Some renderings of what the inside of the accelerator office space will look like. Photo provided | Kenton County Fiscal Court

The Northern Kentucky Port Authority is in the process of finalizing the purchase of the building from real estate developer Tony Milburn for approximately $2.3 million. Milburn bought the building in August 2017 for $815,000, according to Kenton County Property Valuation Administrator data.

“It’s a very special building,” Milburn said. “It’s unusual for Covington based on its size and exterior. It’s a catalytic investment for that part of Covington.”

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The Fiscal Court also unanimously approved a resolution to support giving $3 million worth of site development funds from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, or KCED, to the Northern Kentucky Port Authority to partially finance the project, expected to cost between $9 to $10 million.

Other funding sources for the project will come from Kenton County, Catalytic Fund and state and federal tax credits worth up to $2.5 million.

The rationale behind the project is to develop flexible office space in Covington’s Central Business District, which can attract companies looking to scale. If the company eventually outgrows the space, it will make them likely to lease larger office space in either Covington or Kenton County.

As for the building, it was constructed in 1929. Before the Florence Mall was built in 1976, Covington’s Central Business District featured many department stores and served as a primary shopping district in Northern Kentucky. During that era, the building housed a Montgomery Ward department store.

Spatially, the building contains 47,000 square feet — 39,000 of which can accommodate rent-paying office users. Its open floor plan makes it uniquely suitable for office space.

Renovations of the building’s exterior are required. This includes installing new windows, tuckpointing and removing architecturally detracting features.

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