BY CINDY SCHROEDER
''I remember when I was still (Southgate) mayor, pointing to the hillside two or three years after the fire and predicting there'd be a hotel built up there in six months,'' said Campbell Judge-executive Ken Paul.
Since Mr. Paul's prediction, more than a dozen companies have considered the land overlooking Interstate 471 and U.S. 27, but nothing has materialized.
Many businesses that looked at the property in recent years -- including Citicorp, Fidelity Investments and International Paper -- eventually chose other sites.
Jim West, president of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp., said one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been development costs, especially the cost of building a long driveway and an alternate route up the hill for safety reasons.
''It's a costly item to go up the side of a hill,'' Mr. West said. ''You're thinking, 'What's this going to cost me?' and 'What's it going to look like?' It's just a big unknown.''
In the past, would-be developers have been stymied by access problems and development costs.
Also, as each owner has sold the site, its cost has escalated, making it one of the highest priced pieces of real estate in the region, Mr. Paul said.
''It's absolutely going to have to be a unique type of major corporate headquarters or regional headquarters that locates there, otherwise, nobody's going to be able to afford the property,'' Mr. Paul said.
The most recent prospective developer -- the Mayerson-Anderson Group -- withdrew its proposal for a $90 million office and retail project a year ago, after organized opposition from nearby residents.
More recently, Dick Ryan, a first-term Southgate councilman and a leader of the Stop the Malling group that led opposition to the project, served on a council committee studying possible uses.
''From the city's perspective, we want to go full steam ahead in getting a development there,'' Mr. Ryan said. ''We've taken the initial steps to contact the owner and get that process started.''
In an April 14 letter to Nick Tsimaras of KLD Corp., Mr. Ryan sought KLD's suggestions, as owners of the site, on how to achieve ''the appropriate development of the property.''
In March and April, Southgate City Council re-zoned the entire 78 acres for professional offices. Previously, 67 acres were zoned for highway commercial and general commercial.
In an April 24 response to Mr. Ryan, Mr. Tsimaras wrote: ''Southgate council's pursuit of zone changes to the property interrupted our process to sell the property. As you know, we and others very knowledgeable of the development market in this geographical area strongly voiced opposition to the zone change to professional office because the effect would . . . result in no development.''
Mr. Tsimaras wrote that the market for that size parcel would be a single user such as Fidelity or multiuse.
''Council's actions have eliminated the most probable segment; that of multiuse,'' Mr. Tsimaras wrote. ''That leaves only the single entity user, and council has managed to eliminate almost everything but office use . . . ''
''Generally speaking, the city is looking for office type developments,'' Mr. Ryan said. ''But we will be flexible. . . . The only thing I can say conclusively is that the city doesn't want a shopping mall.''
Mr. West said his second choice for the site would be a hotel or convention center.
''If someone wants to put something up there, I say, 'Go ahead,''' said Doug Cochran, who was at the club the night it burned.
''I don't think it would be any disrespect to the people who died,'' the 33-year-old Fort Thomas resident said. ''It's moving on with life. Right now, the fact that there's nothing up there makes you remember the fire.''