Friday, March 16, 2001

Three plan to renew Odd Fellows building

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Three local developers have done what the city could not: they have purchased the historic Odd Fellows Hall building at Fifth Street and Madison Avenue and plan to convert it to office and retail space.

        City officials consider the 145-year-old structure the link between the growing riverfront area and the downtown business district south of Fourth Street.

[photo] Covington's historic Odd Fellows Hall.
(Enquirer file photo)
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        Tony Milburn, a manufacturer's representative and property manager who ran unsuccessfully in the last Covington City Commission race, has joined forces with two friends and downtown renovators, Damian Sells and his wife, Kelly Sells, to buy the building.

        “Our plan is to close (the purchase) on or before May 1,” Mr. Milburn said Thursday.“We still need to complete a physical inspection of the building. We have the exclusive purchase agreement with the present owner (Doris Kappas).”

        Mr. Milburn said he and his partners presented a proposal to the city Thursday that calls for renovation of the structure to include office space on the two upper floors, and a restaurant and possibly some shops on the first floor.

        The city had made previous overtures to buy the building but could not reach an agreement on price because Mrs. Kappas would not lower her asking price of $550,000.

        While admitting that the price they will pay is probably more than the building is worth, Mr. Milburn said he and the Sellses “feel very positively that we will be able to obtain a grant through the city to defray some of the cost.”

        The Odd Fellows Hall building was constructed in 1856 and is considered one of the historic architectural gems of the city.

        The second-floor ballroom is suspended from trusses in the third floor, similar to the design of the nearby Roebling Suspension Bridge. Rumor has it that John Roebling, who went on to design the Brooklyn Bridge, had a hand in the design of the Odd Fellows Hall.

        The Roebling Suspension Bridge was begun in 1857, but not opened until 1867, because of the interruption of the Civil War.

        “We want to restore the ballroom to its original condition if possible,” Mr. Milburn said. “Our first goal it to get the outside looking like it should, just like it did in 1856. We'll probably start with renovation on the first floor, because that will be the easiest to lease.”

        The street level of the building currently houses a liquor store and two strip clubs.

        Mr. Milburn said the leases for those businesses expire in June, “and we probably won't be renewing them. We're looking at other things to do with the space.”

        The Sellses specialize in renovating older buildings in the downtown area and converting them to medium- to upper-range apartments, in the $450- to $700-a- month category.

        Mr. Milburn emphasized that the restoration and development of the Odd Fellows Hall building “could be a huge catalyst to a lot of the buildings in the immediate area, to signal further development. I believe in downtown, I live down here (Garrard Street) and I'm raising my family here. I want to make it a better place.”

        Lack of parking in the downtown business district had been considered a major deterrent to renovation and development, but that should change now that the city is moving ahead with plans for a 300-car parking garage at Fifth and Scott streets, just a block from the Odd Fellows Hall.


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