Saturday, July 07, 2001

Roebling Row reels in renters

Downtown businesses benefit from complex

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — For Jeff Keys, the historic look of the Roebling Row apartments coupled with the convenience of living just three blocks from the Ohio riverfront proved to be an irresistible lure.

        Last November, the 33-year-old bank executive walked Covington's historic Licking-Riverside neighborhood, and opted to make Towne Properties' latest residential venture his home.

        “It's all nicely developed,” the Erlanger native said of the neighborhood's restored Victorian homes within walking distance of his Cincinnati workplace. “You can walk to downtown events like ball games and Oktoberfest, and there are lots of neighborhood restaurants nearby,” he said.

        In the year since ground was broken on the $10.5 million project, Mr. Keys has joined about 75 other prospective tenants — half from Cincinnati and half from Northern Kentucky — who have put their names on a waiting list for one of Roebling Row's 86 apartments.

        The project, which has been five years in the making, should see its first tenants in early fall, with leasing of the entire building projected for April 1 of next year, said Arn Bortz, a partner in the Mount Adams-based Towne Properties, which has specialized in urban housing and finding new uses for Greater Cincinnati's older buildings.

        “There aren't many locations in the region that have so much going for them,” Mr. Bortz said. “Three, four or five blocks to the north, you can walk to a ball game or work. Go a block or two to the east and you're in an historic district. And several blocks to the south, you have numerous restaurants to choose from.”

        Mr. Bortz is developing Roebling Row with his brother, Neil Bortz, and Marvin Rosenberg, co-founders of Towne Properties.

        Officials in Covington, which saw its population climb 0.2 percent according to the 2000 census, hope Roebling Row will be the first of many projects to help reverse a decades-old drop in the older river city's population.

        “I think it's going to bring an entire new generation to the city of young professionals who want to live and work in downtown Covington,” said Covington City Commissioner Alex Edmondson. “I also see it attracting empty nesters who don't want to deal with the hassles of taking care of yards any more. It's truly unique because we have not had a major inner-city, market-rate development like that in recent memory.”

        Covington City Manager Greg Jarvis agreed.

        “First of all, to do a high-quality project with Towne Properties' track record in housing is prestigious for the city in and of itself,” he said. “Beyond that, it's consistent with what our goals have been for years, having more people living in and around downtown. Having 86 units means we're going to have more people with disposable income who will be frequenting Covington's shops and restaurants.”

        The four-story, U-shaped development is taking shape on a 1.76-acre lot that once housed Bensons Inc. catering business and a city parking lot of about 55 spaces.

        Because the north and south buildings are separated by a fire wall and have their own fire suppression systems and elevators, developers hope to move the first tenants into the more complete south building in September, with the north building getting its first tenants in December.

        “(Roebling Row) fits in with the neighborhood and makes what was once a nearly empty corner more attractive,” said Charles King, president of the Historic Licking-Riverside Civic Association. “The only question that's been raised by some of the residents is how the parking will be handled, and I think they've tried to address that.”

        A total of 128 parking spaces will be provided, mostly through garages and a courtyard in the middle, Mr. Bortz said. There also will be newly created parking along an adjacent alley, along Third Street and the east side of Greenup Street.

        City officials are working with Towne Properties to blacktop and otherwise improve a public lot on the west side of Greenup Street.

        The city also gave Towne Properties a price break on its portion of the land, offered a partial property-tax abatement, is moving utility lines on the west side of the project and is making infrastructure improvements to the alley to the east of the building.

        “This is a great project to have in that area,” Covington Mayor Butch Callery said. “It shows we're a city on the move.”

        Roebling Row will include 70 two-bedroom and 16 one-bedroom apartments facing Second, Third and Greenup streets, and ranging in size from 919 square feet to 1,449 square feet. Monthly rents will range from $995 to $1,810.

        While the project is not being marketed for its river views, at least half of the historic-looking apartments feature panoramic skyline views, Mr. Bortz said.

        In keeping with the mid-19th century look of the adjacent Licking-Riverside neighborhood, the apartments will have varied roof heights and decorative cornices. Three brick colors will be incorporated into the design, along with a precast product resembling limestone, and 120 awnings will be randomly placed over windows.

        Despite their exterior historic appearance, all apartments will feature a more contemporary open floor plan, with numerous windows to let light in and walk-in closets. In the two-bedroom units, the bedrooms will be separated by the living area.

        All of the apartments are about 20 percent larger than conventional one- and two-bedroom apartments in Greater Cincinnati, Mr. Bortz said.

        “At the Gramercy (on Garfield), we learned people wanted larger apartments for all of their stuff,” Mr. Bortz said.

        About a week ago, Laurence Sparklin, 35, became the first person to reserve officially a Roebling Row apartment online.

        Mr. Sparklin said he was intrigued by the neighborhood's historic charm when he visited Riverside Drive soon after moving here three years ago.

        After checking out some of Towne Properties' other residential developments, Mr. Sparklin sent an e-mail to the developer to be put on the waiting list, when plans were announced for Roebling Row.

        “It reminded me very much of Philadelphia, where I had come from,” Mr. Sparklin said. “I like being able to walk to shows and great restaurants. I believe you can really take in the spirit of a city when you're able to walk most places.”


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