COVINGTON, Ky. – Almost 55 years after it opened and two-and-a-half years after it closed, the sprawling IRS data processing facility in downtown Covington will soon cease to exist.
The Covington Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night voted 5-0 to hire O’Rourke Wrecking Co. of Cincinnati to demolish the sprawling one-story “Flat Top” complex, rip up the asphalt and concrete pavement laid throughout its 23 acres, and remediate environmental problems related to hazardous materials.
The work – set to begin next month – will represent a big and very visible phase of what’s called the Covington Central Riverfront Project.
A few years in the planning and legal wrangling, the city’s plan seeks to replace what was once its biggest employer with a completely reimagined neighborhood that includes a restored street grid, a levee park, a community plaza for festivals, and a mixture of buildings containing offices, retail shops, and places to live.
“Everything about this site is incredible – its history, its impact on families’ lives and the city’s finances over the decades, its massive geographic imprint, and now, its future,” Covington City Manager Ken Smith said. “We can’t wait to see these 23 acres transformed.”
O’Rourke was one of 15 companies to respond to a request for proposals issued Nov. 30, 2021, and the Cincinnati-based company was selected from a list of four finalists who made it to the next stage of the selection process.
The contract – for $1,293,795 – calls for work to be finished by Oct. 7, barring unusual weather delays.
The current timeline says O’Rourke will begin setting up operations and mobilizing equipment March 2, with initial work to focus on removing asbestos from the sprawling complex and excavating one of the three underground storage tanks, this one on the eastern edge of the site.
Demolition of the building itself would start April 12, although that date could change, said Bo Hubbard, a construction advisory director with J.S. Held, the company hired by the city to manage and coordinate the project’s budget, schedule, safety, contracts, compliance, demolition, and construction.
“A project of this size has many complex layers and challenges,” Hubbard said. “The removal of hazardous materials and underground storage tanks is not a task to be taken lightly. One of the biggest challenges this project team faces is the impact on the community. We want to ensure the demolition phase of the project has as little impact as possible on Covington’s residents, businesses, and visitors.”
Among additional challenges: Working to preserve as long as possible the ability of Covington company Gravity Diagnostics to continue free, drive-thru testing during the COVID-19 pandemic on the part of the site west of Russell Street. The city will work with Gravity to find another location for the testing if needed.
The bulk of the IRS complex lies just north of Fourth Street between Madison Avenue to the east and Johnson Street to the west, with the adjacent parking lot west of Johnson reaching the approach to the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. Its size and location – just a block south of the Ohio River and adjacent to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center – has attracted intense interest from commercial real estate developers from around the country.
Smith said O’Rourke was recommended for approval to the commission for several reasons: The company’s bid was competitive, it was the most experienced, and – being based locally – it was most flexible in scheduling the work, including the possibility of weekends.
O’Rourke officials said they recognized the importance of the site to Covington’s future.
“O’Rourke is proud to partner with the city and J.S. Held to leverage our skillset for the demolition and site recovery of the former IRS facility on what will be a transformative project for the local community,” CEO Michele O’Rourke said. “We look forward to starting the work and taking the first step in the redevelopment of this critical parcel of property.”
The company will perform a variety of tasks, including:
- Removing environmental hazards. Some are connected to the former tax preparation facility, and some are tied to previous commercial operations on the 161 properties that were cobbled together to create the site in the 1960s. Hazards include asbestos that is prevalent in walls, floors, and insulation in the sprawling one-story complex … three underground fuel tanks (500-gallon, 1,000-gallon, and 2,000-gallon) … an underground 3,000-gallon storage “vault” that was believed to be used for separating water and oil … and lead paint, miscellaneous chemicals, transformers, refrigerants, and mercury-containing devices.
- Salvage. The City has “claimed” some items, such as decorative metal signs, perimeter black metal picket fencing, the cornerstone, and metal handrails. Other materials that can be reused, sold, or recycled will be done so by O’Rourke.
- Demolition. This includes buildings, adjacent structures, landscaping, concrete tunnels, sidewalks, and pavement.
- Site regrading and backfill.
As demolition and abatement work proceeds, the city will be selecting and hiring an engineering firm to design the new “horizontal infrastructure” on the site, including streets, sidewalks, and utilities, Smith said.
Meanwhile, Covington continues to work with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to seek final approval of a tax-increment financing agreement that would allow future state tax revenues to pay a substantial cost of preparing the site for private development.
A conceptual plan created by Atlanta-based consultant Cooper Carry and presented to the Board of Commissioners calls for a restored street grid; a levee park; a community plaza for festivals; a mixture of buildings containing offices, retail shops, hotels, and residential units; and expansion of the adjacent Northern Kentucky Convention Center.
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