COVINGTON, Ky. — The “Value City” and “Burlington” signs have been taken down. Soon, helped by a city incentive, a redesigned façade featuring a large “K” will signal the new use for the 193,000-s.f. space that for decades housed big-box retail in the strip shopping center along Winston Highway in Latonia.
Having bought the building last year, Keller Logistics Group is moving its warehousing and co-packing operations from its Madison Pike location as part of a $11.48 million project that will see the company expand its $2.8 million payroll by $1.2 million by creating the equivalent of 25 more full-time positions.
As part of a $3.5 million renovation, the company is also doing about $350,000 worth of work to the building’s exterior, including new signs, redesigning the entrance, painting, and landscaping the massive parking lot.
To help encourage the exterior improvements, the City of Covington has awarded a façade loan of $87,410 that’s forgivable after three years.
The Covington Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night approved a staff recommendation for the loan.
Economic Development Director Tom West said the façade improvements at 4101 Winston Ave. weren’t necessary for the company’s operations but were indicative of its collaborative spirit and recognition of the city’s evolving vision for the long-stagnant center.
“The return on investment related to improving that façade is not just something you can put on your spreadsheet,” West said. “It sends a signal in Latonia that, No. 1, the City is committed to that area and that, No. 2, a shopping center that’s been very ‘tired’ for a number of years is going through a change now – getting away from retail and into more industrial and commerce uses.”
Keller’s operations in Latonia will be primarily to take bulk-packaged food and beverage products and repack them into smaller configurations while also repacking them into variety/multi-flavor packages for retail sale, said Nate Schaublin, president and C.O.O. The company also does assembly, kitting, inspection, and distribution projects for its customers.
“Keller’s goal through this entire endeavor has been to convert this property into a place where we can plant our flag to let both our customers and employees know we are in it for the long haul to generate additional business and long-term jobs,” Schaublin said.
West reassured the Commission of protections built into the façade loan terms: the money is paid as a reimbursement after the improvements are made, and the $1.2 million in additional payroll must be maintained through three years.
Historically the site of the Latonia Race Track, the land along Winston Highway was redeveloped into a retail strip center by Columbus, Ohio-based Schottenstein Property Group with the first stores opening in 1964. But in recent decades the rise of malls in suburban communities sapped the center’s energy, and parts of it have sat vacant or underutilized for years.
The center actually consists of two separate parcels, and the future of those is distinct if parallel.
Latonia Plaza I on the northern end is a row of storefronts that sit a little further back. Over the years it has housed stores like Twin Fair, Meijer, Arlen’s, CitiTrends, and Big!Lots. A group of Investors led by developer Josh Niederhelman bought the property in 2021 from Schottenstein, plus industrial-zoned land behind it, and now calls the area the Latonia Commerce Center. The center features a dark blue roof façade, courtesy of the new ownership.
The Enzweiler Building Institute recently opened a construction trades school – and classrooms for the Covington Academy of Heritage Trades – at 3923 Winston Ave.
More announcements about the Commerce Center and the land behind it are expected soon.
Latonia Plaza II, where Keller is moving, is the “big box space” that used to be divided into two spaces. One side housed the Value City department store until the chain declared bankruptcy in 2008 and Burlington Coat Factory moved in (until it too closed in 2019). The adjacent space housed Value City Furniture until it closed in summer 2013.
ReGadget and Blair Technology Group – two local computer firms with national reputations – bought the combined building from Schottenstein in 2020. They renovated and moved into the building and announced plans to make major exterior upgrades during the early throes of the pandemic. But they later determined they didn’t need the space for their operations and moved back into the old Johnny’s Toys space on Howard Litzler Drive and sold the building in June 2022 to Keller.