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Construction: Northern Kentucky’s $5 Billion Mile

A cluster of generational projects on the riverfront is keeping construction companies busy

By Mark Green

Northern Kentucky’s Cincinnati-facing urban riverfront has begun one of the densest concentrations of construction action in the country, a cluster of long-sought and generational projects that inspired Covington Economic Development Director Tom West to dub the area “The $5 Billion Mile.” West, in fact, has a PowerPoint by that name.

Four projects comprise the burst of activity that is invigorating the infrastructure, landscape and economies of Covington and Newport. They are a massive shot in the arm for a construction sector that is growing new workforce and skills as it dives ever deeper into transformative projects expected to bring ongoing development to Northern Kentucky for the rest of this decade and beyond. Dozens of construction companies—local, regional and national—are or will be required to complete some of the most complex projects in the region’s history.

  • The Brent Spence Bridge Project will add a companion Ohio River crossing for I-71 and I-75 and local traffic, affecting 8 miles of approaches, interchanges and infrastructure.
  • Ovation, a 25-acre multiuse development of office, residential, hotel, retail and event space in Newport.
  • The Central Covington Riverfront project is a 23-acre redevelopment of the former IRS processing center campus.
  • OneNKY Center, a new building that will house all of Northern Kentucky’s major growth organizations.

Furthest along is the $1 billion-plus multiuse Ovation project in Newport, a private investment by local developer Corporex. It is creating an urban community unto itself on 25 acres at the southeast intersection of the Ohio and Licking River with prime views of downtown Cincinnati.

Ovation will have 1,000-plus residential units (condos and apartments); 500,000 s.f. of office space; multiple hotels; 150,000 s.f. of retail and entertainment space; surface and underground parking; and access to a private-membership social, health and wellness club.

Having already built Covington’s most prominent modern riverfront structures over the past several decades, Corporex is the master developer of the Ovation project. It is the largest nonindustrial private project in Northern Kentucky history and was initially announced more than 15 years ago, before the Great Recession of 2008 knocked projects off track around the world.

Tom Banta, chief real estate officer for Corporex, has been with the company for 36 years. When asked to characterize the impact of Ovation, a project that has been many years in the making, Banta reaches for words such as “transformative vision.” He agrees with descriptions of Ovation as an anchor for further Northern Kentucky development.

Commercial and residential Ovation property buyers from not just Ohio but California, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada certainly believe in the vision of a prosperous Northern Kentucky, Banta said.

“People are returning to the urban areas,” he said. “They want walkable communities. They want amenity-rich developments where everything is convenient and walkable, and this caters to that. Frankly, we made quality of life at the forefront of what we are creating here.”

Around 100,000 s.f. of completed office space is mostly leased now. Corporex, which has projects in 22 states, first completed the MegaCorp Pavilion venue in August 2021. The venue can accommodate up to 2,700 people for indoor events and 7,000 for outdoor shows.

Ovation will eventually have 125,000 s.f. of retail space, more than 500,000 s.f. of Class A office space, and at least three hotels. It will have several thousand parking spaces, most in the lower foundational structure levels.

“Everything we’re building down there is built on parking structures,” Banta said. “Because you have to build the parking structures first, you have to anticipate and design all the structures that go on top. Even if you’re not going to build them for two or three or four years, you have to anticipate it and put the foundations in place for those buildings.”

Corporex estimates Ovation construction involves 4,400 direct jobs and another 3,800 indirect jobs and is creating a ripple effect of expertise and skills growth for the region’s construction sector. While national companies are performing some of the contracts, there is not outside workforce involved, Banta said.

Monumental bridge project

Meanwhile, even larger in dollar terms is the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor (BSBC) project, the largest construction undertaking of any kind in Northern Kentucky history. Upgrading the 60-year-old bridge has topped the region’s wish list for 15 years. Long beyond its designed capacity to carry Interstate 75 and Interstate 71 traffic across the Ohio River, this $3.6 billion megaproject has $1.6 billion in federal dollars committed through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that emerged from Washington in 2022.

Some 3-5% of U.S. gross domestic product flows across the Brent Spence annually but gets backed up—usually to a standstill—every rush hour. The American Transportation Research Institute in February rated it as the 14th worst truck traffic chokepoint in the United States. Others have ranked it in the top 10 or even top five.

Current planning and traffic analyses indicate that additional capacity is needed to support more efficient national, regional and local travel for drivers who use I-71/75. The BSBC project includes 5 miles of roadway improvements on I-71/75 in Kentucky, 3 miles of roadway improvements on I-75 in Ohio and updates to the existing Brent Spence in addition to a new companion bridge.

Designers and planners are now finalizing blueprints for the companion structure for interstate traffic just west of the current double-decker bridge. Getting there requires reconfiguring and building major new highway approaches on both sides of the Ohio, major utility changes and creating buffer space.

The existing bridge will be used to carry the local traffic entering and/or exiting the interstate in Cincinnati and/or Covington, thus separating local traffic from regional and national travel across the river. This separation will also improve safety and support better access to the Covington and Cincinnati business districts.

The BSBC project represents a historic federal investment in the region and brings the opportunity for unprecedented involvement by dozens of contractors and suppliers. It includes participation by small, minority and women-owned businesses certified as Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) firms in Ohio and Kentucky, as well as tremendous workforce development opportunities for all.

BSBC is being built by the Walsh Kokoshing Joint Venture formed by Walsh Construction, of Chicago, and Kokoshing Construction, of the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Westerville. Walsh had a major role in the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville while Kokoshing has a long history filled with major transport, industrial and marine projects, including 2023’s record-fast repair of the Brent Spence after an intense traffic accident fireball damaged it.

Dozens of subcontractors will get BSBC work. The DBE goal for Phase 1 of the BSBC project is 9% percent; the draft target for Phase 2 is 7% percent, which will be established closer to construction. The project also has an on-the-job training target of 15%, which will also be established closer to construction.

The project will open opportunity to invest in local businesses and grow the workforce while improving safety and travel along one of the nation’s most important corridors for commerce and freight.

In addition to improving access to the Covington and Cincinnati business districts, Cincinnati and western neighborhoods will be better connected with new and improved bike and pedestrian paths for local streets.

Both states will address stormwater runoff issues as part of this project to reduce flooding and combined sewer overflows. Noise walls will be built in multiple locations to reduce sound levels throughout the corridor. The project will fund measures to offset impacts and add amenities in parks in Kentucky and Ohio.

Construction is expected to begin in late 2024 with substantial completion expected by 2029.

“The bridge project and continued development of CVG (Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport) are critical to this vision (of regional growth),” said Paul Hemmer, CEO of Paul Hemmer Co., a century-old builder based in Fort Mitchell, Ky. “Now that the access points to the interstate are defined, the development activity will continue to evolve in Covington and Newport. The Ovation project is already well underway, and the Covington projects are starting. What makes this unique is the partnership between the public and private investment; these are key to maintaining relevance. Both cities are bringing new energy and life to the urban core. I expect these to create generational changes.”

Central Covington Riverfront

Covington officials in February were assessing request-for-proposal submissions to rebuild the city street grid on the 23 acres the Internal Revenue Service occupied for six decades.

Tom West, Covington’s economic development director, said the area—which is roughly four blocks wide and reaching about four blocks in from the riverfront—will be offered for redevelopment in as many as 50 individual parcels rather than in one block that might have a uniform appearance as an end result.

“We’re hopeful that the Phase 1 infrastructure can be completed in less than a year; at the latest, early next year,” West said. “That includes putting in a new sanitary sewer line, all of the storm water, the water, gas, electricity, communications, streets, alleys, sidewalks and a green space.”

The Northern Kentucky Convention Center adjoining the northeast corner of the property is slated to get 1.7 acres so that it can expand.

For the rest of the property, West said, “We’re going to weave this back into the urban fabric.”

There is a high interest level from potential developers, ranging from large national operators to very small local interests.

“One of the benefits to doing these parcel sizes like this is we can make sure that there are opportunities for developers of all scales and types to be involved,” West said. “I think you’re going to see significant work done within the next three years. For the whole thing to be built out, you’re probably in the five- to six-year range from now.”

Covington paid more than $20 million for the property and spent $4.5 million on demolition to prepare the property for its pending resurrection, which will include hundreds of millions of investment for commercial and residential projects.


A smaller project but one with high visibility is the OneNKY Center project that Paul Hemmer Co. is building on the west riverfront corner of the Licking and Ohio rivers. The $26 million project is creating an office building that will house most of Northern Kentucky’s growth organizations, such as the NKY Chamber of Commerce, meetNKY, OneNKY Alliance, The Catalytic Fund of Northern Kentucky, BE NKY Growth Partnership, Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky and the Northern Kentucky Bar Association.

It also will house the offices of the Northern Kentucky Port Authority, a multijurisdictional Port Authority under Kentucky statute founded in 1968 by Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. The NKY Port owns the OneNKY Center and hired Corporex as development and construction manager. Corporex hired Hemmer Construction Co.

Mark Green is editorial director of The Lane Report. Contact him at [email protected]