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Prep work on Covington IRS site intensifies

City Seeks Firms For Demolition, Environmental Hazards Removal

Bulldog Report

COVINGTON, Ky. – Three underground fuel tanks. A 3,000-gallon underground concrete “vault.” A sprawling one-story brick facility whose “footprint” stretches across most of 17 acres. Asbestos. Lots of asphalt.

And cavernous physical plant rooms filled with wires, compressors, greasy gears, generators, and valves – all the mechanics that make a federal government facility functioning and secure.

As it exists now, the shuttered former IRS processing complex that takes up 23 acres a block from the Ohio River in downtown Covington is in no shape for private development.

To make it conducive to that development – in other words, to prepare the way for the office buildings, retail shops, apartments, condos, plaza, and levee park envisioned in a conceptual master plan – the City of Covington on Thursday began the formal process of hiring two companies to demolish buildings on the site, tear up pavement, and remove environmental problems.

In essence, the two separate requests for qualifications (RFQs) begin the process of “removal.”

Images courtesy of the City of Covington

Similarly, the City will issue a third RFQ that will begin the process of “putting back.” That request will seek to hire an engineering design firm to simultaneously draw up designs for things like streets and utilities.

“A lot has been happening behind the scenes since the City acquired the property in August 2020,” City Manager David Johnston said. “Now we’re accelerating those efforts into a more visible and thus more exciting phase. We are wasting no time in turning this site into something magnificent.”

The bulk of the property sits just north of Fourth Street between Madison Avenue to the east and Johnson Street to the west, with an adjacent parking lot west of Johnson reaching the approach to the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.

Once the City’s largest employer, the IRS operated a tax-processing facility there for 52 years before closing in September 2019. The City began purchase negotiations in December of that year, came to agreement with the federal government in March 2020, authorized debt in May, and closed on the property in August.

The RFQ process – used for professional services contracts – puts emphasis on selecting qualified and experienced companies capable of tackling large and complex projects, with the cost of the contract determined after negotiations.

The two RFQs issued Thursday can be seen on the City’s procurement portal.

About the RFQs
· Site Demolition & Salvage Services – This RFQ seeks a company to tear down the sprawling building and the parking lot and sidewalks around it.

Johnston said the City wants a firm with at least 10 years’ experience in demolition and salvage in an urban core, including experience with large-scale projects, buildings owned by the federal government, and environmental contamination.

The interest is intense – he said firms began contacting the City ever since it started the process of buying the site.

The value of salvaged materials should be included in the proposed price for services. This could include recyclable stuff like copper wiring and metal, as well as reusable stuff like oak railings and HVAC equipment.

· Environmental remediation – This RFQ seeks a company to remove and mitigate environmental threats identified by environmental & engineering consultant ATC Group Services and geotech engineer Terracon.

These include the presence of asbestos in the building, three underground storage tanks (of 500 to 2,000 gallons), and the concrete vault, which is thought to have been used as an oil-water separator.

Johnston said the City hired ATC and Terracon because it needed to find out what environmental concerns might be lurking beneath the soil and to take care of them before marketing the site to private developers.

COVINGTON, Ky. – The newspaper clippings announcing the development of the IRS project are faded and fragile. The buildings that housed the IRS offices will soon also be just a part of Covington history.

“You have to remember two things: That construction of the facility in the mid-1960s predated the federal Clean Water Act and most environmental regulations, and that the site was pieced together from 160 parcels that had been home to a variety of industrial uses, including the manufacturing of X-ray equipment, sheet metal fabrication, a dry cleaning facility, and auto service stations,” Johnston said. “We couldn’t open the site up for development until we identified any environmental concerns that might be lurking below the surface.”

That process was thorough, he said. Using historical documents, aerial photos dating back to 1938, soil boring samples both new (down to 80 feet) and dating back to the 1960s, and groundwater samples, ATC and Terracon produced over 1,500 pages of reports between the two of them.

“It might not have looked like anything was happening at the site since the time we bought it, but behind the scenes there actually was a lot of intense work,” the City Manager said. “This is a long, strategic process.”

The demolition and environmental remediation firms will coordinate schedules to handle the removal of the asbestos in the main building, Johnston said.

The timeline for both services is the same: RFQ responses are due to the City by noon Feb. 25. Administrators will take about two weeks to evaluate the proposals and negotiate a price with the most qualified. And a proposed contract will be taken to the Covington Board of Commissioners for approval in March, with work expected to begin in late spring.

· Engineering & design services – Expected to be issued next week, this RFQ seeks a company to take the conceptual master plan created by the Cooper Carry global architecture and design firm and design specifications for the so-called “horizontal infrastructure.”

This includes streets and sidewalks, water, sanitary and storm sewers, gas and electric, and telecommunications.

The master plan includes the restoration of the street grid, sidewalks, a public plaza, a levee park, and parking areas – plus expanded utilities to support a mix of land uses, including office space, a hotel, apartments and condominiums, and the possible expansion of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

The ‘vision’
As spelled out in the conceptual plan, the goals underlying the City’s vision for the site include:
Jobs and tax revenue from a variety of workplace environments.
A mixture of uses and outdoor spaces.
A walkable and drivable street grid.
Enhanced connections to the Ohio River.
Integration with surrounding neighborhoods and business centers.
A flexible framework to accommodate market demand and proposals.

“There is no project more significant to the future of the City than the IRS project,” Mayor Joe Meyer said after Johnston finished his presentation to the Board of Commissioners at the January, 19 meeting.

City of Covington

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