Thursday, August 12, 1999

RiverCenter begins Madison Place addition

Butler overseesanother office complex

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When he thinks his mouth is about to get him in trouble, Bill Butler chuckles to himself.

        And right now, the CEO of Corporex Cos. Inc. is chuckling. It's just hours before the groundbreaking of Madison Place on Wednesday. The lieutenant governor of Kentucky is coming, and Corporex is dispatching a jet to Alabama to make sure someone from SouthTrust, the lead lender on the $50 million office-condominium tower, will be in attendance.

        When asked what priori ties Covington needs to set, Mr. Butler chuckles and measures his words.

        “The big issue is whether or not the people who run Covington can take what we've started and move it in a southward direction, up Madison and Scott streets to redevelop the inner city. The question is whether they have the will to do so.”

        Mr. Butler can question the will of others: His determination helped turn a downtrodden area of Covington into a high-profile minicity that houses Fortune 500 companies.

        What Corporex started was RiverCenter, an office complex on Covington's riverfront that's helped establish Northern Kentucky as a major business address in Greater Cincinnati.

        It's a classic they-said-it-couldn't-be-done story. Kick-started with government subsidies, construction began in 1988 as the nation was heading toward recession. The first tower opened in 1990, in the midst of a real estate depression.

        Today, there are two towers with more than 850,000 square feet of office space, with such tenants as the Ashland and Omnicare headquarters. Two hotels offer 550 rooms. The 16-story Madison Place will take RiverCenter to more than 1 million square feet of office space, and there's room for three more towers. Total investment so far tops $225 million.

        “This is not a standalone building,” said Robert MacLachlan, Corporex's vice president for sales, leasing and marketing. The hotels, the restaurants and other services make it a business community.

        It was never easy. Corporex courted 50 banks before it found financing to start RiverCenter. Mr. Butler frequently butted heads with city officials and others over his projects.

        And then there was the criminal investigation. Mr. Butler was cleared of wrongdoing in bidding irregularities for a Covington courthouse and garage near RiverCenter. “The results (of the investigation) speak for themselves,” he said Wednesday, but it's clear that he harbors some bitterness over the episode.

        Mr. Butler thinks it'll take six to eight more years to build out RiverCenter. And while it's been a boon to Covington, he feels it's also helped downtown Cincinnati.

        “It's important that the south bank have a positive appearance for the benefit of the area to the north,” he said. RiverCenter “enhanced the CBD (Cincinnati's central business district) and gave it new life.”

        He chuckles. “That life isn't there right now,” he says. “It's here.”


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