Sunday, February 10, 2002

Newport Promenade's problems could cascade

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The threat of a lawsuit to block a city redevelopment plan for the Newport Promenade project could spell financial problems or worse for dozens of people who have contracts to sell their houses in the development area.

        Neyer Properties, the would-be developer of Newport Promenade,a $100 million residential and commercial venture on a hill above I-471, already has contracts to purchase 72 of the 85 homes needed for the project.

        At last Monday's Newport city commission meeting, attorney Bob Blau raised the specter of a lawsuit to block the redevelopment plan, which would allow the city to declare the area blighted and permit the use of eminent domain to acquire properties when the developer and the owner couldn't agree on a price.

        “We bought two houses on Kentucky Drive,” said Tom McQueen, who with his wife, Valerie, owns two homes at 1220 and 1228 Vine Street. He has contracts to sell both properties to Neyer for what he admits is a very good price.

        “We've already committed to the other properties,” he said. “If this were held up, we would be bankrupt. We love Newport and we want to stay here. This is a real bad situation.”

        Additionally, Mr. McQueen said some of the money from the sale of the two houses on Vine Street is earmarked for renovations to a storefront building he owns at 835 Monmouth Street which is to be converted to a beauty shop.

        Mr. Blau, who is representing Michael and Linda Tester, who live on Grand Avenue in the area where the commercial portion of Newport Promenade is to be built, told city commissioners that the area designated for the redevelopment plan did not meet the specifications of blighted as contained in the Kentucky state regulations outlining a redevelopment area.

        He was the attorney of record in a 1999 federal court case in which residents of a neighborhood in Highland Heights successfully thwarted that city's attempt to declare the area blighted.

        Newport Promenade is planned as a commercial development following the current Grand Avenue path, with several large anchor stores, smaller shops and possibly three new restaurants. The project also calls for 52 single-family houses in the $300,000-$500,000 price range on top of the hill. The development area is bordered by I-471, 10th Street, Vine Street and Park Avenue, and Grand Avenue-Carothers Road.

        “I can't believe he's comparing that (Highland Heights) neighborhood to this one,” said Dorothy Ewing, who lives at 1246 Vine St., and also has a contract with Neyer to buy her home. “It's a completely different area. We have dozens of houses here with bad foundations, cracks and leaks, and other problems.”

        Mrs. Ewing, 75, said she bought the house on Vine Street “to live in for the rest of my life. But when the (developer) wanted it, and they made me an offer, I was ready to sell.”

        She has already closed on a house in Fort Thomas, and said any lengthy delay in closing on the Vine Street property could cause her a financial setback.

        “I expected to be out of here before now,” she said. “I'm upset. I looked at the house those people (Testers) have, before I bought this one. They're just money hungry ... they want more than what they've been offered.”

        Realtor Jim McCord, who is handling the purchases for Neyer, said a couple that owns a house at 1167 Park Avenue could lose it if the sale is held up for any length of time.

        “Bill and Wanda Mumphrey live out in the country, and they rent the house on Park,” Mr. McCord said. “They can't rent the house now because no one wants to go in there knowing they might have to move right back out in a month or so. The Mumphreys need the rent to pay the mortgage on that house. They can't afford two mortgages any other way. If this sale is stopped by a suit, they could lose the house to foreclosure.”


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