Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Newport commissioners revive shopping center plan

By Travis Gettys
Enquirer contributor

NEWPORT - A stalled plan to develop a shopping center moved forward after city commissioners voted unanimously Monday to pursue an agreement with Bear Creek Capital.

The Montgomery-based developer will study plans for the site for 90 days while Newport officials work out details of a $92 million industrial revenue bond to finance the project, which could include upscale rental properties.

Bear Creek Capital would be responsible for paying off the bond, in lieu of paying property taxes on the 56-acre site, which overlooks Interstate 471 between 10th Street and Carothers Road.

The development would likely include a grocery store and at least one "big box" retailer, which could be a department store or home improvement store, said Greg Scheper, who's in charge of acquisitions and governmental affairs for Bear Creek Capital.

The city spent $12 million acquiring land for the project after Neyer Properties backed out of the commercial development in the Cote Brilliant neighborhood, near Grand Avenue.

City officials voted in 2002 to buy the properties after many homeowners had reached an agreement to sell to the Evendale developer, which continued to build upscale housing in the area.

Eight homeowners sued the city, saying that Newport inappropriately declared their neighborhood a blighted area, which allows the use of eminent domain under Kentucky law.

Circuit Judge Leonard Kopowski ruled that Newport can use eminent domain to acquire the remaining houses, but attorneys for the homeowners filed an appeal last month.

"They want to protect their rights as a property owner," said Cold Spring attorney Robert Blau, who represents the residents.

City Administrator Phil Ciafardini said the legal uncertainty would not hold up the project, adding that Newport would use eminent domain if an agreement to purchase cannot be reached with the remaining homeowners.

"It's in the best interests of all of us to sit down and resolve this," Ciafardini said.

Attorneys hired by the city and Bear Creek Capital will seek approval for the project from a state committee next month, and if the developer decides to continue after the 90-day period, it must pay Newport a $100,000 nonrefundable deposit.

The developer hopes to gain approval in March to begin construction and has set a July 2006 target for completion, Ciafardini said.

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