The former Value City and Burlington store locations in the Latonia Plaza II will be renovated to house two rapidly growing and related firms.
ReGadget and Blair Technology Group announced in a virtual press conference with the city of Covington their plans to invest $7 million into a new work space that begins a shift for Latonia from a retail-centric economy that has slowed in recent decades, to one that is more professional office-oriented.
"This will deliver a jolt of energy to one of Covington's largest neighborhoods, creating jobs, excitement and day-time traffic," Mayor Joe Meyer said.
The city of Covington began conversations in 2017 with the Schottenstein Group, the Columbus, Ohio-based owner of the shopping centers in Latonia, about what the future could hold for them as vacancy rates increased. With Burlington's relocation to Newport, there were no large anchors left at Latonia Plaza II.
Andy Blair, founder of Blair Technologies, said that his company was growing fast inside another former Latonia shopping icon-turned-office space, Johnny's Toys. He and Kurt Reynolds, both co-founders of Florence-based ReGadget, needed more room to house the increasing roster of employers.
They formed CovTech to purchase the former Burlington and Value City spaces from Schottenstein. Combined, the properties encompass around 200,000-sq. ft.
"We're taking over the property right now, and people will start seeing activity there immediately," said Reynolds, co-owner of Florence-based ReGadget and chief financial officer of Blair Technology Group. "We're excited to be bringing back business and jobs to Latonia."
Both companies will have workers on the new site, though Blair will maintain its presence at the old Johnny's Toys. There will also be plenty of space for additional companies to locate inside the former big box stores, too, Blair said.
ReGadget provides educational-based computer equipment such as Chromebooks and Apple products to both students and school systems. The demand for affordable technology has pushed ReGadget to over 100% growth year after year, Reynolds said.
ReGadget will move its operations and 24 employees to the new location, add at least 10 employees immediately and eventually add 40-50 employees more over the next few years, Reynolds said. The new jobs will include computer technicians, managers, and sales, and customer service staff.
Blair Tech, the nation's number-one authorized refurbisher of Microsoft products, Blair said, will expand its operations by moving several departments into the new space. The company is quickly outgrowing its current headquarters in the former Johnny's Toys location on Howard Litzler Drive, where it's been since 2013. Its headquarters and retail store, Tech Castle, will remain there.
Blair Tech recently announced plans to add 30-40 employees, said Blair, who is co-owner with Reynolds of ReGadget.
The company specializes in delivering high-quality, renewed laptops and desktops, which it sells primarily through eCommerce. Most recently, Blair has also launched an up-and-coming PC Gaming brand called Periphio that has been ranked as the top release in the computer category on Amazon and ranked as one of the top five gaming computers of 2020.
"Blair Tech is an aggressive and rapidly expanding business and thrilled to be a part of Latonia's renaissance," Blair said.
Blair said the remaining vacant space will be remodeled with a focus on today's business needs and tomorrow's environmental needs. The current "big box" space will be transformed into a variety of spaces for both small and large businesses to use. Polished floors, modern work spaces, shared break space and a cafe, creative thinking space, solar panels, trees and plants will not only attract forward-thinking businesses but will also create a carbon-friendly footprint for the environment, he said.
Blair said the company has already begun focused marketing to prospective tenants and will ramp up marketing efforts soon.
Among with the internal renovation, CovTech Investments plans a substantial modernization of the exterior of the building and new landscaping to the parking lot. The companies are working with Covingotn-based architecture firm Hub + Weber on design.
CovTech Investments will be applying to the City of Covington for a forgivable façade improvement loan. ReGadget will be applying for a payroll tax incentive as the local match for an incentive from the state Kentucky Business Investment (KBI) program, for which it's receiving help from the Northern Kentucky economic development agency Tri-ED.
Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said bringing new life to the Latonia shopping center had been a City goal for decades and said City officials had been working with Blair and Reynolds for well over a year.
West and Mayor Meyer said that conversations are ongoing with the Schottenstein Group about further redevelopment of the shopping center site that the Columbus-based company still owns.
West suggested that there is a precedent set by the economic development in downtown Covington.
"If you take the giant pebble dropped into downtown development when Hotel Covington came online, I think we have the potential here with what CovTech is going to do with this major asset in the Latonia area to drop just as large a pebble in the Latonia pond and create a ripple effect to see additional reinvestment of the Latonia area as we saw with Hotel Covington downtown," West said.
Tri-ED also welcomed the news of the development in Latonia.
"We are heartened to see ReGadget moving forward, investing money in buying and renovating a building in Covington, and creating new jobs during an uncertain time for our economy," shared Lee Crume, Tri-ED's president & CEO.
"This move is a foundation for a whole new economic purpose for Latonia as it shifts away from a retail model to a tech model that is much more future-oriented," Mayor Meyer said. "We are very optimistic that this investment will lead to significant other investments and building on what has already been accomplished by so many other people in Latonia."
The mayor noted that it "also adds some energy to the decision by Rumpke to relocate 50 of its office staff from Butler, Kentucky to Latonia a block or two away from the shopping center."
"It's momentum building on existing momentum for a really bright future," Meyer said.