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NKU sparks building boom in Northern Kentucky

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Construction is expected to start in 2009 on a new arena and shopping and residential developments around Northern Kentucky University.

The 10,000-seat Bank of Kentucky Center and the growth at the university have kept developers interested, despite a sagging economy.

The Highland Heights Planning and Zoning board will most likely get Stage II plans for two shopping centers in the next three months.

The shopping centers are part of a construction boom along U.S. 27 near the university, some of which developers say will come to fruition in the coming year.

The Highland Heights City Council approved several projects earlier this year, including two retail developments and an apartment complex for 400 students. And a big-box store near the university that has been vacant for several years was torn down during the summer to make way for a retail/office development that might include a hotel.

One development is in the center of Highland Heights on a parcel of land known as "The Island," and the other is at the U.S. 27 and Interstate 471 interchange, said Steve Crawford, chair of Campbell County Planning and Zoning.

Construction on The Island, officially called Highland Crossing, will start in late spring and could have shops by the end of 2009, said Joe Hodge, a partner with the developer Edge Real Estate.

Edge is negotiating with five or six tenants that include restaurants, a medical user and retailers, even though some potential tenants have stopped discussions about moving into the area, Hodge said.

"Good real estate will still bring in good tenants," Hodge told The Kentucky Enquirer.

Towne Properties bought about 4 acres there to build three commercial buildings. Towne Properties transferred the development to Midland Retail to build and market, said Brad Austing, vice president of Towne Properties.

As for the big-box site, the NKU Foundation bought the property in 2000 and is working with developer Corporex on designs for it, said Foundation Executive Director Karen Zerhusen Kruer.

By the end of January, Kruer hopes to have feasibility and financing plans for the project complete.

"The good news is that we are moving forward in the current environment," Kruer said.

Collegiate Development has drawn up plans to develop 172 apartments for students on 10 acres owned by Asbury United Methodist Church near NKU, with construction set to begin next summer, said Brian Jones, vice president of development for Collegiate Development.

"The student housing business, I wouldn't say it is recession-proof, but it is more recession-resistant than other industries," Jones said. "Generally when the economy goes south, people go back to school."