Waterfront Living Becomes a Reality in a River City

“Rivers flow not past, but through us; tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.” – John Muir


We may be a river city, but there are surprisingly few residential developments along the Ohio River that are actually on the river. That is changing with Manhattan Harbour, a transformative residential development in Dayton, Kentucky, that will give residents a true connection to the lazy Ohio.

Developer Brendan Sullivan has built dozens of projects on the water, but one of the Midwest’s most experienced developers says it’s rare to find a site where residents will be this close to the water.

“This is the most prime piece of property I have ever seen on a river. It is a mile and a half of uninterrupted property. This is river frontage,” Sullivan says about the three separate developments of apartments and condos he is undertaking.

Echoing John Muir’s musings about the mantra of a river, Sullivan feels people will be able to make a true connection to river life practically from their living rooms.

“That’s what makes it so different from other developments along a river – they may sit on top of a bluff. This development will be interacting with the river. There is an interconnectivity between our development and the river.”

Dayton, Kentucky is joining the ranks alongside OTR and East Walnut Hills as one of the region’s communities that is in the midst of a renaissance. Over a decade in the works, the mile-long Manhattan Harbour has steadily gained momentum. Dayton officials say eventually the river stretch should attract close to $500 million in development.

The key to the development that finally attracted entrepreneurs like Sullivan was the millions of cubic feet of dirt brought in from 2012-2015 to raise the riverfront 22 feet, bringing it above the flood plain. The effort made living between the flood wall and the river bank feasible.

Sullivan, along with partner Miles Scully, were the first to step forward with wide-ranging plans for multi-family apartment and condo developments. Their projects are coming in three stages that will result in a mix of apartments, condos and rent-to-own units:

•    Gateway Flats is a six-story (two floors for parking) 76-unit luxury apartment complex nearing completion, to begin renting in late summer. Located just south of the levee near Manhattan Harbour’s west entrance, units range in size from 750 to 1,350 square feet.

All the apartments have river views and all residents will have access to a shared rooftop equipped with outdoor grills, pergolas and kitchen areas with refrigerators and seating. There will be a landscaped space atop the levee where Gateway Flats sits, with easy access to the Riverfront Commons hiking trail.

What’s to be called River Commons and Boulevard Flats will feature a series of condominiums in adjacent developments at the western end of Manhattan Harbour across from Gateway Flats. All of the units are literally on the river banks, all with river views, with the proposed riverwalk trail steps from the front door. The development is a series of 16 condominium units in structures ranging from duplexes to four-family and 12-family, with up to 1,950 square feet. Construction is set to start this summer with first occupancy available in spring of 2020.

•    A third, as yet unnamed, development is proposed further east on Manhattan Boulevard in what’s known as the Narrows and Commons tracts. It will also feature a series of multi-family condo units hugging the river bank.


Lease, Equity, Purchase Program

Sullivan says a unique financing feature of all his developments is aimed at helping those enter the condo market who may not have the down payment.

“We are using developer-assisted financing. We understand the hardship it can be to come up with a down payment these days,” Sullivan says. “We are trying to interact with the buyer to make the transition from a rental to an owned unit simple, so it can happen without a huge down payment.”

Sullivan’s Lease, Equity, Purchase Program financing will roll a developer loan as a down payment into the lease terms. In a similar plan, Sullivan will offer tenants in the Gateway Flats apartments the opportunity to later purchase and move to one of the riverbank condo developments by offering a financing plan where a portion of lease payments can be applied as a down payment toward a future purchase.

The first 16 units in the River Commons and Boulevard Flats projects are going for sale soon. “Interest in the project is high,” says Debbie Robke of Scarlett Realty/Keller Williams. “Twenty-five percent of these units are pre-sold.”


A Dayton Renaissance

Dayton officials say the Manhattan Harbour development is leading to a major comeback for the Kentucky river town.    

“Manhattan Harbour is finally starting to snowball. It’s been a long time in the making,” says Mike Giffen, Dayton city manager. “It’s very important to the city. It won’t make or break the city, but we are going to leverage it to make the city even better.”

What they are bringing, first and foremost, is people. After all, Dayton once had a population of 10,000 residents, but thousands were displaced with construction of the flood wall over 30 years ago. Now with a population of just over 5,000, a development that could bring in hundreds of people could have an immediate impact.

“The planned developments total some 340 units under construction coming online in the next year or so. That’s 500-600 people added to a community of 5,000. It’s a huge economic driver. The city has gotten out ahead of this and put substantial investment into our business district,” Giffen says. “It may be close to a thousand new people in the community by the time it’s all said and done in the next decade. When you grow a population from 5,000 to 6,000 and beyond, that’s huge. That’s 20 percent.”

Giffen says the community has seen an influx of younger families moving back into the city because of the highly-regarded Dayton school system, now statistically ranked in the upper two-thirds of the state and is the only distinguished school district among the five river cities.

“The district has made substantial leaps and consequently we have seen more families move in who plan to stay,” says Giffen.

The Manhattan Harbour condo development was a nice fit with the already diverse housing market in Dayton, Giffen notes. The city has a mix of older homes – many of which are being purchased and renovated – with a sprinkling of river mansions and traditional suburban neighborhoods. “It’s a little of everything and you can see downtown Cincinnati from many parts of the city.”


A River Walk Runs Through It

One of the main attractions of the Manhattan Harbour district is the river walk trail that will literally run through the heart of the development, helping to complete that connectedness with the Ohio River, which is so unique to this river bank project.

One of the great things about this project is that you can do a three-and-a-half mile loop and experience waterfront living at its finest without leaving the site. This is a major lifestyle investment being made in the region, which will total approximately $30 million, for which the funding is almost complete.

Or you can take the trek all the way to Ludlow when the trail is completed. Northern Kentucky development agency, Southbank Partners, has developed what’s called Riverfront Commons, the 11.5-mile trail which will eventually connect Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton and Fort Thomas. The trail, mostly along the river bank, features paths – some as wide as 15-20 feet – and connects at several points to existing trails at the top of the riverside levees.

Riverfront Commons will accommodate walkers, joggers and bikers, as well as provide access points to launch kayaks and canoes. The trail also provides easy linkage to the residential neighborhoods and business, entertainment and historic districts in these cities. 


The Gateway Flats at Manhattan Harbour is expected to begin leasing in late summer. The Boulevard Flats and The River Commons are to begin construction in late summer with pre-sales/leasing now underway. For more information, call Debbie Robke at 859.462.3872