Hotel Covington developer proposes hotel, restaurant at Lunken Airport Terminal, and a return to ‘former glory’

Cincinnati’s historic Lunken Airport terminal could be transformed into a high-end hotel and restaurant, under plans obtained by The Enquirer through a public records request.

The developers of Hotel Covington and its restaurant Coppin’s hope to expand on the Ohio side of the river with a new hotel and restaurant in the Cincinnati Municipal Airport building, the site of the former Sky Galley restaurant, a proposal submitted to the city shows.

The idea is to restore the building to its historic art deco glory, while maintaining the airport’s operations, said Guy van Rooyen, whose company van Rooyen Group LLC, submitted the proposal.

Covington corner project: Hotel, bourbon experience

“We don’t just view it as a building,” van Rooyen said. “We want to bring it back to being a destination.”

Van Rooyen said was interested in bringing the airport terminal back to life even before the Sky Galley closed last year.

The city of Cincinnati sought ideas for what to put in the former restaurant space and got back one idea. It’s a nearly $20 million, privately-financed project and van Rooyen hopes the city of Cincinnati won’t just be the landlord, but will help with tax incentives.

Those talks haven’t started yet. Right now the development company is working with federal agencies on flood plain and aviation issues.

A rooftop bar, and a takeout window

It’s exactly the kind of plan city officials were hoping for. It would feature a proven developer who has already created a popular restaurant and hotel.

The plans call for a 50-room, “first-class hotel” and a 100-seat restaurant and bar with indoor and outdoor dining, as well as a 50-person capacity separate event space. The restaurant would be similar to Coppin’s Restaurant, with what van Rooyen described as “great, but not stuffy food.” Plus, there would be a walk-up window for bike riders looking to picnic.

The project comes as Hamilton County Great Parks works to extend the Little Miami Scenic Trail, tying it into the Lunken Airport trail and Ohio River Trail to downtown Cincinnati.

Under the plan, the terminal would have landscaped grounds and feature a rooftop bar.

The city of Cincinnati owns the building and would have to approve the idea. The plan will also be vetted at the Lunken Airport Oversight & Advisory Board, which is made up of representatives from nearby neighborhoods, airport users and airport businesses. The board is advisory only and does not have the authority to make final decisions on airport operations or business deals.

The hotel and restaurant could open as soon as 2022. The airport itself operates out the building, as does the small air charter service Flamingo Air and a rental car company. The latter two would need to move to make way for the project. It’s unclear if airport operations would move.

Goodbye to the Sky Galley

Last year the Sky Galley, popular among airport goers, people who live nearby and people seeking the view of planes taking off and landing, faced a barrage of problems, including failed restaurant inspections.

There had been a plan to renovate the restaurant and bring it into compliance, with help from the city, but the pandemic was too much to overcome.¬†It closed on Sept. 20.¬†Owner Kirby¬†Brakvill at the time wrote on Facebook:¬†“After heartfelt consideration and weighing numerous factors, I realized that the continued operation of Sky Galley was no longer viable in this negative business environment. Since I can not control the uncertainty of the future, we are simply unable to wait out the storm.”

Legions of people spent hours in the restaurant watching small planes and corporate jets fly in and out were devastated by the news.

Cincinnati Municipal Airport was built in 1925 and was Cincinnati’s main airport until 1947. The airport was named for industrialist Edmund H. Lunken, who ran the Lunkenheimer Valve Company.

The Sky Galley opened in the early 1940s, with Brakvill’s taking over in 1999.

The VR group is most known for its Hotel Covington property, which opened in 2016.  It too was a renovation project, locating in a converted department store built in 1910.

‘Bring it back to its former glory’

The Lunken project, the group said in the proposal, would fully restore the Terminal Building at Lunken Airfield “with sympathetic care and a careful understanding of the National Park Service’s Guidelines for Historic Preservation.”