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Posted: October 5, 2013 5:57 p.m.

City looks to fine-tune plan for tourism

Covington City Council members met Thursday night to discuss what the council should expect from the Main Street Covington program regarding tourism efforts, now that operation of the program is expected to be taken on by the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber’s Board of Directors has agreed to bring the Main Street Covington program under its umbrella, but the details are still being finalized. In doing so, the chamber would be responsible for promoting tourism for the entire county and downtown Covington.

Though an official contract has not been signed between the city and the chamber concerning the Main Street program, Mayor Ronnie Johnston and city council members held a work session to brainstorm what the city might want as far as promoting tourism in Covington.

The city charges a special 8 percent tax on all hotel and motel stays in the city, and the tax money must be used for tourism-related purposes. Of that 8 percent tax, 5 percent is split between the Covington-Newton County Chamber, which gets 60 percent of the funds for tourism, and Main Street Covington, which gets 40 percent to promote and develop the downtown and host events. The remaining 3 percent of the tax is split 50-50 between tourism and special city projects.

At the work session, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight went through a loose structure of what the city could potentially want the chamber to promote and how it would brand the city through tourism. However, after some discussion, the council decided to allow the chamber the chance to present its ideas to the council.

Johnston told the council that the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to make sure council members were on the same page about what the city wants out of tourism.

"In my opinion, Main Street and all of tourism is 100 percent completely funded through the city of Covington, which means to me there is no such thing as those two functions without the city of Covington," Johnston said.

"That also means we have some responsibility now to make sure that, as those two functions continue operating, that they operate in the fashion that we see fit, basically. And that we need to make sure that we are engaged to the point where we are setting the agenda each year and then when they do report to the bodies, they’re reporting on our agenda," he said.

"It’s not about necessarily telling them how to do things, but we need to set the agenda for what we want out of those two services."

During the meeting, the council discussed possibly having a council member sit on the executive board of the Chamber and having the Chamber present to the city council detailed reports about where tourism money is going. Discussions are still ongoing.

The council plans to hold another work session at 5 p.m. Oct. 21 so the Chamber can describe its plans for promoting tourism in the city of Covington.

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