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Posted: April 21, 2014 9:47 p.m.

Gazebo, square plan voted down by council

The proposed Covington gazebo is a no go.

The Covington City Council voted down Monday the proposed improvements to the square, which included a 24-foot wide gazebo, making the area around the war veterans monument paved and landscaping it with azaleas and adding benches and replacing trees, among other changes.

The council voted 4-2 against the proposal after some heated back and forth; council members Janet Goodman
and Mike Whatley were the only two to vote for the plan.

While the gazebo had dominated public dialogue about the future of the square, Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston made an impassioned speech at the end of the meeting asking the council to consider moving forward with other parts of the plan to improve the square.

The council went against the recommendation of a committee of business owners and citizens it had formed to examine the plan, but Councilman Chris Smith, who was the most vocal opponent of the gazebo, said many citizens had told him they didn’t want the gazebo because it would change the nature of the square from what they liked.

The gazebo would have cost between $36,000-$38,000, while the changes to the area around the war veterans monument would have cost approximately $24,000, Covington Planning Director Randy Vinson said Monday. Vinson said the city has a proposal from Great Estates Landscaping to provide all landscaping labor for free if the city provides all of the materials, which is included in the $24,000 figure. The city would also need to purchase sod, which Vinson didn’t have a price for.

The committee had proposed using hotel/motel tax money – which comes from the 8 percent tax charged to all hotel and motel stays in Covington – to fund the projects, as that is generally tax money paid by tourists and doesn’t come out of the local fund. However, Smith said the council had voted previously to use hotel/motel tax money to make improvements to Legion Field on Mill Street, and he was uncomfortable making improvements to the square before working on Legion Field.

One of the reasons why the gazebo had originally been proposed was as an alternative to the temporary tents the city purchased – through Main Street Covington, which is responsible for developing downtown Covington – for music concerts and other events; the tents would frequently get damaged beyond use after a couple of events, former Main Street interim director Serra Phillips said previously.

It’s unclear if the city will pursue a temporary or permanent alternative to the gazebo or continue to use the tents.

Resident Patricia Mayfield said she was against the gazebo because she was concerned about losing greenspace on the square, which truly makes it a park. If the council did move forward with the gazebo, she was concerned that the wooden gazebo would only be stained and not painted, saying she didn’t think it would fit the era of the buildings around the square.

During public comments after the decision was made, one of the citizens who served on the committee, Roger Gossage, questioned council members, including asking Smith why he voted to form a committee if he wasn’t going to listen to its output.

Smith said he did consider the committee’s input, but said he was more willing to look at parts of the plan as opposed to taking on the entire plan at once, which the committee had recommended.

One concern that was addressed at the meeting was whether the county would renew the agreement that gives Covington control over the square. Chairman Keith Ellis wrote Johnston a letter April 17, saying there was a consensus among commissioners to extend the agreement for another year.

Johnston ended the meeting with an impassioned speech, saying he believes improving the square is an “opportunity to do something great for the community.” He said his efforts have nothing to do with his personal businesses on the square, referring to the Mystic Grill and Bread and Butter Bakery (both of which he is a part owner of), but they have “everything to do with the city of Covington; that is my only motivation.”

Even without the gazebo, Johnston urged the council to come back and look at making the other improvements.
He said people have told him he’s carried away and his push to change the square could be his downfall as mayor; Johnston said that’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make.

“If this costs me mayor, I will gladly take it because I believe it’s that important,” Johnston said.

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