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Posted: April 22, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Council unsure how to use Legion Field

Covington City Council members are still unsure whether they want to allow Legion Field on Mill Street to be rented for private events and whether they want to charge a fee or simply a refundable deposit.

The council didn’t make a final decision Monday, voting down Councilman Chris Smith’s proposal to charge a $250 refundable deposit to rent out the field, which is also known as the fairgrounds, given the fair’s annual appearance there for years.

The vote was 4-3 against the proposal, with Mayor Ronnie Johnston casting the tie-breaking vote along with councilwomen Janet Goodman, Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Williams. Johnston said he wanted to bring the issue up for further discussion later.

The council has made increasing the public’s use of Legion Field a priority during the past year, and City Manager Leigh Anne Knight crafted a rental agreement that called for the following fees:

-$175/day to rent the field and open pavilion, plus a $50 refundable damage deposit

-$50/day plus a $50 refundable key deposit and a $50 refundable damage deposit for the closed pavilion, which contains the restrooms

Knight said the idea was that some events may only want to rent the field and open pavilion for a couple of hours and not require the restroom facilities during that time. Additionally, some groups may want to rent the closed pavilion building only.

Smith made his motion to charge only a $250 refundable deposit, because he didn’t believe the city should charge people to use the park but felt a large enough deposit would hold them accountable. He said the field shouldn’t be a money-making proposition, but more of a service.

The council got hung up on the issue of how they would enforce the priority of rental groups. For example, Goodman said there are frequently issues at Trailblazer Park on Clark Street, because a group will rent out the park, but people in the neighborhood will also have planned an event expecting the park to be free.

Johnston asked if the city even wanted to allow the field to be rented out to both prevent that issue and prevent the field from being rented so often the public wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. He said his intent is to turn the field into a park for “day in and day out use.”

The Newton County Recreation Commission charges a fee to formally rent out – so that no one else can use them – most of the pavilions at the county parks it oversees, ranging from $125-$175, according to its website.
Another factor that could complicate plans is the fact the city can’t limit rental of the park to only residents of Covington or Newton County, according to City Attorney Ed Crudup, who said it would be “patently discriminatory.”

However, the issue is coming to the forefront because multiple groups have requested to use the field, including the Covington Y, which used it for the Cheerios Challenge April 17, and the Newton County Theme School at Ficquett, which wants to host its fifth grade graduation in May. A local group also has used the field weekly for years to play a cricket game.

The council is also considering the case of the American Legion, which has used the field for decades for its annual fair, one of the group’s largest fundraisers.

The field used to be owned by the American Legion, but was sold to the city years ago, with the caveat that the Legion continue to be allowed to use the field for a number of years, former city manager Steve Horton said, adding that although that agreement has since expired, he’d like to see it renewed in some fashion.
The city had long leased the 8.5-acre field to the Newton County Recreation Commission, but canceled that lease effective Jan. 1 to begin turning it into a public park.

Plans discussed previously including potentially adding an amphitheater, pavilion, gated arch entryway and playground equipment, upgrading restrooms and improving parking. The hope was that the area could become a venue to host concerts and other events.

The council is expected to revisit the issue in future weeks. To view a copy of the agreement proposed by Knight, go to CovNews.com.

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