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Posted: April 28, 2014 9:28 p.m.

Chamber hires Main Street Covington director

Main Street Covington finally has a new director.

Velinda Wheeles, who ran a Main Street program in Opelika, Alabama for seven years, will take over Covington’s program May 19, Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall announced Tuesday.
Wheeles, who is currently the marketing manager for Zoe’s Kitchen in Auburn, Alabama, was chosen over another co-finalist who also had Main Street experience.

She’ll take over the day-to-day operations of Main Street Covington, which is responsible for promoting, preserving and developing downtown Covington. Wheeles’ salary will be $50,000.

The Chamber ultimately had around 35 applicants across two different searches — the first one ended when the two finalists declined the position for different personal issues — and Hall said “finding the right person who had strong Main Street experience, a history of successful relationship building and the unique personality for this role was not easy.

“Velinda brings all these skill sets to the program,” Hall said in a press release.

Wheeles is a lifelong resident of Opelika, Alabama but said she has been to Covington several times over the years to visit friends.

“I am so excited to have been selected to this role. I can’t tell you how much I love downtown Covington,” Wheeles said in the press release. “Every time I would visit I would dream a bit about running the Main Street program and when the position opened up I couldn’t believe it. I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work. I am ready to get to know the store owners (and) property owner and working with the (Main Street) Board (of Directors) to build on what is already a great program.”

One of the reasons for Wheeles’ selection was the “energetic and exciting personality” she displayed in the interview process, Hall said.

She’ll be in town May 7-8 for orientation and training and take over the job full-time May 19. Hall said Teri Haler, who is doing event work for Main Street Covington, will serve her last day May 16. Haler is also the director for Main Street Porterdale.

The Main Street Covington program has been without a permanent director since longtime director Josephine Kelly resigned in early June 2013. A variety of interim directors filled the spot, including Main Street board member Serra Phillips, who served from July 2013 to February 2014. Phillips was not chosen as a finalist for the permanent Main Street job but was instead named the Chamber’s retail recruiter.

Main Street Covington has a nearly $200,000 budget funded through two sources. The program receives hotel/motel tax money — a special tax on hotels and motels cities can charge that must be used to promote tourism-related activities — which was projected to be around $110,000 this fiscal year and pays for the actual work of the program. The program was also budgeted to receive $86,426 from the city’s general fund for the fiscal year, which pays for the director’s salary and benefits as well as office rent and supplies. The chamber receives both sources of funding under its contract with the city.

Main Street Covington used to be jointly funded the city and Newton County, but the agreement was ended so that the city could move the program under the chamber alongside tourism, economic development and small business, which the chamber already handles. In exchange for the city taking on the full cost of the program, the county took on the full cost of the Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful program.

“Having the Main Street program under roof at the Chamber, alongside tourism and economic development, is a very commonsense approach that will create natural synergies for all three programs. I can’t wait to work with these other programs and the Chamber membership to make the most of our Main Street program,” Wheeles said in the release.

Main Street programs, which exist all over Georgia and the U.S., are built upon four guiding principles:

•Organization – including the Main Street Board of Directors, volunteers and committees

•Design – maintaining the historic design values of the district, signage and coordinated streetscape and landscape aesthetics

•Promotion – brand management and drawing visitors and residents to the district

•Economic restructuring – connecting property owners and businesses in the district to financial and business solutions.

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