Plans to open a comedy club on Washington Street are indefinitely on hold though the owner of the property still hopes his dream will become a reality.
Jimmy Clark, who is a Democratic candidate for the District 3 commission seat, asked at the March 11 Covington Planning Commission meeting that a rezoning application for property he owns on 3192 Washington Street be tabled until a number of details concerning the redevelopment of the property into a comedy club are worked out.
"We're still planning on doing it," said Clark. "We're just trying to work with the current director of planning and zoning (Michelle Stiebling) so that we can go ahead and make sure that we cross all of our 't's and dot all of our 'i's to her liking so that we can go ahead and get on with it."
Clark said it is his intention for the comedy club to serve both food and alcohol. Clark said the club would be open for lunch and dinner and would close at 1 a.m. The club would be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays he said. Comedians will go onstage at 7 p.m.
Clark said he and his business partner, Earnest Sims, hope to see the comedy club open for business this summer. Clark said the major obstacles remaining to be worked out with the Planning Commission concern finding additional parking spaces for the club.
At a Planning Commission meeting in January, Stiebling recommended Clark's special use petition to allow a comedy club in a Community Commercial zoning district be denied. The commission agreed with Stiebling and unanimously voted to deny the petition.
According to the minutes from the meeting, Stiebling said approving the petition would not set a good precedent for the city because the city's ordinance does not allow a restaurant use in a C-C district.
Clark argued that his property should be given a rezoning of Highway Commercial, a zoning which allows for restaurants, because the property is already half-zoned H-C in the back. The property is zoned C-C in the front where the comedy club would be located.
A lack of adequate parking was raised as an objection to the comedy club. Clark said the club would sit approximately 150 to 200 guests. Stiebling estimated the club would need 100 parking spots to support such a crowd which it currently does not have
On Friday Clark said he was working to find additional parking for the club which he said was one of the major issues that needed to be addressed before his petition could receive approval by the city.
When Clark's petition came before the Covington City Council during the council's first February meeting, three council members spoke out in favor of the petition. While the city council did not approve the petition, they did vote in favor of sending it back to the Planning Commission for reconsideration.
One of the chief objections raised to the petition - that a comedy club, operating during late hours of the night, would be a disturbance to the people living in close proximity to it - does not appear to hold up.
The comedy club would be located across the street from the Sandhill Community, a historically black neighborhood located off of Washington Street. Three of the four council members who voted in favor of sending the petition back for reconsideration are black: Hawnethia Williams, Janet Goodman and Ocie Franklin.
"I'd like us to find a way to work with these young men instead of kicking them to the curb," said Williams at the meeting.
Clark said he has only heard positive things from the Sandhill Community on his proposal to open a comedy club.
"Everyone that I've talked to is very proud and happy that we would bring such an establishment like that, that would bring tax revenue and jobs to our progressive city," Clark said.
A group of Sandhill residents interviewed on Friday all said they had no problem with a comedy club opening up across the street from them. The only concern raised was the desire that the club have adequate security guards.
"We would love to have a comedy club," said Sharon Strong, who lives in Sandhill. "We need some excitement in Covington. We have nothing going on, this side of town.
Mae White said she thought a comedy club would be a good thing for the neighborhood.
"I like to have a good time," said White. "We need to have somewhere to go."
Added Bobby Hodges, "It's good for the neighborhood, we've got to have a place to mingle."
Clark said he has been approached by residents of Sandhill wanting to know if they could find employment with the club once it opens.
"I went door-to-door and people have come up to me as well because I wanted to get a sense of what the community wanted and to see if they think this would be a viable business and I had a very favorable response," Clark said.
Clark said he envisioned his club as a slightly-upscale establishment attracting nationally-renowned comedians.
"We'll be getting acts nationwide not just local talent," Clark said. "We'll be getting talent as far as California."