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Downtown expansion explored
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The Covington City Council will likely extend the city's central business district boundaries as part of a broader plan to encourage more economic development downtown.

Members of Main Street Covington attended the council's Monday work session to brief them on the proposal to extend the central business district, which is now called mixed use downtown, under the new zoning ordinance.

"We feel like this is the perfect time to be discussing [expanding the CBD] because the hotel/civic center is moving forward," said Billie Jean Whatley, a member of Main Street Covington.

Main Street Covington proposed extending the CBD from the Covington square down Pace Street towards U.S. Highway 278.

Josephine Kelley, director of Main Street Covington, said the CBD, which comprises those downtown streets that are bounded on the north by railroad tracks, on the south by Conyers Street, on the east by Elm Street and on the west by Emory Street, is at 95 percent occupancy.

Though almost fully occupied, Kelley said the district was in need of more dining options.

"To make this district sustainable in the future, we've got to look for some additional space," she said.

By extending the CBD to include Pace Street, Main Street Covington said the city can create more green space and give existing independent businesses on Pace Street access to the resources offered by Main Street Covington. Properties on Pace Street that front U.S. Highway 278 would be excluded from the district.

"I think it's a great idea," said Mayor Kim Carter. "It's horrible looking now."

City Manager Steve Horton said there would likely be considerable expense to beautify the Pace Street corridor, which was included in the city's Livable Centers Initiative study last year.

Main Street Covington also proposed reactivating the Downtown Development Authority, which has the ability to access and create funds for the promotion of the downtown's revitalization, by adding new members, as several have moved out of the city and by having the authority meet on a more regular basis.

The DDA was formed in 1997 and in the past has met sporadically as needed. The

DDA's last project was procuring low cost loans for the construction of the Lula building on the square.

The city council reacted favorably to the proposals by Main Street Covington and will be voting on them at their meeting next Monday.

In other city council news:

The council got into a heated discussion over the need to hire an interior designer to come up with a plan for redesigning the mayor and elected officials' office at City Hall. Carter had first proposed redesigning the office in the spring.

After some discussion about the need to redesign the office in the first place, the council agreed to seek bids for an interior design contract. Two bids, one is $5,000 and the other $5,800, were received and a subcommittee of the city council was formed to consider them.

One of the bids comes from a local resident with experience in residential interior design and the other comes from an Atlanta consultant with experience in commercial interior design. The council will vote on the bids at their Monday meeting.

At the work session, Councilman John Howard, who had served on the subcommittee at one point but then withdrawn, said he wasn't sure that an interior designer was needed and wondered if the city couldn't just use its best judgment in picking out new furnishings for the office, which hasn't been refurnished in several decades.

Carter acknowledged that the issue had become a political hotspot and said an interior designer was needed to give the city advice on things like ceiling fixtures, as interior lighting is one of main gripes about the office now.

"I don't have time to comb through catalogues and go shopping every day," Carter said. "I'm not capable of designing a new ceiling plan and a new floor plan."

She added that when important officials visit the city, she meets them at the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce because she is embarrassed with the way the office looks.

Horton agreed that the office needed some work. "That office gets a lot of activity. I use it frequently."

Carter later pointed out that the amount needed to redecorate the office was a very small thing compared to the city's entire FY 2008-2009 budget of $130 million. She said residential property taxes contribute a small portion of the city's revenue stream ($900,000) and that the bulk of it comes from its industrial base.