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Fairburn officials visit the square
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Out of town visitors have been stopping by Covington lately, and not just for the Dixie Boys World Series.

Covington has been getting attention for its downtown revitalization efforts from other municipalities who would like to see the same kind of thing in their hometown.

A group of Fairburn city officials dropped by Thursday to see what they could learn - the third city to do so this summer, in addition to Griffin and Monroe, said Josephine Kelly, director of the Main Street Covington program.

"It's a very nice compliment to have a validation of everyone's efforts," said Kelly, of the visits.

Covington's success is due to a combination of factors, she said.

"It's the widespread commitment to revitalization," she said, including the good working relationships and involvement of the county, city, the volunteers of the Main Street program board, the high caliber of merchants in the downtown district and coalition of more than 50 agencies, such as the Newton County Arts Association and Chamber of Commerce.

"We're not exactly unique, but we have a very good story to tell," Kelly said.

Main Street board members spoke about the importance of building relationships between segments of the community. The visitors seemed particularly impressed with the recently approved hotel/civic center project and how it fits into the longer-term strategic plan.

"We're fairly new in terms of members, and we're trying to learn what other areas are doing to revitalize their downtown areas," said Ray Hannah, chairman of Fairburn's Downtown Development Authority.

Fairburn, a city with a population of about 12,000, was trying to blend an education project with revitalization of their historic downtown area, explained Tonia Williams, Fairburn's economic development director.

"We're trying to get more out of the box thinking," Williams said. "Sometimes when you live and work in a community and don't venture out, your thoughts are limited."

Visiting other areas helps officials see how other communities addressed certain challenges and realize that revitalization is a slow, long-term process, Williams said.

Kelly led the group of 10 in a walking tour through Covington's square, stopping by key places such as the Southern Heartland Art Gallery and Town Center Breads, where they sampled the bakery's nut bread.

The group stopped by Monroe earlier Thursday and plan to visit more areas in the future.

Kelly said Covington has similarly studied other communities such as Decatur to learn what contributed to their downtown success.