Dear Editor: Stella Johnson of Covington recently wrote a Letter to the Editor of The Covington News praising the beauty of Newton County and its cities. She eloquently expressed her love of and concern for the future of the County.
Johnson also questioned the need for the proposed hotel/conference/civic center project adjacent to the Administration Building on Pace Street in Covington.
She asked "why not let other hotels provide for our visitors?" Unfortunately, all too often they do at the expense of our local restaurants, shops and local tax revenues. When people visit Newton County, as over 60,000 did last year to attend festivals, concerts and recreational events, they often don't find the quantity or quality of hotel/motel rooms in Newton County and are forced to stay miles away. This is not a good thing. Newton County loses hotel/motel tax revenues, sales taxes on purchases and our local businesses lose sales. The Holiday Inn Express, our newest hotel, operates above industry occupancy levels and is a premium priced property. Obviously there is a need for more quality hotel space in Newton County.
She also asks in her letter, "Do we honestly need additional meeting spaces for business travelers in the county?" Yes, we honestly do. So much so that last year members of our Existing Industry Council wrote a letter jointly to the Covington City Council and the County Commission asking them to support this project. They need meeting space so that their senior executives can hold conferences in the city that they've invested millions of dollars in. Again, it's tax revenues and sales for local businesses when they do, not to mention the confidence they will have in our ability to support plant expansions in the future. Corporations will invest in communities that invest in themselves to provide the services they require.
Johnson states that "a civic center would be nice if we really need one." Again, the voters of Newton County have already indicated that need when they passed the SPLOST referendum in 2006 to build one.
The Arts Association has done a terrific job in the past attracting top quality performances to Newton County even though our facilities for them is not optimum. With a 1,200-seat civic center, we could attract even better programs, nurture our local artists and their performances and truly make Covington and Newton County a special destination between Atlanta and South Carolina. And it would be nice to host our neighboring counties events here and have them contribute to our schools and tax base for a change.
Finally, Johnson asks "isn't there an alternative that doesn't require spending so much money?" The largest single chunk of money will be private investment, not public, and we have had investors competing to develop the hotel at a cost of around $10 million dollars of their money. A privately-funded feasibility study has been conducted that shows the projected success of a 100-room hotel and it is made stronger by the presence of the conference center, which brings in more shows and people.
The rest of the project will be paid for through revenue bonds that are in large part retired from increased hotel/motel taxes paid by those staying in the hotel. Both the City of Covington and the Newton County Commission met jointly in December of 2007 and approved the issuance of these bonds, based upon the business soundness of the project.
Job creation, tax revenue generation and new investment creation are the goals of this project, not just a hotel or a civic center. These types of projects produce the revenue that makes improvements in schools, sidewalks and, yes, handicap accessibility, possible. The fact that the private sector, after considering the risks and rewards, would compete to invest millions in Covington speaks well of the strength of the project.