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Chamber to get Main Street duties?
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Mayor Ronnie Johnston wants to reorganize the Main Street program by reassigning some of the program duties to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, and asked the council for their support in moving forward with his proposal.

Covington City Council members listened as the mayor discussed how Main Street Covington could be reorganized to enhance the downtown district during the council’s meeting on Monday. He handed out a list detailing the duties of Main Street Covington and said some of those duties could be accomplished, if they were handed over to the chamber.

"I have been talking to several people in the county as well as the city. And we’re [potentially] looking at trying to reorganize some efforts between Main Street and our Chamber of Commerce," Johnston said. "It’s not actually about doing away with any sort of thing or function it’s just trying to reorganize and make us more efficient."

Johnston said an intergovernmental agreement had three main points for the function and duties of the Main Street program:

• To enhance the physical appearance of the Main Street area through rehabilitation of historic buildings, encouraging support of new construction and developing a sense of designing management systems and long-term planning.

• Build consensus and cooperation among the many groups of individuals who have enrolled in the Main Street revitalization process.

• Market the Main Street area assets to tourists, customers, potential investors, new businesses and local citizens.

After discussing the responsibilities of Main Street, Johnston pointed out some of the areas he felt could be better handled by the chamber.

"I’ve taken the initiative in highlighting some of the things that I think we should look at splitting up, because I think it’s too much personally," Johnston said. "When you look at encouraging support of new construction, developing a sense of designing management systems and long-term planning for our downtown district; I think those things are crucial. This is where I believe the report [showed] that we don’t have enough resources right now to help in those areas."

The report Johnston is referring to is a 30-plus page report prepared by Christopher Jones with NewTown Partners. Jones was hired as a consultant to review the Main Street Covington program in October 2012 by the city. The review was presented at a city council meeting on Jan. 7.

The report reviewed the current conditions of Main Street and suggested changes that could be made to help create a better downtown. It included four sections — organization, economic development, marketing and public relations and event planning and management — which all had several suggestions of how to make the recommended changes.

Johnston said recent business announcements are just the beginning and that he believed Covington and Newton County would continue to see more growth. He said he thinks there would be about 8,000 to 10,000 job announcements within the next 10 years in the region, and that the city and Main Street needs to be prepared.

"I believe we are in the cusp of some great growth and opportunities in Newton County, including our downtown, and right now we need to be on the forefront of that," Johnston said.

"I just don’t want us to sit around and say, ‘gosh, we should have done this and we could have done that.’ I want us to be on the front end of this whole thing. I think it can be great and beneficial."

He added that it was his sincere desire to reorganize so that the city could become even more aggressive in recruiting businesses.

Johnston said he believes the chamber could be helpful in bringing more economic development opportunities to the downtown area, because they have more resources available. He has talked with the city’s attorneys and they agreed that it was possible to shift some of the responsibilities to the chamber, because Main Street was funded by hotel/motel tax and tourism operations.

Johnston also said he would like there to be a unified marketing plan between the city, the county and Main Street to recruit and reach out to small businesses and individuals.

"I don’t know how we can have a great city without a great county. If we can work together, we can be an incredible dominating source."

Johnston did not discuss any costs associated with reorganizing the program and said as of now he didn’t think there would be any.