Downtown Covington could become the next Christmas lights extravaganza destination if some local business owners can convince the city council to invest in the project.
Susan Kirk, the owner of Scoops and a member of the Main Street Covington Board of Directors, made a request to the Covington City Council that the city spend $47,000 per year over three years to turn the square into a Christmas lights destination to attract tourists and boost business for area merchants.
The money would pay for a professional company to install, service, take down and store all of the lights that would be used. In addition, Kirk suggested the business owners would have holiday greenery, wreaths and other décor in the front of their stores.
The project would have to be bid out, but the preliminary price point was based on conversations Kirk had with a professional lighting designer as well as a local company that does Christmas decorations, Holder Landscaping.
Kirk suggested the rooftops, windows and architectural details (columns, awnings, etc.) of all of the buildings facing the square be lit, along with all the trees in the tree wells from the base to the top.
She also requested the Christmas tree that is annually set up in the square be lit with thousands more synchronized lights that would play during a handful of Christmas songs, using the new speakers the city recently installed.
She said there could be two 15-minute performances per night at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
As for the decorations used this year, including the white-LED snowflakes, Kirk suggested they be hung on the trees in the square park itself, which would give the effect of snow falling, she said.
She said the main reason for the display would be to increase sales for downtown retailers during the crucial fourth quarter, when retailers make their biggest push. She said the lighting effort could also help attract more retail business if the city creates a buzz around the region for its display.
While there are several paid light shows of a larger scale, Kirk said “There is no one location within 100 miles that has presented (itself) as a complete Christmas light destination for free.”
Kirk said that at the Main Street board’s October retreat, the organization listed making downtown a Christmas lights destination as one of its top five things to accomplish. Main Street is a nonprofit organization, which oversees event planning, economic development and marketing for downtown Covington. It is jointly funded by Covington and Newton and in large part by public revenue from the hotel/motel tax.
When asked Thursday in a follow-up interview why the city would pay for the project instead of the individual business owners, Kirk said the belief is that the attraction would boost business for all merchants and put sales tax back in the public coffers.
The hope is families would travel from surrounding counties to eat in local restaurants and shop at local stores before heading home.
She said one professionally-decorated Victorian-style house in Social Circle has attracted more than 300 cars in a single night.
The cost of electricity would range from $35 to $111 per block, Kirk said, based on her research. The lights would run from the Monday before Thanksgiving through the Christmas season, Kirk said.
Councilwoman Janet Goodman asked if the city would pay the whole bill or would split it with Newton County, which actually owns the square park and the Historic Courthouse. Kirk said she hadn’t thought about it, but would check with the county.
Goodman also said the square seemed like a small area to attract a lot of people to a lights display. Mayor Ronnie Johnston expressed some enthusiasm for the idea and said he would love to eventually see lights extend all the way down Washington Street, but added the city needs to crawl before it runs.
Kirk also owns Just Dogs restaurant on U.S. Highway 278.
The council did not vote on the matter.