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Council votes to take over Legion Field
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Correction: The field is leased from the city of Covington to the Newton County Recreation Commission for free. The Recreation Commission then subleases the field to the Covington Y for free also. An earlier version of this article misstated that fact.

The Covington City Council moved forward Monday with plans to convert Legion Field into a public park that could host big concerts and events.

The council voted to end its long-term lease of Legion Field with the Newton County Recreation Commission at the end of the year and retake control of the 8.5-acre field. The two parties have had a annually renewing lease in place since 2006; the lease could have been renewed through 2016.

City officials have ambitious plans to turn the field, located off Mill Street, into a major attraction, including building an amphitheater, a pavilion, a gated arch entryway and playground equipment. Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the building on the property could be remodeled and converted into a public restroom; parking would also have to be addressed.

There is currently $100,000 for the project in next fiscal year’s budget — which starts July 1 — but the council is still working its way through the budget and that number could change.

Johnston said the city is actively seeking corporate partners, and some of the structures could be named after companies willing to pay for construction. He also said the city would be happy for any help offered to landscape the property. The amphitheater, pavilion and other structures could be built with lumber from trees located at the city’s Land Application System property.

Planning director Randy Vinson has drawn up preliminary plans for the property, which will continue to be worked on.
The council was split 2-2, with councilmen Chris Smith and Mike Whatley in favor and councilwomen Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams opposed.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of ending the lease at the end of the year; council members Keith Dalton and Ocie Franklin were absent.

Goodman was in favor of the city taking control of the land but said she wanted to end the lease earlier; Williams did not give a specific reason for voting against the matter.

At its retreat earlier this year, the council seemed to be in unanimous agreement to move forward with turning the land into a park.

Deputy City Manager Billy Bouchillon said the city probably wouldn’t be ready to make any improvements to the field until early 2014, anyway.

Assistant recreation director Anthony Avery said Tuesday the Recreation Commission has been using the field less and less over the years, which is why it’s subleased the field to the Covington Y for free for the past several years. The Recreation Commission only uses the field sporadically for cheerleading and football practice.

The Y used to use the field for its youth soccer program, but now uses it mainly for summer camps and T-ball and flag football, Y director Louly Hay-Kapp said Tuesday.

Johnston said the city hopes to work out an agreement with both the Recreation Commission and the Y to continue to use the field; both entities expressed interest in continuing to use the property as needed.

“From the Y’s perspective, we’re excited about the plans. Anything that encourages outdoor activity and physical fitness is a great thing for the community and the Y,” Hay-Kapp said. “From my perspective as the leader of the Y, I’m delighted that we’re going to enhance the community by having more recreational and outdoor space.”

The 8.5-acre property should be large enough to accommodate new buildings and have a large enough green space for sports, officials said.

“That is such a huge area and has always kind of been neglected as far as what it has the potential to be, and it’s in such a good spot right here in the middle of the city,” Hay-Kapp said. “It absolutely has room to accommodate the kids programs and what we offer here at the Y and still be a great community park.”

The property is also known as the fairgrounds, because an annual fair — which recently came to town — takes place on the property.