The streets of downtown Covington will soon resemble that of Hollywood Boulevard as the first pavers for the "Covington Walk of Stars" were premiered Thursday night on the square.
Officials from the Covington Convention and Visitor's Bureau gave guests of the event a glimpse of the first three concrete pavers for the "Walk of Stars" program. The unveiled pavers honored actor Carroll O'Conner and TV shows "In the Heat of the Night" and "The Vampire Diaries."
Grady Spradley, who played Carroll O'Connor's double in "In the Heat of the Night," was the first guest of the night to reveal a paver to the crows said playing O'Connor's double in the TV series was the "most wonderful experience I ever experience."
"I was in World War II for three years but since then, this has been my most enjoyable experience," Spradley joked to the crowd.
The second paver recognized "In the Heat of the Night" and was presented to the crowd by Maureen Dowdell who played Tracy Boggs in the show for five years, and the third paver honored "The Vampire Diaries" and was unveiled by Benjamin Dameron and Ralph Miller, owners of the Worthington Manor, better known as the Lockwood Mansion in the show.
Film industry and tourism in Newton
Over the years, Covington has been better known in TV Land as Hazzard County in "The Dukes of Hazzard," Sparta, Mississippi in "In theHeat of the Night," and most recently as Mystic Falls, Va., in "The Vampire Diaries." The County Courthouse has been seen by millions in the opening credits of "In the Heat of the Night."
Starting with "A Man Called Peter" in 1954, Covington has become the true Hollywood of the South by playing host to more than 60 productions that have appeared on the silver screen. Some of Covington's most famous big screen appearances include: "My Cousin Vinny," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Cannonball Run," "Remember the Titans," "Madea's Family Reunion," "Footloose (2010)," and "Flight."
According to Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner of tourism for the state, direct tourist spending topped $100 million in 2011 and created or sustained 990 jobs in Covington/Newton County.
"Those numbers are big and kind of hard to get your arms around, but the way I like to look at it is that on an average day, tourists spend around $275,000 here in Newton County, so it's big business and it's continuing to grow throughout the state," Langston said.
At Thursday's event, Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston and Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Morgan credited the city's filming success to Clara Deemer, director of Tourism for Covington/Newton County.
"This night couldn't have happened without the vision and dedication of Clara Deemer, Mrs. Jo McLaney and Irene Smith," Johnston said. "I just want to share with you how lucky we are as the city of Covington to have Mrs. Deemer directing our tourism department."
Langston echoed Johnston's sentiments of Deemer's contributions.
"She really is one of those people we look to around the state who knows what she's doing and how to drive tourism into a community."
In 2007, Georgia's film industry economic impact was $244 million, Lee Thomas, film director at the Georgia Department of Economic Development Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office said. "Then by fiscal year 12 (2012), we were at $3.1 billion that's pretty good jump up in this type of economy."
More pavers are expected and will feature notable actors and titles of the more than 60 movies and TV series that have been filmed in Covington/Newton County around the square.