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CRA has many plans to improve blighted areas
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The newly formed Covington Redevelopment Authority had its first official meeting Thursday, and members were introduced to the kind of projects they could initiate in the future, like a downtown farmer’s market, the downtown civic and conference center, a Dried Indian Creek park and improved housing in neighborhoods like Harristown.

But before any of those projects come to fruition, the CRA members have to learn about all of the tools and powers they’ve been given. At the first meeting, redevelopment authority experts, architect John Cheek, who helped create Covington’s Urban Redevelopment Plan, and Martha Reimann, with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, described the CRA’s range or powers.

The CRA will have the ability to receive grants, hire staff or borrow city staff, work with city departments and other local authorities, partner with private developers on projects, issue bonds and buy, build, renovate and sell properties.

Chairman Frank Turner Jr. said for the immediate future, the authority will work closely with the planning and zoning staff to search for funding sources and determine what goals and projects of the URP they want to tackle first.

"Broadly, we have two areas of focus. One is housing. We want to see the development of quality, affordable housing, especially for seniors," Turner said. "And then the second main thrust is economic development in the commercial area."

Turner said both of those foci could be helped by implementing enterprise zones, which allow for most property taxes to be abated for a couple of years, and opportunity zones, which give new companies up to $3,500 in income tax credits for each job they create after the first.

On the housing side, MACO Development Company of Clarkton, Mo., is planning to build a nearly $10 million affordable senior housing development in Harristown, if the company receives certain tax credits from the state. Those credits are how the company is able to make money while only charging seniors about $175 a month for residential units. City Planning Director Randy Vinson said affordable housing is a big need in the community.

On the business side, Reimann presented examples of redevelopment projects undertaken in other counties, like farmer’s markets, mixed use hotel-commercial buildings and even expansions of exiting industries’ facilities. The CRA has a lot of power with its ability to raise money, buy and sell property and partner with both governments and private developers. Reimann described possible redevelopment efforts as economic development on steroids. Mayor Kim Carter agreed that the authority can do a lot of good.

"We can make some history here and turn things around," said Carter, who attended part of the meeting. "This is one of the most powerful groups in the city."

The mayor said one of the projects she would like to see in the future is a downtown grocery.

CRA Vice Chairman Juanita Thompson said she was excited about the change the authority could bring to Covington, particularly in some of the more blighted neighborhoods.

"A number of houses are boarded, a number need to be boarded and a number need to be condemned. We simply want to ensure that blighted areas are truly earmarked for redevelopment. We want to make sure every facet of the city is one that is pleasing to the eye, is safe and will be connected to downtown."