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Downtown to get public restrooms
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Downtown Covington is getting public restrooms to make the area more visitor-friendly, especially for the city’s increasingly large events.

The Covington City Council voted unanimously Monday to purchase the 1,200-square-foot building at 1147 Washington St., next to Town House Café, for $88,800, according to City Manager Leigh Anne Knight.

The property is owned by Christina and Sidney Benton, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor’s website, and was last sold in 2003 for $85,000; it was previously a jewelry store and also housed Plain Nuts Catering, which moved around the corner to Monticello Street.

The council has discussed downtown restrooms for a while and began pursuing the idea in earnest this year, voting to set aside special project hotel/motel tax money in September; the city has approximately $225,000 available for the purchase and renovation, Knight said.

Knight said the city has not drawn up plans and doesn’t yet have a cost estimate for the renovation. Any money not used on the restroom project will be devoted to sprucing up and adding amenities to Legion Field. The hotel/motel tax money may also be used for maintenance costs, said Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston.

Interim Main Street Covington director Serra Phillips said the improvement is a big development for downtown.

"This is something the merchants and many of our visitors and even citizens have asked for for many years," Phillips said. "We’re always trying to enhance the walkability and stayability of the downtown to make sure our visitors, or even our hometown people, stay more active downtown and are in the district for a longer period downtown. We hope the bathrooms will help that cause," she said.

Johnston said the square’s aesthetics will be improved during events, because the city won’t have to rent portable toilets. There are laws that require a certain number of toilets per 1,000 people attending events, but between the new public restrooms and restrooms at the Historic Courthouse and Covington-Newton County Visitor’s Bureau, the city should be covered for most events, said Johnston.

"I’ve visited some other small towns that do have public restrooms and it does tend to speak to the quality of environment," Johnston said.

Phillips said the selected business has multiple benefits, including the fact that it is already handicap-accessible and is not a prime storefront property on the square itself, though it is conveniently located.

Johnston said there is no timetable for work to begin on the project, but the city hopes to officially close on the property by the end of the year.