The Covington City Council wants to turn Legion Field into a public park and entertainment center, and it wants the creation of the park to be a community-wide project.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston and some city council members are hoping area businesses and residents will partner with the city in developing the park by donating money to various proposed projects, including an amphitheater, pavilion, arch gateway entrance, landscaping, parking lot and renovation of the existing fair building.
Without support from businesses and residents, the park could take four years to build out, officials said at a budget work session last week. But if some local industries and businesses were willing to partner and sponsor some aspects of the plan – with the reward of being recognized publicly at the park as a donor – the project timeline could be more than halved.
The field, which is used for occasional events and a weekly Sunday game of cricket, has been discussed by the council for years as a perfect spot for a park given its 8.5-acre size and its location in the heart of the city off Mill Street in between Floyd Street and Newton Drive.
Johnston said the efforts to improve the Square, Legion Field and other parts of the city are all tied together as part of the same effort to improve the quality of life in the city and also attract more businesses and bring in more jobs. And he wants to involve the community in the efforts.
“This whole movement is to improve the value and quality of life of our citizens. If we can do that, we’ll be in a better position to attract small and large businesses,” Johnston said this week.
The projected budget for the Legion Field improvements is $488,000, but so far the council has committed to using hotel/motel tax money – the special 8 percent tax collected from hotel and motel stays – not any general fund money.
While most of the hotel/motel tax money goes toward the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce to fund its tourism and Main Street Covington operations, the City Council also sets aside some money to use for special projects, like the downtown public restrooms being installed on Washington Street, next to Town House Café. The hotel/motel tax money has to be used for tourism-related projects.
City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the city is projected to have around $72,000 left in its hotel/motel fund after the restrooms, and it’s projecting to collect another $95,000 over the course of fiscal year 2015. At that same pace, the park couldn’t be totally completed for four-plus years.
Johnston said he had already heard from various industries and businesses who wanted to be involved with renovations to the square and could be likewise interested in improving Legion Field.
“I think it’d be a neat thing to do something like we do with the (July 4) fireworks, and say the city has got some hotel/motel tax money and we’ll match dollar for dollar contributions from industry, individuals and schools,” Johnston said at last week’s work session.
Councilmen Keith Dalton, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley were at the work session (councilwomen Janet Goodman, Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Williams were absent) and seemed generally in favor of reaching out for public-private partnership.
Either way, the city plans to move ahead with improving Legion Field in stages this year.
Johnston also raised the possibility of asking businesses and residents to partner with the planned improvements to the square – which the council approved last week minus the gazebo and fountain; however, Smith said he wasn’t in favor of that plan because the city doesn’t own the Square property permanently – it has an agreement with the county which can be renewed every year. Other officials agreed.
“If (the county wants) to sell us the square, that’s a different issue,” Smith said last week.
Officials agreed to pay for square improvements using general city funds.