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Johnston: The time is now
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The retail development referred to by Mr. Dalton in his letter to the citizens of Covington and Newton County, is one of the most important opportunities our community has seen in decades.

Before I review the facts of this opportunity, it’s important to address one issue. Mr. Dalton states “someone has been putting out information in obvious attempts to arouse public sentiment for a development”. To be clear that would be me, your Mayor.

As you know, I wrote about this opportunity several weeks ago because the citizens needed to join the conversation on this important topic. I wanted to make sure this type of development was what our community wanted. At the time we had not negotiated with the developer and yes, several of our elected officials did not want to negotiate with the developer. That was the moment I decided to inform you, the people we work for. I have always believed it’s important to be transparent with the public and for that I will not change.

Now that we have cleared that up, let’s look at the facts:

The land is currently zoned industrial, however this retail opportunity, it brings in 3 to 4 times the amount of revenue to our community. This is a development we do not currently have and it will improve our portfolio of jobs and our quality of life. We simply need to change the zoning to mix commercial.

In 2008 the City purchased the majority of the land this development is looking to purchase. It’s true the land cost $3.1 million at that time. Currently the land has been appraised for $1 million and the developer has offered the city $1.5 million. I believe the only reason governments buy land is for 3 reasons, for easement, for parks, to incent investment and jobs. If this were industry we would be giving the land to them for free and providing tax abatements to secure the business. This opportunity gets our citizens dollars for the land and provides additional revenue that makes an immediate impact in our community.

The city and county are working together on the site development plan, roads, utilities infrastructure, etc. The total cost is a short term investment for both the city and county that is estimated to be paid back within 4 to 5 years. Plus, I love the idea of us all working together to do something special for our entire community. For us to be great we all must move forward together.

The idea that 2 class A office buildings and a 100 room hotel is not going to help develop the rest of the retail space is simply not true. These type developments are more valuable to retail when you have a density of people. If 1,000 people worked in these offices and 100 people stayed in the hotel, they need shopping and dining options close by. The fact the developer is making this part of the developments performance criticera, is a clear signal we are on strong footing to fast track the rest of the development.

The statement that both city attorneys and administrative staff do not support this development is simply not appropriate. The job of our administration and attorneys is to make sure we have all the information needed to make the best inform decision. You elect us and place your trust with us to make these decisions and it’s not appropriate to put administrative staff in the middle of this discussion.

Some data:

- Total investment $207,500,000 to $300,000,000

- Total Jobs: 1,500 to 2,000

- Property tax revenue $1,956,514 per year

- Sales tax revenue $825,000 per year

- School tax revenue $2,600,000 per year

- Utility income $1,125,000 per year

As a community we have to figure out a way to make this happen. This is about the future of generation to come and it’s time we take responsibility for our future. The time is NOW!

Thanks your Friend and Mayor

Ronnie Johnston