The American Legion fairgrounds could be turned into a destination spot for concerts and other events if Covington City Council members get their wish.
The council discussed the possibility of upgrading the fairgrounds, which are located behind the Covington Y, at their annual retreat Monday at the Newton College and Career Academy.
City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said $100,000 is planned to be in the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The city owns the 8.5-acre fairgrounds but leases the property to the Newton County Recreation Commission, which in turn leases the property to the Y, Knight said Monday.
However, with proper notice, the city can take back control of the fairgrounds and use the property for any events it wants.
Council members seemed excited by the idea and wanted to pursue the idea of fixing up the park and hosting concerts there.
Councilman Chris Smith said the location is good for large events because of the abundance of parking on at Sharp Stadium and the park’s central location in the city within walking distance of many residences.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he wants to make the park an integral part of the city and do some similar upgrades to what was done to Academy Springs Park.
He said he could even envision an amphitheater, dog park and/or skateboarding park.
Councilwoman Janet Goodman said she would like see people be able to use the facility for free as an entertainment option during the summer.
Johnston said the city could even use money from sale of the city’s cable system in 2007 to expedite the process of upgrading the park; the cable fund has $9.023 million remaining from its original $23 million, according to Knight.
In addition, hotel/motel tax money could also potentially be used to fix up the park.
When discussing concerts and events, Knight cautioned the council to remember that the park is in the middle of a residential area and that the city would want to maintain a good relationship with those residents.
Land deal in the works
Knight also asked the council what it wanted to do with $208,000 of unspent hotel/motel tax money the city has collected when it raised the hotel/motel tax rate by 1.5 percent in early 2009.
The money was originally scheduled to be used for several items, including purchasing railroad right of way, restoring the old jail and developing Chimney Park and the Miracle League Field among other projects.
However, Councilman Keith Dalton said he wanted to see the money used on the current land acquisition deal the city has been working on in executive session.
Another major discussion point was the possible hiring of a communications or marketing officer to tell the city’s story in various ways.
Mayor Johnston said many people in Atlanta know about Madison but not Covington and a dedicated marketing person could remedy that.
He said the city has a good website, but it could be more user-friendly. In addition, this person could work with the chamber on making the small business start-up process as simple as possible and spreading the word to attract entrepreneurs, while also improving communication with the public.
The mayor’s recently proposed incentive programs to promote home buying in Covington would be another natural program to promote he said, along with the fact Covington has low natural gas rates.
Councilman Keith Dalton said he would want this person to also work on retail recruitment to boost those efforts for Covington. Johnston agreed and said the person could target desired restaurants and businesses, like a movie theater.
Johnston said the person could also keep up with social media and take advantage of existing resources like the 15 million Facebook fans of “The Vampire Diaries,” who frequently talk about Covington.
Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said the city needs somebody to spread the good message, noting that Covington and Newton County are the envy of other governments around the state.
The 2050 Plan and the Leadership Collaborative, which brings together all governments in the county to discuss common issues, is still held up as an example for other counties and cities.
Knight said currently, when a program is started, it’s usually the department head overseeing the program that does the marketing. The budget for marketing is very small, she said.
Johnston said there’s likely to be people with advanced degrees in marketing looking for work.
The council had a consensus to pursue filling the position.
Beautifying I-20 exits
Finally, the city discussed cleaning up and landscaping the Interstate 20 exits in the city to make the city more attractive to visitors.
Johnston suggested the city start with exit 90 and try to really clean that up to set an example for the rest of the city.
The issue is that land around the exits is a mixture of city, county and state ownership and responsibility, but Johnston wants the city to get permission to take care of the exits, since neither the state nor county can afford to do so at a high level.
Councilman Chris Smith said he would be willing to bid out a contract for lawn care and landscaping if the cost was small enough.
Using city employees or inmate labor can be an issue because of the danger of working on the exits. However, a private company would take all the liability off the city, Dalton said.
Councilwoman Ocie Franklin challenged the city to look all throughout the community for places where the city could be spruced up.