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New plan for downtown Covington?
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Main Street Covington now has a blueprint of how to move forward with creating a better downtown, but there is no set time of when or if any recommended changes will be implemented.

Covington City Council and members of Main Street Covington listened to a presentation, prepared by Christopher Jones with NewTown Partners, which reviewed the city of Covington's Main Street program at the city council meeting on Monday.

Jones highlighted recommendations from a 30-plus page document that listed several ways to expand Main Street Covington's involvement in the community.

Jones, who founded NewTown Partners in 2011 to provide economic development services with a focus on revitalizing historic downtown business districts, was hired as a consultant in October 2012 to review Main Street Covington program, and has done so over the last couple of months.

He has interviewed downtown merchants, various board and council members, people in the community and statewide to get a better perception the Main Street Covington program. He applauded the program and its board members for their hard work, but he discussed a number of changes that could be made to make the program more beneficial to the community.

"This review is not just an overview of the Main Street program, which focuses on organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. I've also added to this another component that I believe is very important that most cities don't latch on to," Jones said. "That is recommendations of how you can take the review - that at times may seem critical of the Main Street program - turn that around with a blueprint over the next 24 months."

"It's a review of the city of Covington's Main Street Program, but also a blueprint for a new downtown."

According to the Main Street Covington Review report, there were several suggested changes and revisions that NewTown Partners found may help to better downtown Covington.

The report included four sections - organization, economic development, marketing and public relations and event planning and management - which all discussed the current conditions of Main Street and changes that could be made.

The organization section of the review discussed how to develop Main Street Covington's board. The review recommended revising the boards' by-laws to have two-term limits with reappointments, involving a more wide-range of selection of board members, and appointing board members to serve as chairs on specific committees.

Duties for the executive director of the program, expanding the role of the city of Covington with Main Street, and goals that should be accomplished by the executive director and Main Street for 2013 to 2014 were also listed under this section.

Economic Development
The economic development section of the review laid out the demographics of Covington and discussed how they were related to attracting businesses, and also gave some retention strategies for Main Street.

It was also recommended under the economic development section that the Main Street program continue to work with the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce to attract businesses to the downtown area, use Historic Preservation as an economic development tool, encourage more local school and religious involvement downtown, and maintain accurate records for business recruitment, retention and improvement.

This section also mentioned that Main Street should develop regular venues to promote investment within downtown events and programs, such as a Developers day, which would consist of developers, realtors and small business owners promoting investment in Covington.

Marketing and Public Relations
The marketing and public relations section of the review recommended that the program use a new PR and marketing strategy. Under the new strategy, Main Street would work with a list of media partners around the Atlanta area to increase the attention of Covington through written articles related to downtown.

It also stated that a 24-month media plan focused on promotions and investment opportunities should be developed and recommended that Main Street partner with Georgia Trend magazine to promote downtown Covington because of its successful print publication and online readership.

Event Planning and Management
The event planning and management section noted that Main Street was a leader in events, but it was said in some of the interviews that some of the businesses weren't aware of all of the events that took place downtown. It was recommended that there be more communication with merchants about events going on in the downtown district.

In addition, the review stated that Main Street should reduce the number of events that required oversight from the Main Street program, develop events that promoted diversity downtown, encourage senior-friendly events and suggested that the city hire a part-time administrative staff member to assist with routine tasks of managing the Main Street Program.

During the meeting, Jones said the Main Street program had the leadership and built in environment, but that it needed to remember the business community, who he said wanted to see change happen and investment downtown. He said the foundation of the Main Street program in the 1980s was about economics and what helped businesses make a profit.

"When I came to Covington for the first time, I said ‘This city has everything' but at times what it doesn't have is a new refreshed attitude about where we can take your downtown district,'" Jones said.

"You have done an excellent job in so many areas. Your staff here with Josephine Kelly has done an amazing job in promoting events for downtown, but your weakness is how you promote downtown from an investment standpoint because that really is just as important," Jones said.

"It's how you promote downtown on a statewide level, on a national level, to say that Covington is here and we want you to invest. We don't want you to go to Conyers or Madison; we want you here in Covington. This blueprint and recommendation should give you really clear ideas on how you can accomplish that," Jones said.

After ideas and recommendations were discussed by Jones, he opened the floor for questions from the council.

There wasn't any discussion from the council, however Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he would like to see the council meet with the Newton County Board of Commissioners and Main Street program to discuss the next steps in possibly revamping the Main Street program.

"The Main Street program touches a lot. It's just not one thing," Johnston said.

"This is some great stuff and we have a lot of work to do and hopefully we can get the county to see the same thing.

"We've got to sit down and really start putting numbers to it and putting a plan together because I don't think this is a quick fix by any stretch of imagination," Johnston said. "I do see this as a cultural type change that is going to take some time. I would like to get a consensus from the council to continue moving down that path."

Main Street Covington executive director Josephine Kelly said the board will discuss NewTown Partners' review at its meeting on Thursday morning, which will be held at the Covington Planning and Zoning Office at 8 a.m.