Fun fact: According to Irene Smith, who was involved with bringing the show to Covington, producers told her that Covington was in the running for the show along with another Georgia city. When asked if the other city had a slum, officials said no, they did not. However, people with “In the Heat of the Night” told Smith they knew the county had a slum and it was called the crack. Smith said that the other town “wouldn’t show their crack, so we gave them our bottoms (a neighborhood portrayed in the show).”
“The Vampire Diaries” is a worldwide hit, “In the Heat of the Night” brought Newton County to the attention of a national television audience, and movies bring millions of dollars into Newton County and Covington.
One could call the area, “The Hollywood of the South.” Well, that’s exactly what the Covington Newton County Visitors Center did. The name was trademarked years ago, and the chamber of commerce took it one step further Thursday.
The chamber held a ribbon cutting on Covington’s refurbished Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, transforming the space to look like the lobby of a movie theater. A marquee stating “Now showing: History, Hauntings and Hollywood Starring Covington, Georgia” looms over visitors as they enter the building, posters of some of the hits filmed in Newton County line the walls, and the welcome desk looks like a concession stand from a theater.
There are signs that welcome visitors to Mystic Falls, Virginia and Sparta, reminding people that local residents may live in Newton County but visitors are stepping into “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
“It reflects the brand of the Hollywood of the South,” McDonald said. “We’re focusing it mainly on film tourism since that is our biggest draw right now.”
Representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Lee Thomas, deputy commissioner for film and digital entertainment, Craig Dominey, senior film location specialist, Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner for tourism, Beda Johnson, tourism division director, Nija Torrence, operations manager, and Rebekah Snider, historic heartland tourism project manager, all attended.
The Covington CVB, Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, elected officials and other distinguished guests were also on hand to see the unveiling.
“We’re so excited about what’s going on with movies and films in the area,” McDonald said.
According to remarks made by chamber president Hunter Hall, movies and television shows have generated $2.4 million in tourism dollars — the equivalent of Covington’s two biggest industries SKC and General Mills. Small businesses have also benefited with Bizzy Bee Exterminators — which does pest control before every “The Vampire Diaries” shoot, Covington Rental — which provides tables, chairs and other items to “The Vampire Diaries” crew and Scoops — a snacking favorite all seeing a 30 percent increase in revenue.
Businesses have also been created from the film industry, including Vampire Stalkers Tours and the Mystic Grill Restaurant.
The renovated visitor center carries the tradition on turning Newton County’s movie and television opportunities into tourism dollars.
“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase the impact of state film incentives and state tourism incentives and how we have benefited by them,” Hall said.