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LETTER: City leaders must be more transparent, reader says

Dear Editor:

The Covington Police Department (CPD) vacated its headquarters on Oak Street a few months ago, and now the property is being re-purposed for outdoor recreation, a welcome center and as a home to multiple city offices.  There are raised beds for a community garden, a grill and picnic tables, and something described as a “hammock village” like one in Monroe.

In front of the old police station, the parking lot along Conyers Street was roped off and a local artist was hired to paint templates for children’s games on the pavement. Just a few weeks ago, the neighborhood lit up with a wildfire rumor that the city planned a “water park,” maybe a “splash park,” across Conyers Street at Baker Field.  Horrified neighbors convened a spur-of-the-moment meeting, envisioning clogged streets and double-parking and a noisy hubbub shattering their peaceful residential neighborhood that is within the Covington Historic District and part of the area recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. The rumor proved false.

Wouldn’t you think with all this activity going on right under their noses, the surrounding residents would have received some outreach or notification from the city? Think again. It still hasn’t happened, and when at least one councilmember was contacted a few weeks ago; even that person didn’t know what was going on. I raised questions tp city officials and was invited to a meeting with city employees who opened up about what was going on. Maybe a meeting like this should have been offered to nearby residents before we got this far. 

The old CPD building is going to be a Welcome Center to serve the 40,000 documented visitors that make Covington a hot travel destination. Ron Carter, Welcome Center director, told me that visitors to Covington used to spend 2-3 days, but today visits have lengthened to 5-7 days, with Covington serving as the jumping off point for forays into Atlanta, to Athens, to Madison and surrounding environs.  Currently, there aren’t enough hotel rooms in Covington to serve our guests. Announcements of planned new hotels in Covington are welcome news. 

The Welcome Center will be home to museum spaces dedicated to The Vampires television series, one devoted to other TV series and movies filmed here, and a third space to serve as a local history museum.  After all, we had a history before the TV and movie industry discovered us. Other space in that building is assigned to the city’s Downtown Development Office, Tourism, Economic Development, Special Projects and Multi-media and Graphic Design.

Let’s get back to the neighborhood and the neighbors who found themselves in the dark about the re-use of this real estate in their midst  — with no notice or forewarning. The city made the mistake of assuming that surrounding residents could not object to new and further uses of government-owned property — since they had lived with government-owned property in their midst for decades.  They made the wrong assumption.

The city must make a commitment to be more transparent and considerate in the future before barreling ahead with no thought about the impact of hastily made decisions.  Going forward, in the interest of good will and neighborliness, whenever cherished historic neighborhoods will be affected by city decisions, residents deserve to be informed and given the opportunity to provide input and feedback. 

Barbara Morgan