Let­ters to the ed­i­tor

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Re­sponse to re­cent let­ter

Dear Ed­i­tor: Stella John­son of Cov­ing­ton re­cently wrote a Let­ter to the Ed­i­tor of The Cov­ing­ton News prais­ing the beauty of New­ton County and its cities. She elo­quently ex­pressed her love of and con­cern for the fu­ture of the County.

John­son also ques­tioned the need for the pro­posed ho­tel/con­fer­ence/civic cen­ter project ad­ja­cent to the Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing on Pace Street in Cov­ing­ton.

She asked “why not let other ho­tels pro­vide for our vis­i­tors?” Un­for­tu­nately, all too of­ten they do at the ex­pense of our lo­cal restau­rants, shops and lo­cal tax rev­enues. When peo­ple visit New­ton County, as over 60,000 did last year to at­tend fes­ti­vals, con­certs and recre­ational events, they of­ten don’t find the quan­tity or qual­ity of ho­tel/mo­tel rooms in New­ton County and are forced to stay miles away. This is not a good thing. New­ton County loses ho­tel/mo­tel tax rev­enues, sales taxes on pur­chases and our lo­cal busi­nesses lose sales. The Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press, our new­est ho­tel, op­er­ates above in­dus­try oc­cu­pancy lev­els and is a pre­mium priced prop­erty. Ob­vi­ously there is a need for more qual­ity ho­tel space in New­ton County.

She also asks in her let­ter, “Do we hon­estly need ad­di­tional meet­ing spa­ces for busi­ness trav­el­ers in the county?” Yes, we hon­estly do. So much so that last year mem­bers of our Ex­ist­ing In­dus­try Coun­cil wrote a let­ter jointly to the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil and the County Com­mis­sion ask­ing them to sup­port this project. They need meet­ing space so that their se­nior ex­ec­u­tives can hold con­fer­ences in the city that they’ve in­vested mil­lions of dol­lars in. Again, it’s tax rev­enues and sales for lo­cal busi­nesses when they do, not to men­tion the con­fi­dence they will have in our abil­ity to sup­port plant ex­pan­sions in the fu­ture. Cor­po­ra­tions will in­vest in com­mu­ni­ties that in­vest in them­selves to pro­vide the ser­vices they re­quire.

John­son states that “a civic cen­ter would be nice if we re­ally need one.” Again, the vot­ers of New­ton County have al­ready in­di­cated that need when they passed the SPLOST ref­er­en­dum in 2006 to build one.

The Arts As­so­ci­a­tion has done a ter­rific job in the past at­tract­ing top qual­ity per­for­mances to New­ton County even though our fa­cil­i­ties for them is not op­ti­mum. With a 1,200-seat civic cen­ter, we could at­tract even bet­ter pro­grams, nur­ture our lo­cal artists and their per­for­mances and truly make Cov­ing­ton and New­ton County a spe­cial des­ti­na­tion be­tween At­lanta and South Carolina. And it would be nice to host our neigh­bor­ing coun­ties events here and have them con­trib­ute to our schools and tax base for a change.

Fi­nally, John­son asks “isn’t there an al­ter­na­tive that doesn’t re­quire spend­ing so much money?” The largest sin­gle chunk of money will be private in­vest­ment, not pub­lic, and we have had in­vestors com­pet­ing to de­velop the ho­tel at a cost of around $10 mil­lion dol­lars of their money. A pri­vately-funded fea­si­bil­ity study has been con­ducted that shows the pro­jected suc­cess of a 100-room ho­tel and it is made stronger by the pres­ence of the con­fer­ence cen­ter, which brings in more shows and peo­ple.

The rest of the project will be paid for through rev­enue bonds that are in large part re­tired from in­creased ho­tel/mo­tel taxes paid by those stay­ing in the ho­tel. Both the City of Cov­ing­ton and the New­ton County Com­mis­sion met jointly in De­cem­ber of 2007 and ap­proved the is­suance of th­ese bonds, based upon the busi­ness sound­ness of the project.

Job cre­ation, tax rev­enue gen­er­a­tion and new in­vest­ment cre­ation are the goals of this project, not just a ho­tel or a civic cen­ter. Th­ese types of projects pro­duce the rev­enue that makes im­prove­ments in schools, side­walks and, yes, hand­i­cap ac­ces­si­bil­ity, pos­si­ble. The fact that the private sec­tor, af­ter con­sid­er­ing the risks and re­wards, would com­pete to in­vest mil­lions in Cov­ing­ton speaks well of the strength of the project.

John Boothby Cov­ing­ton/New­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce

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