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Top stories of 2008: Civic center takes step forward, then backward

COVINGTON - The proposed downtown hotel/civic and conference center took a giant step forward when the city and county approved issuance of $23 million in revenue bonds for the project.

With $5 million in special purpose local option sales tax revenues already allocated to fund the building, officials said they would not burden taxpayers with the additional expense. Instead, they agreed to raise the hotel/motel tax from 5 to 8 percent and require the hotel operator to make payments to offset debt in lieu of property taxes.

After a citizen questioned projections on revenues generated from the hotel/motel tax, the estimates were revisited, with more conservative numbers released.

However, now the project is in limbo due to an unstable bond market, and an agreement with the private hotel developer, P.R. Hospitality, has yet to be reached.

"It's on hold month by month until we see what's going on with the economy," Covington Mayor Kim Carter said in November.

The City Council recently agreed to form a committee to create a back-up list of projects that could be funded by the hotel/motel tax increase should the hotel/civic center not come to fruition. The tax increase must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly.

As currently planned, the project includes a 1,200-seat civic center, a 6,000-square-foot conference center and a 116-room hotel with a restaurant, fitness center, pool, concierge lounge and lobby lounge.