City, county may join forces for community center

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The City Council, Board of Commissioners and representatives from the Covington Housing Authority and Covington Redevelopment Authority met at a work session Wednesday afternoon to discuss partnering on a mixed-use community facility in Walker's Bend.

The four-story building would include 30 residential units on the top three floors and commercial space on the main floor. The residential units would serve to move qualified tenants of the Covington Housing Authority into market rate housing.

The bottom floor would include meeting and classroom space for a job training and life skills program that would be done through a partnership between the Newton County Ministers Union and DeKalb Technical College and a classroom for the existing Covington Housing and Financial Counseling Program.

It would also contain a certified commercial kitchen that could be leased at an affordable price to food entrepreneurs who must have kitchens inspected but don't have the funds to establish a certified kitchen on their own, along with a small restaurant space for a restaurateur who would manage the kitchen and provide training for food service jobs, said Covington Senior Planner Randy Vinson.

Also, there would be a space for incubation of small businesses offered at an affordable lease rate with training and support provided by the Redevelopment Authority and the Chamber of Commerce.

Finally, a community room would be available for residents of Walker's Bend and surrounding neighborhoods.

The building would be located at the entrance of the neighborhood off Washington Street.

"We see this as a critical first step toward transforming the image of Walker's Bend. Right now, it looks abandoned," Vinson said.

He said the project has "a lot of moving parts and a lot of people involved. It's going to take every one of us to figure out the best way to make this all fit together."

The facility will cost an estimated $3.6 million. The city is applying for an $800,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to pay for the kitchen and incubator space. Officials are asking the county to allocate $545,000 in SPLOST 2011 funds designated for a District 4 community center to the project to pay for the job and financial training classrooms.

In addition, the city is asking Newton County to name the city as a sub-recipient of $435,000 in funds from the current Neighborhood Stabilization Program for the residential component, and to pass a resolution stating it does not intend to apply for the next round of NSP funding, opening the way for the city to apply instead. The county is eligible for $1,085,000 in NSP 3 funding that will be awarded soon. If all those funding sources come through, total available funding would be $2,865,000. The remaining funds would come through a loan taken out by the Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority and Newton County would own the building and would be responsible for maintenance and operations if rent payments are not enough to cover expenses. Jim Alexander, attorney for the Housing Authority, said to simplify things, the authority should be the owner and manager with the county owning whatever portion needed to meet SPLOST requirements.

A new nonprofit would be formed to manage financial counseling, job training and the business incubator space with appointments from the county, city, housing and redevelopment authorities, Newton County Ministers Union and Chamber of Commerce.

With the results of the CDBG grant not available until fall, it would be early 2012 before the project could be bid out and likely early 2013 before it would be completed, Vinson said.

The Housing Authority would finance construction with the guarantee of funds to be reimbursed when available.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he wants to make sure the project is in line with what voters approved on the SPLOST referendum. He said he initially proposed that $45,000 of the money be used for summer jobs for teenagers, although that specified purpose was not stated in the intergovernmental agreement.

Councilman Chris Smith asked if there is enough demand to build the additional housing. Alexander said the Housing Authority has had a waiting list since he began his tenure there in 1978.

"So far we've not ever come close to meeting the demand for market rate units," he said.

The county is expected to discuss the NSP 3 funding at its April 5 meeting, as the application is due in mid-April.