Business owners, residents don't agree on 'Vampire' impact

COVINGTON -- Residents and business owners shared different viewpoints on the impact of "The Vampire Diaries" filming in Covington at the City Council meeting Monday evening.

The council ultimately decided to create a committee to address concerns and create policies related to filming. The council agreed to determine the size and function of the committee, as well as members, at its Nov. 19 meeting.

During public comments, several citizens spoke up about how filming has impacted their lives.

Nancy Whirley, owner of Speedway Properties LLC, has numerous tenants on Thompson Avenue. She said many of her tenants have been disturbed by filming but are afraid to approach the City Council and complain. In a letter to the city, Whirley said one long-term tenant of eight years is considering moving due to the disruption, which includes large trucks and equipment blocking the flow of traffic, loud noise, a rude crew and Porta-Potties placed within view of residents' front doors.

Thompson Avenue resident Christina Cabe said it's taken years for her to come and stand before the council to state her concerns.

"I'm not saying I don't want filming in Covington. I'm all for it, but I'm asking would y'all please consider the full impact on residents," Cabe said.

Cabe wrote a lengthy letter to the city detailing various disturbances caused by filming, including bright lights shining into her bedroom; being stopped and questioned by the crew, and even asked for identification, when she attempts to get to her house; and loud noise caused by the film crew loading trucks and shouting at each other occurring after 11 p.m. and before 6 a.m.

Last fall, Cabe said this occurred for six weeks out of a three-month time period.

"Is becoming the 'Hollywood of the South' more important than the comfort and happiness of your residents?" she asked, referring to the slogan trademarked by the Department of Tourism.

However, some downtown business owners said they are benefitting from "The Vampire Diaries." Andrea Smith, owner of Square Perk, a coffee shop downtown, said she's seen sales double three days in a row thanks to filming.

"That's more money that I can put towards improving my store, towards training employees ... that makes us a better coffee shop for the entire community without having to go into debt to do it," she said. Smith added that one of her customers is a woman from the United Kingdom who is taking a 10-day vacation to Covington because of "The Vampire Diaries."

Jessica Lowery, founder of Mystic Falls Tours, said she's got around 700 signatures on a petition supporting filming of "The Vampire Diaries." Many are customers from out-of-town. In the last 10 days, Lowery said she's had visitors from Austria, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and other countries. Lowery said she refers tourists to local hotels. In August and September, 178 nights were booked at the Hampton Inn by "Vampire Diaries" tourists, she said.

"To a small city, that's a big deal. We all know it is," she said, reminding the council that "if it's easier for them to go somewhere else to film, they will."

Susan Kirk, owner of Scoops on the Square, said more than 25 percent of her business is directly related to "The Vampire Diaries." She said one customer is moving to Covington from Italy. "Once they get here, they realize what we have and how special it is," she said.

But Whirley said it's a different experience for residents.

"It's easy to say all these things, but when it's outside your front door, not your business making money, but outside your front door, it's a different matter," she said.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he'd like to see citizens, business owners, representatives from the city and from Bonanza Productions on the committee. He said he has been assured that there will be no late night filming in residential areas through the end of the year.

Councilwomen Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Williams said they want to make sure citizens are put first.

"Once they're gone, these people will still be here," Franklin said.

Williams added that, "I think a lot of our citizens feel we have put (Vampire Diaries) first because of the money issue ... a lot of citizens feel the money impact has superseded them as residents."