@Photo CUTLINE:The shops in the downtown district, including Scoops, an ice cream and candy shop, are all part of the Downtown Business District, overseen by Main Street Covington. Changes are afoot for the Main Street program, following a review by a consultant hired by the city of Covington. - Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- A consultant hired by the city of Covington to evaluate the Main Street Covington program presented his findings to the City Council on Monday night.
Christopher Jones of NewTown Partners said he interviewed more than 30 merchants and other individuals, Main Street board members and officials statewide to get an idea of the perception of the local program.
Jones said he thought on his first visit to Covington, "This city has everything. At times what it doesn't have is a new, refreshed attitude about where you can take the downtown district."
Jones said the business community wants to see change happen and investment in the downtown.
The Main Street program has primarily been events driven, but has not focused as much on economic development, business retention and recruitment, he said.
Jones commended Director Josephine Kelly and her board for excellent work in many areas, but said a weakness of the program is promoting downtown from an investment standpoint.
He recommended establishing an organized program for business recruitment, retention and improvement.
Jones' report states that the 12-member volunteer Main Street Board "is not adequately educated on the basic four points of the program and in some cases board members are not effectively 'vested' in the goals and objectives of the program."
Jones recommended a reorganization of the board, starting with clear articulation of the Main Street program goals and objectives and a plan of how they will be achieved.
The current board has a figure head structure that relies mainly on the director for implementing the yearly body of work, the report states.
"Efforts should be made to 'empower' board members to accomplish specific goals while being advised and guided by the director in their efforts," the report states.
Jones also recommended limiting board terms to two years, with board members eligible for reappointment after a minimum one-year absence from the board.
Jones said each board member should be given specific duties and identified seven committees that board members should be responsible for chairing or co-chairing: Downtown Merchant Communication; Public Relations/Media; Special Events and Festivals; City and County Relations; Tourism; Economic Development: Business Recruitment, Retention and Improvement; and Community/Resident Affairs.
He also recommended involving a more wide ranging selection of board members and increasing volunteer participation.
"A concern clearly expressed in stakeholder interviews as well as during unscheduled site visits is found in the 'perception' that Main Street is about a select group of businesses and individuals," he said.
Jones recommended more accountability from Main Street to the city and more oversight from the city, including monthly reports detailing accomplishments of the program and current projects provided to the city manager and passed on to the mayor and council, as well as annual reports.
Accurate records of donations from residents, business owners and foundations should also be kept, as there is currently no record system in place, according to the report.
There is also a recommendation for the director to "work directly with business owners (getting out of the office and interacting with people personally on a regular basis). A clear weakness is found in inconsistent site visits to businesses by the director throughout the District."
Jones recommended providing the director with a new set of goals and objectives for 2013, agreed upon by the director and the city, with input from the board.
Another recommendation is the creation of a tourism map that includes various sites downtown, such as the Historic Courthouse and jail, and the Visitors Center, along with filming locations. The map should be available at various businesses and at the Chamber, Jones said.
Main Street currently does not maintain a complete record of properties and tenants downtown. Jones said that needs to change in order to effectively market vacant sites.
He also said the majority of events downtown have little to no focus on economic development, and that needs to change. He recommended hosting a Developers Day, a symposium for developers, Realtors and small business owners to showcase specific properties.
He also suggested developing a form to track leads and prospects for downtown development.
Other recommendations include:
-- Communicating clearly with merchants about hours of filming and what is expected of the downtown business community.
-- Establishing a media/PR campaign.
-- Better communication with merchants about upcoming events in the downtown, and establishing a forum for merchants to give feedback on events.
-- Hosting more diverse events downtown, that school children and senior citizens, for example, would attend.
Jones also suggested that a part-time assistant to Kelly be hired to handle basic administrative duties.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston, who recommended the review of Main Street, received permission from the City Council to take these recommendations to the Board of Commissioners. Main Street is jointly funded by the city and county, as well as proceeds from the hotel/motel tax. The city approved the review at up to $4,500 and is funding the entire cost of the review.