Main Street board to review report in March

COVINGTON -- The Main Street Covington Board of Directors will discuss a recent review of the program by a consultant at its spring retreat in March, according to Chairman Dan Walden.

"We take that information very seriously and we are currently digesting it. Our plan is to dig into it during our spring retreat," Walden told the Covington City Council at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Walden said the board received the report by Christopher Jones of NewTown Partners at its meeting on the second Thursday in January and board members have been asked to review it for discussion at the February board meeting and more in-depth discussion at the retreat, scheduled for March 14.

A group of merchants and property owners from downtown came to the council meeting to express support for the findings in the review. "We agree with what the consultant has put into this very detailed report he gave us and we really just want to see that this is put into place," said Treasa Waters, acting as a spokesperson for the group.

Jones reported to the council earlier this month that, "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."

The report recommended 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."

Walden told the council that the board is not clear what methodology was used to determine which merchants and stakeholders to interview.

Walden said there is a methodology that could be used to "give the report some balance and validity. It's not clear yet to us whether any kind of standard methodology was used."

Contacted for comment on his methodology, Jones said he spoke with the Main Street director, some board members, elected officials and city staff, among others, to get suggestions of merchants to interview, as well as walking around town and spoke to folks at random.

"Having been a Main Street director, I knew the best thing to do was get out and walk the Square to talk to merchants," he said. Jones said his visits occurred during the week and on weekends and he got a "pretty clear depiction of what the mindset is of the merchants." Jones said most of the merchants are not happy with the program and think improvements could be made.

He also said the Main Street Board of Directors as a whole was not receptive to the project, and he had difficulty obtaining meetings with the director and board members. "I would have welcomed more involvement from them," he said.

Jones said he would give the Covington Main Street Program a grade of C-minus at best when comparing it with other similar programs, because there is so much potential that has not been reached.

Though the program has received numerous awards, Jones said, "Bringing in businesses and making downtown more profitable" and support from merchants is the best test of a Main Street program.

Jones' recommendations included that the program focus more on economic development, business retention and recruitment.

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.

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.

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.

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, among other recommendations.

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 a cost of $4,500 and is funding the entire cost of the review.