Covington officials support Mystic Grill

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council approved Monday night a resolution authorizing Mayor Pro Tem Janet Goodman to execute a Downtown Development Authority Revolving Loan Fund application to the Department of Community Affairs on behalf of 2 By 4 Holdings LLC, the group that is planning to convert the office building that serves as the Mystic Grill for "The Vampire Diaries" into a real restaurant.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston, who is a partner in 2 By 4 Holdings, left the room while the council voted on the matter. Johnston publicly disclosed his partnership at the council's meeting two weeks ago and recused himself from any action related to the project. Due to the mayor's involvement, DCA required that council members specify it in the motion and that it be reflected in the minutes that "the mayor did not pressure you in any way to approve this action," said Assistant City Attorney Frank Turner Jr.

The resolution states that the city supports and agrees with plans presented by 2 By 4 Holdings regarding the property at 1114 and 1116 Clark St. N.W. and that the repair, renovation and remodeling of the property "will provide needed commercial space in downtown Covington and replace job opportunities lost by the destruction of the building." The building, originally constructed in 1906 as home to the Bank of Covington, was damaged by fire last year and has been vacant since. The exterior is used in filming of the popular television series "The Vampire Diaries."

If the loan application is approved, Goodman, as mayor pro tem, is authorized to execute an intergovernmental agreement between the city of Covington, the Downtown Development Authority of Covington and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to authorize the DDA to borrow and be the sub-recipient of loan funds from the DCA and to, in turn, lend those funds to 2 By 4 Holdings.

The council also approved a letter to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission Planning and Government Services Division requesting its assistance with the application process. The NEGRC assisted about eight years ago in obtaining a Downtown Development Authority Revolving Loan for the renovation of The Lula Building, also located on the downtown Square.

The city's role is to state its support of the project, a requirement to receive the loan.

Johnston and his wife Kelley are partnering with Angie and John Beszborn, owners of Bullritos, to open the restaurant.

"We very much hope to open by summer," Angie Henderson Beszborn said. The restaurant will serve lunch and supper, "Southern comfort food with a touch of fine dining," she said.

According to DCA's website, the purpose of the Revolving Loan Fund is to assist cities, counties and development authorities in efforts to revitalize and enhance downtown areas by providing below-market rate financing to fund capital projects in core historic downtown areas and adjacent historic neighborhoods to spur commercial redevelopment. The maximum loan is $250,000 per project.

Once repayment of the loan is made, the funds can be loaned to another project within the same downtown district if there is an eligible applicant.