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DDA approves Mystic Grill project

COVINGTON -- The Covington Downtown Development Authority has given its blessing to the initial project assessment for the proposed Mystic Grill restaurant.

The DDA held a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon at City Hall, where they signed off on the project. DDA approval is necessary in order for the Department of Community Affairs to approve a low-interest Downtown Development Authority Revolving Loan application of up to $250,000.

The loan is through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and along with the DDA, the Covington City Council must also approve the initial project assessment.

The Thompson Building at 1114-1116 Clark St. is featured as the Mystic Grill restaurant on the hit television series, "The Vampire Diaries." Formerly an office building that was damaged by fire last year, it will be converted into a real restaurant by new owners Mayor Ronnie Johnston and his wife Kelley and John and Angela Beszborn. Due to Johnston's involvement in the project, he has recused himself from the council's activity related to it and all information provided by the city in support of the project is being executed by Mayor Pro Tem Janet Goodman, who also serves on the DDA.

The Johnstons and the Beszborns formed 2x4 Holdings LLC, a real estate holding company, specifically for purchasing and improving the building. The Beszborns also own the Covington Bullritos.

According to the initial project assessment, building plans are currently under review and permitting with the city. Construction is expected to get started this month and be completed in August. Angela Beszborn previously told the Citizen she hoped the restaurant could open this summer.

The cost to acquire and rehabilitate the property, along with purchasing furniture and equipment and architectural and design plans is $2,273,500, according to the project assessment.

The owners are providing equity for the project and permanent financing will be provided by a loan through Newton Federal Bank, with the Downtown Development Revolving Loan as a second position loan. The loan amount listed in the initial project assessment is $1,916,750. The owners have signed a letter of intent with Newton Federal for the loan amount requested, according to the document.

Main Street Covington has provided assurance that the project aligns with its mission and goals. According to the project assessment, original detail on the circa 1906 building has been lost and preservation and rehabilitation of the building will preserve the historic integrity of the Square.

In addition, "The job creation associated with this project, estimated at approximately 80 people initially, will increase the total number of people employed on the town square," the document states. Also, restaurant recruitment is a core element of Main Street's economic development strategy.

The DDA has not been active recently but was rejuvenated by city officials for the purpose of providing the necessary approval of the project in order for the application to pass muster with DCA.

Members are Goodman, Rob Fowler, Bob Stansfield, Arvin Spell, Deloris Smith and Larry Sullivan.

The group agreed to meet at 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month, bi-monthly, but only if there is a need.

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 2x4 Holdings.

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.