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Covington alters hotel/motel projects

COVINGTON — City officials have revised the list of tourism projects to benefit from a portion of hotel/motel tax revenues.

The city increased its lodging tax from 5 to 8 percent in 2009.

As of the end of this July, $241,357 had been collected from the additional 3 percent, said City Manager Leigh Anne Knight. None of those dollars has been spent, she said.

The revised resolution approved by the council at its Sept. 16 meeting allocates 2.5 percent of the collected and unspent amount to date to the Miracle Field program, 1 percent to Chimney Park, $20,000 for Christmas lighting of the city’s downtown central business district and an unspecified amount for construction of public restrooms within the downtown central business district. After those expenses, the remaining money will go to capital improvements to Legion Field for use by the public as a park and recreation facility.

Knight said the council is looking at where it can get the most value in terms of tourism promotion, and what would bring the most value to citizens. Plans for Legion Field include an ampitheater, new pavilion and recreational space.

By state law, half of the 3 percent increase must be used for promotion of tourism, conventions and trade shows and expended through contract with a “destination marketing organization,” in this case, the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce’s tourism arm. The other half must be used for tourism product development and can be spent directly by the city. Tourism product development means the creation or expansion of physical attractions that are available to the public and improve the destination appeal to visitors, support visitors’ experience and are used by visitors. Expenses can include capital and operating costs.

Initially, officials designated revenues from the tax increase to the downtown civic center, a project long in limbo. If no money was spent on the civic center for at least two years, a list of alternative projects could benefit. Those projects included the failed rails-to-trails project, a pedestrian corridor at Hunter and Stallings streets, signs to guide motorists to attractions and amenities and conversion of the historic jail to a museum. The Miracle Field and Chimney Park were also included on the initial list.

The remaining 5 percent of hotel/motel tax revenues is split between the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Covington, with the Chamber retaining 60 percent and Main Street 40 percent.