The Covington Police Department (CPD) vacated its headquarters on Oak Street a few months ago, and now the property is being re-purposed for outdoor recreation, a welcome center and as a home to multiple city offices. There are raised beds for a community garden, a grill and picnic tables, and something described as a “hammock village” like one in Monroe. (Who thought installing rope hammocks for public use in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic was a good idea?)
In front of the old police station, once City Hall, the parking lot along Conyers Street was roped off and a local artist hired to paint templates for children’s games on the pavement.
Just a few weeks ago, the neighborhood lit up with a wildfire rumor that the city planned a “water park,” maybe a “splash park,” across Conyers Street at Baker Field. Horrified neighbors convened a spur-of-the-moment meeting, envisioning clogged streets and double-parking and a noisy hubbub shattering their peaceful residential neighborhood that is within the Covington Historic District and part of the area recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. (The rumor proved false, as I would learn, but rumors take root in the absence of full information and facts.)
Wouldn’t you think with all this activity going on right under their noses, the surrounding residents would have received some outreach or notification from the city? Think again. It still hasn’t happened, and when at least one City Councilperson was contacted a few weeks ago, even that person didn’t know what was going on. I raised questions with city officials and was invited to a meeting with city employees who opened up about what was going on. Maybe a meeting like this should have been offered to nearby residents before we got this far.
First and foremost, the old CPD building is going to be a Welcome Center to serve the 40,000 – documented – visitors that make Covington a hot travel destination. Ron Carter, Welcome Center director, told me that visitors to Covington used to spend 2-3 days, but today visits have lengthened to 5-7 days, with Covington serving as the jumping off point for forays into Atlanta, to Athens, to Madison and surrounding environs. Currently, there aren’t enough hotel rooms in Covington to serve our guests, many of whom book stays in Conyers or Madison, for example. Announcements of planned new hotels in Covington are welcome news.
The Welcome Center will be home to museum spaces dedicated to The Vampires television series, one devoted to other TV series and movies filmed here, and a third space to serve as a local history museum. After all, we had a history before the TV and movie industry discovered us and before we became Hollywood of the South.
Other available space in that building is assigned to the city’s Downtown Development Office, Tourism, Economic Development, Special Projects and Multi-media and Graphic Design.
Across Conyers Street right next to Baker Field sits the old gym — where I started first grade. The city representatives with whom I met described the building as having “good bones” but in need of millions of dollars of repairs. The same for Baker Field: “dilapidated but needs a little love.” I was told that the city website currently posts RFPs – Requests for Proposals – from entities that might repair and upgrade the field and building for higher purposes, perhaps loft apartments. The deadline is the end of October.
Let’s get back to the neighborhood and the neighbors who found themselves in the dark about the re-use of this real estate in their midst — with no notice or forewarning, not even a flyer in their mailboxes, not even a request for their own input. The city made the mistake of assuming that surrounding residents could not object to new and further uses of government-owned property — since they had lived with government-owned property in their midst for decades. They made the wrong assumption.
The city must make a commitment to be more transparent and considerate in the future before barreling ahead with no thought about the impact of hastily made decisions. Going forward, in the interest of good will and neighborliness, whenever cherished historic neighborhoods will be affected by city decisions, residents deserve to be informed and given the opportunity to provide input and feedback.