Covington’s Depot District has been selected for the Tennessee Downtowns program, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced this week.
The program provides funding and assistance in revitalization of the area near the East Liberty Avenue and Union Street depot, which is considered an extension of the Historic Court Square area.
“During the two-year program, our community will get to decide on a $15,000 grant project that we are not required to match,” said Covington-Tipton County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Fletcher. “The designation also enables us to be eligible to participate in other grants and programs that we would not otherwise be aware of without having been selected as a Tennessee Downtowns community.”
There are currently few businesses located there – One Way Café and Liberty Vintage Marketplace are new additions – but Covington Mayor Justin Hanson said he envisions a downtown area like Broad Avenue in Memphis.
“That’s our exit off the interstate. That’s the first thing people see when they come in on Hwy. 54.”
During a Finance & Administration committee meeting in January Hanson said he could see the Depot District being the city’s arts district.
“Do you remember how terrible Broad Avenue was? Ten or 15 years ago you wouldn’t go down there, now it’s a great place to go. They’ve got a water tower down there just like we have … let’s get that water tower painted something cool and colorful, let’s repurpose that Depot District down there, have a greenspace where the compress is … and then repurpose the living area up at North Main where we’ll have good food and beverages. I believe in it. I see it.”
Fletcher, who wrote the grant, said the area is perfect for the Tennessee Downtowns program. It will be operated by the Covington Economic and Community Development Corporation.
“Because that area is blighted there’s so much potential,” Fletcher said.
The steering committee will consist of Lisa Keith Babb, owner of Liberty Vintage Marketplace who is the committee chair; Jay Kasinger, owner of One Way Cafe owner; Covington Code Enforcement Director Lessie Fisher; and local artist Lyn Jones and David Keith, who is the president of CEDC.
Their goal is gearing the Depot District toward a Main Street designation.
Fletcher said the 24-month program coaches selected downtowns and their steering committees through the steps of launching an effective revitalization effort.
The four-point approach will include designing a downtown area that is safe and inviting, strengthening the community’s existing economic assets and diversifying its base, creating a positive image to rekindle community pride and building partnerships with downtown stakeholders.
Program activities include training, site visits, regional workshops, webinars, technical assistance and an innovation project grant.
Other communities selected include Collinwood, Decaturville, Dunlap, Halls, Hartsville, Madisonville, Somerville, South Pittsburg and Whiteville.
Each has downtown commercial districts established at least 50 years ago, TNECD said, and demonstrated their readiness for downtown revitalization according to Main Street America principles.
“TNECD remains focused on strengthening rural Tennessee, and for many communities, that means ensuring their historic downtowns are vibrant,” Commissioner Bob Rolfe said. “The Tennessee Downtowns program is an essential part of our rural development strategy, and we look forward to working with these 10 new Tennessee Downtowns as they develop sustainable renewal efforts in their commercial districts.”
Fletcher said she wants the district to appeal to visitors and potential residents.
“If people find it a great place to visit, they’ll find it a great place to live. We want them to stay here. If we have a stronger retail presence with more things to do, arts, that’s much more appealing for people to want to stay in the community.”