Turn onto Depot Alley in Covington and you’ll find Jimmy Butler’s Shop sitting across from the long-vacant former depot.
Traveling farther south, as it turns into Menefee, you’ll find several more abandoned, blighted buildings.
The same is true at Union, which joins Depot Alley and Menefee, and East Pleasant.
Except for Butler’s shop, Little Jimmy’s restaurant, Wallace Cordage Company and the metal roofing supply company, there are so signs of life. Businesses closed, run-down buildings remain.
I live nearby.
My children and I have walked our dogs and biked this area several times over the last five years. It was at the corner of Union and East Pleasant that one of my daughters first learned to ride her bike, that all three took turns splashing through the enormous pothole in the parking lot between Little Jimmy’s and Union after it rained, where I winced at the building where painted balloons advertise a long-forgotten sale.
We generally bike up East Pleasant, either turning on Park or Tipton, after moving back the old Worldwide Art Studio buildings, which are also sitting empty.
These – together with the federal compress, which is lying in ruin – are part of my neighborhood.
Houston Gordon, the well-respected attorney who practices up the street both from where I work and where I live, purchased the old depot building during a recent auction and asked the city to rezone it for mixed use. His intentions, he said at last Tuesday’s meeting of Covington’s board of mayor and aldermen, were to allow a business owner to live in one side of the depot and work in the other, just as Coy Webb did while cutting hair for so many years.
Gordon, along with his wife, Debbie, have added corbels to the building and were hoping an artist or restaurant could move in.
And this makes people angry, apparently.
Four people spoke out against the rezoning at last Tuesday’s meeting, citing increased traffic flow as one of their reasons. The woman who traveled to Covington from Hernando to attend the meeting – she owns homes on Fleming – said she fears a restaurant which serves alcohol would lead to a problem with drunken drivers in the neighborhood.
“To the extent that Deb and I’ve created a problem for you, we apologize for that,” Gordon told the board after opposition had been given. “We’re not trying to create problems, we’re trying to solve problems.”
Gordon said he found the historic depot up for auction one Sunday afternoon and became concerned about what would happen to it.
“So, Deb and I stopped in and, much to her chagrin, offered enough to buy the building. And now that you’ve got the building, what are you going to do with the building?”
Further, he said his vision was to help make this a walkable, livable, attractive place to live.
I am absolutely in favor of upgrading our neighborhood. Even if I didn’t live in walking distance, I’d support this and almost any measure of beautifying and bettering our community, of bringing in sales tax revenue, of increasing property values.
While he called the concerns about increased traffic in the area legitimate, the increased traffic and the potential for drinking and driving is low on my list of concerns.
If you lived in the area near the depot, your concerns are not likely centered around a hypothetical restaurant owned by the Gordons and the potential for mayhem.
If you lived where I do, you’d know Wyatt Earp’s, housed in another Gordon-owned building, is closer to houses than the depot is, has a liquor license and has little to no problems with intoxicated drivers. Beer bottles littering the neighborhood were another concern, however that is another non-issue as I have yet to see any beer bottles or other litter near the restaurant.
The real problems we should be focused on are the gang members in our backyards, the drugs being dealt over our fences, the empty projects on Tipton and Bledsoe which sit boarded up, the other blighted properties in our neighborhood.
These, not another restaurant, are our real problems.
When a private investor who has a reputation for being a good neighbor – see the Lindo Hotel building and the adjacent courtyard, or maybe at least two dozen other properties, if the Wyatt Earp’s/Buff City Soap/What-A-Deal building isn’t enough for you – wants to bring business to our neighborhood and sales tax revenue to our town, we should encourage it, plain and simple.