Covington selects partner for Town Center project

The city of Covington has continued to move forward with plans for the Town Center, selecting a development partner at the Feb. 25 City Council meeting.

Panattoni Development Company was chosen after a request for qualifications process that began in July.

“Things are always fuzzy when you start putting it on paper, and then you start putting it on paper and you wonder if things will ever start popping off the paper,” said Covington Mayor Margaret Harto in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s just one step closer to reality for us.”

The Town Center concept encompasses the land on which Covington Elementary sits, as well as an adjacent parcel of land. The Kent School District has long-term plans to build a new school and sell the current site, at which point Covington has the right of first refusal to buy the property.

According to city staff it is undetermined when the school district will be ready to sell. The idea is to have the planning pieces in place so Covington and a private partner are ready when the school district does want to sell.

“If the city doesn’t step up and say, ‘we want to buy it,’ then the school district will put it on the market and sell it to somebody else who comes along,” Richard Hart, community development director for Covington, said.

Hart said that while a retail base is important to Covington, the city also wants to have, “an identifiable place that is downtown Covington.”

Panattoni was chosen, Hart said, because of their broad experience working on similar kinds of projects for other cities. Hart also sited Panattoni’s access to capital as a major factor.

“Panattoni can come in with the city to purchase that property,” Hart said. “Then we can work together to develop it.”

Now that the city has selected a partner, the work can begin on hammering out the details of what that partnership looks like.

“It’s astonishing and I’m excited,” the mayor said of the progress. “The Town Center is a real key to the future of the city and the viability of the downtown. The community, the staff, the council, Panattoni, everybody has made a considerable contribution.”

Harto said that she was impressed by the group of partners in Panattoni.

“The variety of people that they brought together to offer us a partnership with them in creating that town center, that’s amazing,” Harto said. “I don’t think we could do any better.”

Meanwhile, other wheels in the planning and development process are also turning.

The city received money from the state Legislature to conduct a study of infrastructure needs and costs related to the Town Center. That study is currently underway by Burke and Associates and the results are expected by the beginning of summer.

“The more that the city can bring to the table in those costs, the more you can obtain quality developers,” Hart said.

Inland Group will be developing the property that is behind Safeway and adjacent to the school property as mixed use. Hart said that project will include housing for seniors — the building will be the tallest in Covington — as well as retail. The developer plans to break ground by the end of the year.

“It’s going to change the face of downtown Covington,” Hart said.

Meanwhile the city is reviewing its design standards to make sure that future development is aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Financing the project, Harto and Hart agreed, is the biggest challenge going forward.

“Money is not easy to come by in these times,” Hart said.

That knowledge, and the city’s tight budget, is what shaped the idea of creating a public-private partnership to develop the Town Center.

“The financial resources are going to be a challenge for us,” Harto said. “And it just depends on how we can put together the public private partnership.”




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