Madison’s new top planning official says he doesn’t have answers to every challenge facing the city, but he’s going to find them fast.
Madison this week hired Steven Cover as director of planning and community and economic development, ending a search that lasted more than a year. Cover comes from Atlanta, where he was commissioner of planning and community development. He also has worked as an environment and community development director for Georgia’s Fulton County.
Cover, who will start in February, said Madison’s “progressive” nature drew him to the city. That’s fitting because Madison alders are making it clear to Cover they expect him to lead a fast-paced department.
“We have significant economic development needs,” Alderwoman Bridget Maniaci said, “and we really need to be working closely with that office.”
Maniaci cited the city’s recent purchase of multiple parcels along East Washington Avenue for the purpose of land banking, saying it will be up to Cover to spark development along that corridor.
“We’ve just bought a car dealership,” she said. “We have 8 acres of land. I would like to see housing go up in 18 months.”
Alderman Brian Solomon said he wants Cover to focus on bringing companies with high-paying jobs to Madison.
“My hope is in the future, Madison will continue to look at not just economic development,” Solomon said, “but also quality development.”
Cover’s plan to accomplish that, he said, is to reach out to technology companies.
“I think that keeps things interesting,” he said, “attracts people to the city and makes them want to live in the city.”
While Cover said he would welcome major companies to Madison, he’s more interested in attracting smaller ones that won’t require big tax breaks.
“A lot of times, Fortune 500 companies might be interested in locating to a city,” he said, “and once they decide that, it costs an arm and a leg to get them to come here, and it winds up sometimes having a neutral or negative impact on a city short-term.”
Alderwoman Judy Compton is encouraging Cover to also pursue businesses that might move just outside the city limits.
“You don’t have to be located in the city,” she said, “to be part of the city.”
Cover acknowledged he needs to learn more about some issues, such as working with neighborhoods to create long-term plans and generating more money for community services. Cover pledged, though, to meet with every city alder individually to learn what they need from his department.
“We’re a department that’s not only going to do our job,” he said, “but also make a difference.”