Covington residents love to brag about their two-century-old city’s history, pointing frequently to founder John Wharton Collins’ gridded layout that included “ox lots,” small squares Collins set aside for the public parking of livestock.
No livestock roam Covington’s streets today, of course, and ox-lot parking is reserved for vehicles that run on internal combustion engines. But if Kim Saragusa gets her way, the city’s streets could again be traversed by traffic of the four-hoofed variety.
Saragusa, who owns a company called A Piece of History LLC, wants to bring horse-drawn carriage tours to the leafy north shore town. The tours, similar to what one finds in the French Quarter, would run on Saturdays from 11 a.m to 5 p.m.
Saragusa trotted out her pitch to the City Council on Tuesday night, outlining her business plan and saying she hoped to conduct test tours by the end of this month. She plans to have one of her two horses pull a four-seat carriage staffed by a coachman and footman.
It was clear during her presentation that Saragusa was champing at the bit to get up and running.
She explained her planned route: along North New Hampshire Street from East Lockwood Street to Bogue Falaya Park, then back down New Hampshire, right on East Rutland Street and left on North Columbia Street to North Theard Street, where the horse and carriage would turn left and work their way back to the starting point.
Each tour would last about 20 to 30 minutes, and along the way, the carriage’s footman would give historical information and promote local businesses, she said. At the end of each tour, the horse would be given a 15-minute rest.
Although her presentation evoked the bygone days of the 19th century, Saragusa assured the council that her carriage would have all the necessary modern features including mirrors, lights and liability insurance.
And, she said, addressing another major concern, the horse would wear a manure bag strapped behind its hindquarters, so that no waste would fall on the city’s streets. “That was at the top of the list of concerns,” she said with a laugh.
Saragusa’s proposal got no nays from the council, though there were some concerns.
“I think this is a good fit for the city,” Councilman Larry Rolling said.
Fellow Councilman Rick Smith agreed, though he asked Saragusa whether she had consulted any of the businesses along the proposed route and whether she had heard any negative feedback.
“None at all,” she said.
Though the evocation of Covington’s deep roots stirred the nostalgia of some in the room, Councilman Lee Alexius tried to rein in the enthusiasm.
“We don’t have anything in the code to deal with this,” Alexius said, adding that a committee would have to be convened to study the issue. That could be a three- or four-month process, he said.
Saragusa said she would not be deterred.
Another major concern is traffic on Covington’s already-clogged streets. Saragusa has proposed avoiding Boston Street, the main track that often is backed up all the way through town. And her proposal to run tours only on Saturday could alleviate some concerns, Smith said.
“Traffic’s the biggest thing,” he said, adding that he would like to see a traffic impact study done. “But I think it’s worth a try.”
Getting the tours out of the starting gate is more complicated than just getting a go-ahead from the City Council, according to Covington Director of Administration Gina Hayes. Because A Piece of History is headquartered in Folsom, where Saragusa lives, the company must have a permanent occupational license before it can get permitted in Covington. The company now has a temporary occupational license, Hayes said.
Because parish officials have never been confronted with such a business before, considering which regulations are appropriate has been a new process, Hayes said. Officials plan to study what rules New Orleans has in place for suggestions on how to regulate animal-drawn carriage tours, she said.
Saragusa “seems like she has her act together,” Hayes said, but she added that regulations must be put in place to prevent irresponsible operators from coming in.
Parish and city officials are looking at the process together, she said, and are hoping to delay Saragusa as little as possible.
Saragusa said she can’t wait to get started.
“We are really excited about it,” she said. “It’s going to be unique.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.