Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Georgia group to visit for ideas

Georgia group to visit for ideas

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 12:07 AM CDT

Eight years ago, when Owensboro was looking for ideas to move the city forward, 40 community leaders visited Columbus, Ga., to take a look at how that city of nearly 190,000 had reinvigorated itself.

Now the tables have turned. Next week, eight Columbus business and community leaders will be in Owensboro to see what this community is doing to revitalize its downtown core while taking fuller advantage of its location on the Ohio River with riverfront redevelopment.

The visitors will be here a week from today, said Paul Weinberg, vice president and project manager for EDSA, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., planning, landscape architectural and urban design firm. EDSA has been heavily involved with Owensboro's downtown development process.

Columbus is considering a project to revitalize a portion of its riverfront along the Chattahoochee River, which separates the city from Phenix City, Ala.

The Chattahoochee is a fraction of the size of the Ohio River, but Columbus would like to turn it into a white-water rafting destination, while at the same time improving the riverfront.

While Owensboro's downtown initiatives are publicly funded, private groups are leading the way in Columbus, according to Weinberg. The W.C. Bradley Co., a Columbus-based company best known for its Char-Broil barbecue grill and Zebco fishing tackle companies, is committed to the proposed project.

The Columbus group's mission to Owensboro is twofold, Weinberg said. One is to see what is being done here, and the other is to evaluate EDSA's contribution. The Columbus group is considering hiring EDSA to do the design work for its project, Weinberg said.

In 2002, the Owensboro group toured Columbus' Springer Opera House, a restored 1871 theater with two performance halls, and the $75 million River Center For The Performing Arts, which has three theaters ranging from 2,000 seats to 150 seats. Those projects and several others including the city's RiverWalk and the Port City Civil WarNaval Museum were financed by a 1 percent sales tax that voters first approved in 1993 and reapproved five years later.

David Arrington, deputy city manager of Columbus, said he will travel to Owensboro next week. But he said the city is a secondary player in the planned improvement project. UPtown Columbus, Inc. and Business Improvement District, a private, nonprofit organization that supports downtown development in Columbus, is involved, Arrington said.

Much of Columbus is vibrant, but Weinberg said a few blocks of Broadway, the main downtown street, need additional energy, and that's the area city leaders are targeting.

While in Owensboro, the Columbus delegation plans to visit condos in the English Park area and the downtown river wall project and view plans for other segments of the downtown placemaking initiative. Members of the group will be at City Hall at 10:30 to meet local leaders.