Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Downtown projects impress Georgia visitors

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer

Published: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:22 AM CDT

The RiverPark Center, Mitch McConnell Plaza, the English Park boat ramp and the Smothers Park construction zone were the points of major interest for a delegation of eight business and community leaders from Columbus, Ga., who paid a visit to Owensboro Monday.

"I have to really commend Owensboro and its vision," said Matt Swift, president of the real estate division of the W.C. Bradley Co., the major player in a proposed downtown riverfront redevelopment project in Columbus. "The one thing that impressed me was the vision for the future and the willingness to stick with it for 10 years. It's more than a little vision. It's a big vision, and then to have incremental successes. I'm very complimentary."

Columbus is the city that 40 Owensboro community leaders visited eight years ago looking for inspiration from that city's downtown redevelopment. Now, Columbus is interested in embracing its frontage on the Chattahoochee River.

At the suggestion of EDSA, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., planning, landscape architectural and urban design firm that has been heavily involved with Owensboro's downtown development, the Columbus delegation came to see examples of what Owensboro is doing to its downtown and riverfront.

The visitors also came to evaluate the effectiveness of EDSA. The Columbus group is considering hiring EDSA to do the design work for its project. W.C. Bradley, a Columbus-based national company best known for its Char-Broil barbecue grill and Zebco fishing tackle companies, is committed to the proposed project. The company is considering investing $25 million to $30 million in the project, some of which will be developed on company property.

During a morning session at City Hall, the Columbus officials visited with city and downtown officials, where they learned about the history and progress of the city's downtown placemaking initiative, going all the way back to the EDSA-designed expansion of the RiverPark Center patio and construction of Mitch McConnell Plaza.

"What stood out for me, on your website and in your marketing materials, is your fantastic performing arts center and patio," Swift said. "It's an icon you have, especially the way it looks at night. That was a terrific vision. We have some areas like that for a patio or deck on the top of our riverfront."

David Arrington, deputy city manager of Columbus, said the group received good information about the quality of EDSA's work and how the company interacted with the community.

"We want to make sure our process includes public input," Arrington said. "We really appreciate the hospitality of the mayor and city staff and the other stakeholders."

Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne welcomed the visitors.

"We literally are rebuilding our community," Payne said. "It all started on the river. ... We are really excited. It's been a great team effort."

During the sit-down session at City Hall, Columbus officials asked questions, some pertaining to business and job creation sparked so far by downtown redevelopment, the residential component of the master plan and the community's support or lack of it for the entire downtown project.

"This is all about placemaking," City Manager Bill Parrish said. "People move because the want to live in a place. We have to make it attractive."