Whitewater outfitter plans zip line across Chattahoochee River

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 9, 2013 

Update: The Council has authorized the lease agreement for the plot of land that will be the zip line's launching point.


The Decatur, Ga.-based company that operates guided raft tours on the Chattahoochee River whitewater course is planning to build a zip line across the river.

The first public airing of the project that has been part of the Chattahoochee River Park plans for several years will be at Columbus Council today. Council is being asked to approve a land-lease agreement with Uptown Whitewater Management, LLC, the nonprofit corporation that manages the whitewater course under agreements with Columbus and Phenix City governments.

“Whitewater Express will construct it and own it with an agreement with Uptown Whitewater Management, LLC,,” Uptown Columbus Inc., President Richard Bishop said. Uptown Whitewater Management is the whitewater component of Uptown Columbus Inc.

The 1,200-foot zip line will carry people across the river at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. There will be two zip lines that will be side by side and a run will take slightly less than a minute, Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert said.

The attraction will be located at the southwest corner of 11th Street and Bay Avenue, just below Synovus Centre. The location is approximately one quarter of an acre and is not suitable for most other developments due to underground utility conflicts and the dimensions of the property, according to information provided to council.

Plans also include an aerial course on the Alabama side along with a short zip line.

Construction will begin next year, and the zip line could be operational before the end of October, Bishop said. The construction cost will be approximately $400,000, according to information provided to council.

“The whole concept with a zip line being part of the whitewater course has been discussed many, many times,” Bishop said recently.

The initial estimates for the first year of operation is 5,000 users but the numbers could be higher, according to information for council. The whitewater course opened Memorial Day weekend with the expectation of about 10,000 rafters this year. The number has topped 16,000, according to Whitewater Express.

The zip line will be adjacent to the new Whitewater Express office at Bay Avenue, near 10th Street. Construction on a privately funded war memorial walk and dancing fountains in the same area is scheduled to begin this month.

“The primary objective is to make the venue — and when I say venue I am talking about Chattahoochee River Park — more attractive,” Gilbert said. “We want people sitting in Atlanta, Tallahassee or Chattanooga who are looking to come here to have more options. They can go rafting, they can do the zip line. We want to convert this into a multi-day experience.”

The city of Columbus is being asked to approve a 10-year lease with an option for 10 additional years if both parties agree. The same terms will be presented to the Phenix City Council for consideration.

Terms in the Columbus agreement call for:

• The lease arrangement to be renegotiated after the first five years of operations.

• Columbus shall receive a lease fee in the amount of 2 percent of all zip-line revenues. The lease will increase to 3 percent after gross revenues exceed $400,000 in a calendar year and 4 percent after gross revenues exceed $600,000 in a calendar year.

• An annual review of the operators fiscal year audited financial statements will be conducted by the City Finance Department.

• Uptown Inc., will be responsible for maintaining the grounds and facilities in a business-like appearance as determined by the city.

• Uptown Inc., will coordinate with Columbus Fire and EMS Department on safety and rescue procedures for the attraction and will provide access to the facilities for training at a minimum of two times per year.

Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe said Monday he was not sure when the agreement would come before his council. Similar terms are being offered to Phenix City, Bishop said.

“It is important that we get the same thing as Columbus,” Lowe said.

Gilbert said he is still working on pricing, but plans to keep the zip line and aerial course — think of a rope course in the air where someone is harnessed and goes across bridges and various obstacles — under $50.

Whitewater Express also will offer packages for people who raft and do the aerial features, Gilbert said.

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