Uptown Columbus and an urban design firm released an ambitious master plan for the redevelopment of the city's downtown waterfront district today to an audience of about 90 business leaders and other stakeholders in the area.
The plan includes the possibility of closing Bay Avenue, which runs along the riverfront from 10th to 12th streets and creating an elaborate riverside park along the lines of Atlanta's Centennial Park, restoring two-way traffic to 11th and 12th streets to make them more pedestrian-friendly and increasing Columbus State University's presence by possibly moving its nursing program downtown.
The master plan, which was presented by three executives with EDSA, an international design firm, deals with two areas: the waterfront itself from the Eagle-Phenix condominiums south to the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, and that same stretch of Broadway and Front Street.
Before introducing the plan, EDSA President Doug Smith stressed that the plan is in the earliest conceptual stage -- that the concepts may not play out as envisioned, if at all.
"One of the caveats of what we're going to share today is these are all at a master plan level of thinking. You may see what looks like a lot of detail, but please keep in mind that these are concepts," Smith said. "There are a lot of details that are yet to come. We may have taken some liberties in terms of suggesting that certain properties have potential uses."
Smith called the whitewater project a "great investment," but one that needs to be leveraged by creating an inviting environment around it and by connecting that riverfront area to the increasingly vibrant stretch of Broadway.
"It's been said that you have a RiverWalk, but you don't have a true riverfront yet," Smith said. "So that's the mission of that part of our study."
Paul Kissinger, chief operating officer for EDSA, called for improving transportation in and around the area, encouraging people to use the significant amount of parking available and creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
That might include using an "uptown circulator" trolley that would run a continuous loop through the Broadway-to-riverfront area, including looping into Phenix City.
It would also call for restoring two-way traffic to 11th and 12th streets, which have long been one-way. Kissinger said that would not only make them better for pedestrians, but would allow the city to possibly block off one or the other occasionally for street fairs or other events, without making going into and out of the area onerous.
On the riverfront itself, Bay Avenue from 10th to 12th streets would be eliminated, allowing for a greenspace area to the south and in front of the Synovus building. That strip in front of Synovus could also include a cantilevered platform jutting out over the bank leading down onto the RiverWalk. That bank, which has recently been tiered, could feature stone seating for eating and for watching the whitewater rafters.
To the south, Woodruff Plaza would possibly be turned into something like Atlanta's Centennial Park, born of the 1996 Olympic Games. The conceptual paintings show water features such as a dancing water fountain for children to play in.
"When you draw kids to an area, you typically bring -- and a lot of people laugh when I say this -- 2.1 adults," Kissinger said. "You bring mom and dad, and an aunt and an uncle, or maybe a grandma or grandpa. So you want to create opportunities for not only the kids, but for the parents and adults who come down."
The renovated plaza might also include retail and/or restaurant space and a cantilevered observation deck jutting out over the RiverWalk to act as a viewing site and a source of shade.
Back on Broadway
Keith Weaver, associate principal for EDSA, addressed the stretch of Broadway.
The plan's vision for Broadway includes maintaining the historic integrity that the city has preserved, while taking advantage of available space for more interesting uses.
That would include possibly bringing CSU's nursing program downtown. The EDSA rendering shows this taking place in the Ledger-Enquirer buildings at 12th and Broadway. The plan includes using the paper's parking lot along Broadway as a small greensward for students.
Rodney Mahone, president and publisher of the Ledger-Enquirer, said he was excited about the proposed development downtown. "We have been here for more than 180 years and we plan on being in the Uptown area for many more years to come," he said. "Our Page building facing Broadway has been vacant for a while and we would welcome any tenant that would add to the growth of the Uptown area, especially a tenant like CSU."
Across 12th Street from the paper, the plan envisions using the Ray Rents building as a combination retail and residential development. The parking lot up Broadway next to the old Raymond Rowe building would be a park that would stretch out over the parking lot below along Front Avenue on a raised platform, preserving the parking below while creating more greenspace. Beside the park in the Rowe building, the planners see a children's museum.
Back at 12th and Broadway, the other Raymond Rowe building would be transformed into a Cultural Arts Center, which would be part retail and part gallery.
Moving south on Broadway, the plan includes more restaurants and even a culinary school/restaurant.
Richard Bishop, CEO of Uptown Columbus, conceded that the plan is very ambitious. But he referred back to a previous such plan that was created in the 1990s, one that was greeted with skepticism, but in a large part has come to pass.
Bishop pointed to the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, Columbus State University's presence, Broadway streetscapes, the revitalization of buildings such as the Empire and Fontaine buildings, the YMCA and the looming whitewater project.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who saw a presentation of the plan on Tuesday, called it "exciting."
"The riverfront is our Central Park, our Boston Commons," she said. "These are decisions for not just this generation, but for the next century. We need to think big here and that's exactly what Columbus, Georgia, will do."