Mayor Teresa Tomlinson outlined four major “opportunities” that lay ahead for Columbus in her 2014 State of the City address Tuesday:
* Pursuing a high-speed rail connection to Atlanta.
* Starting the process of redeveloping the riverfront property between TSYS and Bibb City.
* Continuing the revitalization of south Columbus.
* Carrying out the vision of ending homelessness here in 10 years.
Tomlinson said she created the Mayor’s Commission on High Speed Rail in 2011 because there were ideas being tossed around about inter-city rail lines from Atlanta to Athens, Macon, Savannah and Chattanooga, but none involving Columbus.
“As a student of history and as a newly elected mayor of this city, there was no way I was going to have another great lapse of progress akin to the 1960s decision to forego the connection to the nation’s Interstate system to Columbus,” Tomlinson said.
A recent report from transportation consultants HNTB of Atlanta projected that a $3.9 billion rail line running up state-owned right of way along I-185 and I-85 could produce enough business – more than a million riders a year – to more than cover its cost of operation and maintenance.
“Columbus is now at the forefront of the line of inter-city high speed passenger rail,” Tomlinson said. “And if any city is prepared for potential federal, state and private investment, it is us.”
Tomlinson has also created a new commission, she said, to look into redeveloping the riverfront property between TSYS and just south of Bibb City. The commission will be chaired by Phil Tomlinson, CEO of TSYS, and Marquette McKnight, president of Media, Marketing and More and a resident of Bibb City.
“Incredibly, Columbus has roughly 30 city blocks of property, largely in the hands of governmental agencies, which sits on the riverbanks of the Chattahoochee,” Tomlinson said. “This development opportunity has been analyzed to rave reviews by the U.S. Mayors Institute of City Design.”
The project would also involve redevelopment of the Second Avenue corridor.
The continued revitalization of south Columbus is already under way, Tomlinson said, but there are still many opportunities available.
“Probably the greatest potential we have in the city lies in south Columbus,” Tomlinson said. “This area has too long suffered from disinvestment because, as in every other urbanized city in the country, the planners and the leaders of the day knew no different.”
Tomlinson pointed to progress already made in the area, especially along the South Lumpkin corridor: the National Infantry Museum and a new adjacent hotel, Oxbow Meadows, with its new pavilion and dog park, the looming streetscape and rails to trails projects and the planned move of Westville to the area.
Finally, Tomlinson said the establishment of an “Opportunity Resource Center” to address the needs of the homeless would be a large part of the plan to end homelessness in Columbus.
“By 2021, we will see homelessness in Columbus as atypical, temporary and non-recurring,” Tomlinson said. “At that point, we can shift our resources toward preventing homelessness and rapidly responding to instances of homelessness.”
Tomlinson also listed a litany of accomplishments the city has seen in the last year, such as the advent of whitewater rafting, the opening of the municipal complex on Macon Road and the Sustainability Center, the city’s employee health clinic, pension reform and the reopening of the Boxwood Recreation Center and the Comer Gym in Bibb City.
“Yes indeed, in Columbus, Georgia, we do big things, and it is my honor and privilege to serve this great city as its 69th mayor,” Tomlinson said. “I can say firmly and proudly that we have only just begun. This city has never been more alive and our best days lie ahead of us.”
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