Meeting in the heart of a downtown Columbus that is vastly different than it was a decade ago, a hand-selected group of about 50 people spent Tuesday trying to envision what the area will look like in 2025.
The business owners, residents, property owners and other stakeholders were pieced together by Uptown Columbus Inc., a nonprofit downtown redevelopment organization, and met in The Loft.
Troy University-Phenix City Vice Chancellor David White summed up the conversation in a simple sentence.
“A lot of this is about what we want to be when we grow up,” White said in a small group discussion.
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The meeting was facilitated by Billy Parrish, an Atlanta-based consultant who specializes in downtown and neighborhood renewal.
“In a broad sense, we are looking at where uptown Columbus is today and where it wants to go,” Parrish said.
Much of the discussion took place in small groups of about eight people. One interesting conversation took place at a table that included White, businessman/investor Brad Turner, W.C. Bradley Co. Real Estate Division President Mat Swift and small businessman Jason Gamache.
As they were talking about the downtown area and the whitewater course attracting visitors, White injected a thought-provoking comment into the mix.
“Do we want this to be a place you visit and say, ‘I want to live there?’” White said. “We can do that in a way that other places can’t.”
The conference comes as the 2.5-mile urban whitewater course is starting its third year of operation. Last year it drew more than 25,000 rafters. Whitewater Express owners are hoping to significantly top that number this year. There is also a zipline across the Chattahoochee River that was not in place a year ago.
In addition to the outdoor recreational opportunities, there are about a half dozen new restaurants open downtown.
Columbus attorney and investor Ken Henson called it “a nice exercise.” “This is a good mix of young and old, people with different jobs and different backgrounds,” Henson said. “It is not just a bunch of old white men sitting around in a room.”
Jason McKenzie, co-owner of Ride On Bikes, noted much of the same thing that Henson did.
“So many of us have our own ideas, but we don’t especially collaborate,” McKenzie said. “Look at the this room. You have Mat Swift and Brad Turner of the W.C. Bradley Co. talking with Miles Greathouse, one of the owners of Maltitude.”
“Now is the right time to start looking at the next 10 years,” Swift said. “I heard somebody say the best thing about these 50 people is he didn’t know half of them.”
Swift used a similar meeting 20 years ago in Chattanooga, Tenn., as example of what can sprout from these types of group discussions.
“There was a grad student in that room that mentioned a fresh-water aquarium,” Swift said. “We are looking for the next big thing, and the idea can come from anywhere.”