Phenix City officials express concerns about Whitewater Express' Alabama store

The outfitter operating on the Chattahoochee River whitewater course is moving to address concerns from Phenix City officials about the company’s Alabama operation.

Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert met earlier this week with Phenix City City Manager Wallace Hunter, Economic Development Director Shaun Culligan and Finance Director Steve Smith. The meeting came after Phenix City questioned Whitewater Express’ hours of operation and commitment to its Phenix Plaza store. Last year, it was the base of operation as nearly 17,000 people went down the river in the first year of the whitewater course.

This year, Whitewater Express has a new riverfront store in downtown Columbus. Almost all of the rafting trips are being booked at that store. What’s at stake is a 3.5 percent per trip fee that goes to the city where the trip is purchased. Trip prices range from about $34 to $50 per person.

Hunter called it an informative and productive meeting.

“We just want to make sure everything is advertised, and people know when it will be open and closed,” Hunter said. “This is the first full season. We are having growing pains. I believe it is ironed out and they have a plan.”

The plan, Gilbert said, is to have the store open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily starting this week.

The concerns were raised recently when a bus of rafters showed up at the Phenix City store and it was closed. A city employee saw the bus in the parking lot and directed it to the Columbus store.

“That is one of the things we are working to fix, because that is not satisfactory right now,” Culligan told the council members when the concerns were raised during the work session.

The plan last year when the course opened was to have two outfitters, one on each side of the river. Nantahala Outdoor Center was selcted by Uptown Whitewater Management Inc., to run the Columbus store and Whitewater Express was picked for the Alabama side. NOC pulled out of Columbus a month before the course opened, leaving Whitewater Express as the lone operator on both sides of the river.

Last year, the Columbus store on Bay Avenue was not complete, forcing Whitewater Express to run all of its operations on the Phenix City side.Gilbert said Whitewater Express is focused on getting the Phenix City store operational.

“We are working on what makes sense,” he said.

One of the plans to run instructional programs out of the Phenix Plaza store. That will include fly fishing and kayak schools, Gilbert said. It will also offer rafting trips. Gilbert called the Columbus store a “lifestyle” store with clothing and other merchandise.

“We don’t want the same store on both sides of the river,” Gilbert said.

The Phenix City store is in an old shopping center owned by the Columbus-based W.C. Bradley Co. Plans call for a new standalone store to be built on that location.