A preliminary version of the City Village master plan, unveiled last week, envisions transforming the blighted corridor between TSYS and Bibb City into a vibrant environment that would attract residents and businesses alike.
Fully implemented, the project would require about $60 million in public funding from local, state and federal sources, according to the plan.
The plan divides the corridor into four districts: City Mills, Riverfront Campus, Bradley Circle and Johnston Mills Districts.
The City Mills District revolves around the old mills that are currently in the early stage of restoration. The intent of this district is to connect the village to downtown and to serve as a "gateway" into the village. Planners see it as a mixed-use area with retail and an entertainment venue located near the mills at 18th Street and First Avenue.
The next district to the north, Riverside Campus, is seen as a creative and educational campus on the river's edge. The centerpiece of the district plan would be the redevelopment of the Chase Homes public housing project. Planners say the 105 units could be replaced with as many as 250 mixed-income units just to the north on property that is currently owned by the city. It would also include a learning facility and a resource/innovation center.
Just north of that, Bradley Circle Village would feature an enhanced view of the river for mixed-income housing using a mix of new development and revitalization of existing homes. Planners say successful development of this district could serve as a catalyst to encourage further investment in City Village as a whole.
Finally, the Johnston Mill District is seen as the northern gateway into the village that would be centered on the former mill that has been transformed into loft apartments. It would include a mix of residential and commercial development.
In addition to the riverfront development, the plan calls for street improvements on First and Second Avenues, which could include "road diets" that add multiuse paths that encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
Connected to the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, those paths could create a loop between Bibb City and downtown, and the proposed developments in between, according to the plan.
The plan also encourages connecting the current breaks in the RiverWalk. One connection, from the north end of the TSYS campus to just north of City Mills, will be connected soon by taking the path between the two City Mills buildings and beneath an elevated walkway planned to run between them. The final connection that will at last complete the entire span from the City Marina to Fort Benning will take users up and over the North Highlands Dam in Bibb City. Money for both of those connections is already budgeted and both are in the engineering stage currently.
Another aspect of the plan involves improving access to the RiverWalk along that stretch and improving visibility of the river itself from the village. That, the plan states, will involve eradicating much of the invasive and non-native plants that clog the banks and block the view, but not existing trees.
Implementing the plan is broken into three phases, 1-5 years, 6-10 years and 11 years and beyond.
The first phase would involve clearing the vegetation, securing funding to relocate the Chase Homes residents and to develop the 250-unit mixed development on city-owned property just to the north. It would also include streetscape and parking improvements along First and Second avenues. Of lesser priority in the first five years is screening the Georgia Power substation on First Avenue, making road improvements along First Avenue and establishing an existing home renovation fund.
The second phase calls for redeveloping the Chase Homes property for institutional or commercial use and modifying zoning to allow for higher density development. Of lesser priority for years 6-10 are improvements to east-west connector streets, support for developing an Innovation Center and for completing the revitalization of City Mills and implementing the existing home renovation fund.
The long-term plan calls for support for development of 500 market-rate rental units and 100 units of for sale housing. It also calls for support for developing 600,000 square feet of commercial and institutional space and for developing commercial space along Second Avenue.
Grace Perdomo, an architect and urban planner with Zyscovich Architects, said the natural historic character of the corridor makes it ideal for redevelopment.
"One of the things that was worth building on but also preserving was the natural character of the area to foster economic development and cultivate an inclusive and diverse environment that would attract both public and private investment," Perdomo said. "So imagine a City Village where the unique character of this area is very different from Uptown, very natural in its landscape. Look at City Village as an enormous historic asset within the community."
Perdomo stressed that City Village won't happen overnight, nor will it happen without both public and private involvement.
"In the long term, this urban, mixed-use riverfront district will need to be jump-started by both public investment and private development interests, and it will have to occur incrementally, of course," Perdomo said.
Full implementation of project is estimated to require more than $60 million in public funding over its lifespan, half of that in the first five years, according to the proposal.
It will take an estimated $18 million in city, tax allocation district and Housing and Urban Development funds to relocate the Chase Homes residents and almost $13 million in city and state Department of Transportation funds for improvements along Second Avenue. Another $1.5 million in city, TAD and HUD funds would be needed for the riverbank clearing, property acquisition and support for an "arts incubator."
In the second five years, about $2.6 million in city and TAD funds would be needed for redeveloping the Chase Homes site and zoning changes.
The final phase would require $7.5 million in TAD and HUD funding to support development of additional housing, both rental and for sale. And another $3.5 million in TAD funds to support institutional and corporate development.
Street improvements would take about $10 million in city TAD and DOT funds. Screening the substation would take about $1 million in city funds and developing an innovation center would take about $1.5 million, both in city and TAD funds. And the existing home renovation would require about $1.3 million in TAD and HUD funding.
Paul Lambert, Lambert Advisory, a market assessment consultant, said the variety of funding sources is vital to the success of the project.
"In addition to the city and the potential TAD, many of these funding sources are likely to come from other entities as well, U.S. HUD for housing redevelopment and revitalization, Georgia DOT and a series of other funding sources that can be brought to bear for each one of these priorities and investments," Lambert said.
The goal for developing and revitalizing housing units for the area should be to have mixed-income affordable housing, to accommodate as many former Chase Homes residents as possible, Lambert said.
That, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said, is vital for the city's participation.
"A lot of times when we talk about revitalizing distressed and blighted areas, people worry about gentrification, about pushing out people in lower-income levels and lower-income housing," Tomlinson said.
A task force of more than 30 people worked on the concept for more than 18 months, said Marquette McKnight, co-chair of the task force and a resident of Bibb City at the north end of City Village.
"As with all good things in Columbus, this would not have been possible without a public-private partnership that was heavily supported in every way by Historic Columbus (Foundation)," McKnight said.