Thursday morning just north of the Phenix City Amphitheater you could not only see the changing of the guard, you could feel it.
Whitewater Express, the lone outfitter on the Chattahoochee River, was opening a new stretch of zip line along the Alabama riverbank and back across the river into downtown Columbus.
The second phase of the zip line completes a loop that started in 2014, more than a year after the world’s longest urban white water course opened on the Chattahoochee.
The zip line now completes a circle and it was especially fitting on this day.
As the ribbon cutting ceremony began, new Uptown Columbus Inc. President Ross Horner, Uptown Columbus Board Chairman Reynolds Bickerstaff, Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe and Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert spoke.
Richard Bishop, the retired president of Uptown Columbus and an instrumental figure in building the river attractions as well as the resurgence of downtown over the past decade, was almost unnoticeable at the top of the new zip line tower. He was looking down on it all. And it was happening hours before he was to be announced as the new president and chief executive officer of Grand Rapids Whitewater in Michigan.
Standing below the first level of the zip line tower was W.C. Bradley Real Estate Division President Mat Swift, who for more than three decades has worked to revitalize downtown Columbus. Swift announced earlier this year he will be retiring in October. Pace Halter has joined The Bradley Company as the president of the Real Estate Division.
It was interesting to see the old guard and new guard together for one last time. It is a sign that change to the structure of downtown is not coming, it’s here.
The change was not lost on Gilbert, who has worked closely with Bishop and Swift as he has built his rafting, zip line and retail business in Columbus and Phenix City.
“That’s the first two calls I make,” Gilbert joked Thursday morning.
It’s time to change the old speed dial, Dan.
The change from Bishop to Horner will be the most noticeable to those who are intertwined in all things downtown. Horner has been on the job since January, but Bishop has been around and still played a major role in the white water operations.
That all falls to Horner now. Bishop, by his nature, is a builder and talented problem solver. Look at all he had a hand in building around Columbus. While working for the city, he was a player in the construction of the South Commons Softball complex, the Civic Center, Riverwalk and many other buildings and projects funded with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.
The reason he got the opportunity in Grand Rapids is the expertise he garnered in the building of the 2.5-mile Columbus whitewater course. It was a delicate process — or at least as delicate as it can be when the mission can’t be accomplished without blowing up two old dams.
Horner, who was the director of the Civic Center before taking the Uptown Columbus job, is a seasoned operator. It is a nice handoff. The builder gives it off to the operator.
The handoff inside The Bradley Company is a little more subtle and complex. The company’s largest single-building project is underway just north of the 13th Street bridge along the river on the Georgia side. It’s $52 million apartment building with retail and restaurant space that should be completed late next year or early 2019. It is the first phase of the development of 7.5 acres along the river between 13th and 14th Streets.
Halter clearly takes control of a machine that is building for a brighter future in downtown. But he also takes over for Swift, whose fingerprints are all over the rebirth of downtown Columbus in the past two decades.
You can look out on downtown Columbus and across the river and see what Swift and Bishop have played critical roles in helping establish. They can exit knowing they left the place better than they found it.
In the course of conversation, it is obvious both men are proud of the achievements and their roles in them.
As for Horner and Halter, they can be the beneficiaries of this great progress. Talk to both of them and they know the opportunities that are out there. They also know they are replacing people who had earned great respect and reputations.
But both of them have their own ideas and their own ways. It is going to be interesting to watch them grow into the new roles.
And if they are growing, so will all they touch.
Good luck, gentlemen. The shoes are big, but the opportunities are great.