Columbus Muscogee County: A Variety of Attractions

Tourism, manufacturing and mixed-use developments

Located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, Georgia’s second-largest city – encompassing 224 square miles – has long depended on the river to drive commerce. Once a port city, Columbus was a center of textile manufacturing in the early 1800s and by 1900, Bibb Manufacturing opened the Columbus Mill, which became the largest cotton mill in the country. Today the river is once again a key economic driver, as businesses, visitors and residents flock to its shoreline.

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Historic Mills Repurposed: Peter Bowden, president and CEO, VisitColumbusGA: photo

The long-dormant mills that lined the riverbank are being transformed in new and exciting ways, including a 62-room boutique hotel and a food hall, according to Peter Bowden, president and CEO of VisitColumbusGA. Billed as “Columbus’ historic boutique hotel,” City Mills boasts original brick walls, hand-crafted metalworks and preserved artifacts, alongside local art.

“City Mills took a feed and grain facility and totally repurposed that facility into a boutique hotel,” Bowden says. “The reviews are off the charts in terms of customer satisfaction.”

Meanwhile, W.C. Bradley Real Estate Co. has converted one of its old facilities into a food hall offering visitors numerous food and drink options, a bar and live music. The 12,000-square-foot Banks Food Hall also reflects the local tradition of maintaining historical industrial architecture and showcases heavy timber beams, old world doors and windows and exposed brick, while also offering modern conveniences such as efficiency lighting and technology infrastructure.

Screenshot 2023 05 26 At 84017 AmLocated in the heart of Uptown, Banks Food Hall overlooks the 22-mile RiverWalk and the Chattahoochee River.

“These buildings were idle for a while or underutilized,” Bowden says. “Uptown is getting sort of a reinventing of itself.”

In addition to City Mills, helping to grow Columbus’ destination status are four new hotels downtown: the 107-room Hotel Indigo Columbus, which opened in February of 2021; the 125-room AC Hotel, which opened in April 2021; the 93-room Hampton Inn, which opened in February, and the recently renovated 178-room Marriott.

“We have almost 500 new rooms in the downtown area, including the renovation of the Columbus Marriott, our convention hotel,” Bowden says. “It’s been completely renovated, from the walls to the carpet. Essentially, it’s a new hotel.”

According to Bowden, the Chattahoochee River is the city’s “biggest attractor,” but it is by no means its only draw. Columbus appeals to a variety of visitors whatever their interest might be. The Columbus Museum is one of the largest museums in the Southeast and the city also boasts two national museums (The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, outside the gates of Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning), and the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus), as well as being home to the Springer Opera House (designated the State Theater of Georgia), the Ma Rainey House Museum – birthplace of Gertrude Pridgett Rainey, AKA the “Mother of the Blues” – and the Lunchbox Museum, an eclectic collection of different types of memorabilia.

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“Where You Want to Be”: Jerald Mitchell, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, at the Dragonfly Trail: photo

In fiscal year 2022, Columbus had 2.3 million visitors and those visitors spent $304 million, according to Bowden. Visitor spending resulted in a tax savings of $534 per household, he says.

“If there was no visitor spending, the city would have to identify another revenue source,” Bowden says. “Visitor spending provides tax relief for households.”

As tourists fill the new hotel rooms and bolster the city’s coffers, the Hotel Indigo Columbus is part of the largest real estate development in Uptown Columbus’ history. Last spring, W.C. Bradley Co. announced the final two phases of its Riverfront Place development, which currently includes the hotel, the Rapids luxury apartment complex and Mathews D. Swift Park.

When completed in early-to mid-2024, the mixed-use development will represent an investment of more than $250 million in Uptown.

Downtown Renaissance

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Tourist Attraction: National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center: photo contributed

The Riverfront Place development serves as the crux of a renaissance happening in downtown, according to Jerald Mitchell, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Included in the final two phases of the development is a 230,000-square-foot office building, which will be home to Synovus Financial Corp.’s corporate headquarters. The final phase will include a 226-unit multifamily residential community, as well as a parking deck with 1,150 spaces and 40,000 square feet of street-level retail space along Front Avenue.

“The Synovus building is under construction right now and it’s in a very advanced stage of construction,” Mitchell says. “Concrete has been poured and they’re about to start framing walls. The Synovus office building will include both office and retail space. A grocer will be announced at that location, along with restaurants and other lifestyle amenities.”

The residential community will offer several lifestyle amenities, including a garden-style pool, putting green, hammock park, 24-hour fitness center, a club room that includes private offices and a conference room for residents who work remotely, a large outdoor courtyard, community Wi-Fi, a bike storage and repair shop and a dog spa.

“These lifestyle amenities are assets that folks are going to want to be around,” Mitchell says, “and should be, we think, major attractors for young talent.”

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New and Exciting Transformation: City Mills: photo contributed

That young talent is needed to fill a growing number of jobs as companies are starting to “find” Columbus, Mitchell says. Over the last year, 505 new manufacturing jobs were created, which in turn created about 1,500 indirect jobs, according to Mitchell.

“We’ve seen a really good ramp-up post-COVID as it relates to economic development opportunities,” he says. AFB International is one example and, Mitchell says, “they’re going to make a private investment in Columbus of about $80 million this year.”

The pet food manufacturer will be located in the Muscogee Technology Park and expects to create 100 new jobs, Mitchell says, noting a 24-month timeline from construction of the facility to full operations.

“It will be the first newly constructed manufacturing building in Columbus since 2007,” he says. “[AFB] is working to grow its presence in the U.S. and they do business in South America. If you want access to the Georgia Ports Authority and you want to move product to the western United States, Columbus is where you want to be.”

Mitchell says the community, Muscogee County and the region continue to invest in infrastructure improvements, approving a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) last May. The regional TSPLOST was in addition to a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) passed by voters in November 2021.

“We continue to improve roads, parks and other infrastructure that supports local growth,” Mitchell says. “Some of the money is being spent on improvements at the airport, some to further develop areas like Uptown and Midtown and some on the community center, so just a lot of good stuff [is] going to come out of that SPLOST.

“That TSPLOST regionally is going to generate $1.1 billion and again, this initiative will continue to support improvements in roads and other infrastructure, which will continue to signal to the world that Columbus is open for business.”

Outward Expansion

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Downtown Expansion: Columbus Mayor B.H. “Skip” Henderson at Hotel Indigo: photo

As Uptown continues its ascent, Mayor B.H. “Skip” Henderson is quick to point out it’s not the only area of town on the upswing. Located between the Uptown and Midtown neighborhoods is Midcity Yards, a new destination hotspot featuring Fetch Park, where people and their four-legged friends can gather on an expansive green space with a full-service bar; Moe’s Original BBQ; and coming this year, Scofflaw Brewing Co. Midcity Yards is located in the original Uneeda Glass building, where for decades the company manufactured glass for cars, homes and commercial buildings.

Then there’s the much-anticipated opening of the mixed-use development of Highside Market, which is envisioned as a hub for entertainment, dining, retail and office space. Located in an area of the city once known as “High Uptown,” an affluent neighborhood of Victorian homes, Highside Market has already announced several of its tenants, including Cleaver & Cork, a butcher and artisan market; Nonic Bar & Kitchen, a Columbus neighborhood restaurant and bar that is relocating; Council Wardrobe Studio, a women’s clothing store; and It’s Tamale Time, a family- owned authentic tamale shop.

Highside Market is on the north end of Uptown, while Midcity Yards is to the east.

“We’re seeing a pretty good expansion of the downtown area,” Henderson says. “While we tend to talk about the Uptown area, in the northeast part of the community, Midland Commons, which is a $65 million project, is under construction.”

Midland Commons is an 88-acre development that will feature retail, restaurant and service retail businesses and residential-over-retail condos. In the former location of the Swift Denim Boland Plant, a 48,000-square-foot Publix will be one of the development’s anchor stores.

“It’s being designed with a town square,” Henderson says. “They’re doing the same thing there as downtown – building a sense of place. They’re building a sense of place in a different area of our community.”

“It amazes me that Columbus surprises a lot of people when they find out there’s some pretty cool stuff going on down here,” he says.

Solving Challenges

While he is extremely proud and excited about all of the capital investment in downtown and beyond, the mayor says the city is also making it a priority to help small businesses, nonprofits and residents who are struggling.

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Much-anticipated Opening: Highside Market rendering: photo contributed

“With our ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funds, we put about $9.5 million into small business and nonprofits to try and help them sustain themselves,” he says. “Our second wave of ARPA money is about $11 million, which we’ve committed to affordable housing.”

Henderson says he and the city council are earmarking the latest infusion of ARPA funds for things like no- or low-interest loans, including some forgivable loans; repair and renovation funds, so landlords don’t have to raise the rent; and some utility assistance. The council was expected to approve expenditure of the funds in April, with distribution beginning this summer.

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Hope through Food: Executive Director Olivia Amos: photo contributed

“We hope this will help solve some of these challenges around affordable housing,” he says. “As excited as we are about all of the capital investments and the new construction, we are also excited about doing what we can to help those in our community that need a little help, and we do that through the re-allocation of some of those ARPA funds.”

And it’s not just elected officials wanting to help fellow residents thrive. Columbus has long been known for the generosity of its local philanthropists, and one Columbus native, who is a member of one of the city’s first families of philanthropy, is giving back in a big way.

Olivia Amos serves as the executive director of The Food Mill, a nonprofit that aims to eliminate food insecurities and their impact on underserved communities through sustainable programs that provide accessible, affordable and nutritious food.

“Establishing a food-as-medicine program has been a passion of mine pretty much my entire adult life,” says Amos, who holds a master’s degree in public health. “It’s very hard, no matter what socioeconomic level that you’re on, to make those changes to a healthier lifestyle, but poverty makes it even harder.”

Amos says she always intended to establish a nonprofit focused on medically tailored meals for people with chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. When COVID-19 shut down large-scale catering from her previous restaurant and catering company Bare Roots Farmacy, The Food Mill was born.

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Destination Hotspot: MidCity Yards: photo Chris Woodruff

“The pandemic organically transitioned us to launching the nonprofit in August 2020,” she says. “It was always part of my plan when I began Bare Roots.” The catering operation for Bare Roots Farmacy was located on Second Avenue, where The Food Mill is now. The location is next door to MercyMed, a nonprofit health clinic for the uninsured and underinsured in Columbus, according to Amos. To date, The Food Mill has served thousands of  Mindfully Tailored Meals to MercyMed patients.

“This is one of the most food-insecure areas in Columbus and an area with one of the highest rates of poverty, as well,” she says. “There are about 115,000 residents in Columbus that live in a food desert defined area. People living in food deserts don’t have the same access to fresh fruits and vegetables and that directly correlates to the rates of chronic illness in a community, so when you’re able to create better access for people, that helps to increase the overall health and wellness of a community. And so I’ve always had a passion to create a more equitable food landscape.”

Comparing the issues around access, food security and poverty to the layers of
an onion, Amos says The Food Mill is trying to address every layer. To that end, there’s a mobile food market and a café and indoor market at the mill, which features products produced by local food entrepreneurs and local food-based businesses.
The operation also encompasses Mindfully Tailored Meals, now available to the public. Coming soon, a shared kitchen incubator space to help local food entrepreneurs realize their culinary dreams.

“One of our main goals is really creating hope for the residents of Columbus through food,” Amos says. “One of my most favorite quotes is, ‘Food is the most basic form of love.’ Nourishing food is a basic human right and once you solve that for people, you begin to see their outlook and quality of life improve tremendously. In my mind, one of the most important things we can do in a community is make sure everyone has equal access to fresh food.”

Local Flavor

World-class Whitewater

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Big Economic Impact: Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Uptown Columbus Inc., at the whitewater course on the Chattahoochee River: photo

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND. SORT, SPAIN (in the Catalonia District). San Juan, Argentina. Columbus, Georgia. At first glance these disparate locales may seem to have nothing in common, but that will change this fall when the Fountain City welcomes the International Canoe Federation (ICF) Kayak Freestyle World Championships to town.

More than 300 athletes representing 30 countries will descend upon the city – and the world’s longest urban whitewater course – from Oct. 9 through 15, marking the competition’s return to North America for the first time in almost a decade. The competition will occur on a 2.5-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River adjacent to the Columbus city center.

“We hosted the [kayaking] World Cup last year, which is usually a little bit smaller [106 athletes representing 16 countries], and the economic impact of the two events is expected to be $9.2 million,” says Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Uptown Columbus Inc.

Uptown Columbus is a nonprofit organization whose mission is downtown revitalization. One of its most notable successes was the river restoration project, which included the demolition of two dams allowing the river to return to more natural water flows.

“We would like to be able to position Columbus as a recurring venue for these competitions. We would like to be the venue for this in North America,” he says.

Attracting the prestigious events requires an application, as well as significant fundraising.

“You have to raise money to produce the competitions, and we raised $1.1 million

to host both events,” Wolverton says. “We raised it from mostly local sources. Co- lumbus has a very strong philanthropic community, and we were able to have some key leaders see this vision and potential and they chaired our committee to raise the money.”

The fact that the city is an urban whitewater center added weight to its application, Wolverton says.

“People can literally be in the river, walk 50 feet out of the river and be around five hotels, 50 restaurants and 120 retail shops,” he says. “Often times when ICF has these events, they are in more remote locations. We provide a walkable and inclusive environment.”

Adding to the excitement of hosting the world championships, Uptown Co- lumbus is premiering the RushSouth Music Fest Oct. 14-15. The two-day festival, which will feature 10 bands across two stages, is being billed as “a place where nature and music collide.”

“Events like these drive people to the Uptown business district,” Wolverton says.


Categories: Our State, Southwest