July 26, 2013 9:55:39 AM
Before the committee formed to brainstorm ideas for redevelopment of the Island met Thursday, committee member and county supervisor Leroy Brooks told of a conversation he had with Robert Williams, known by some in Columbus as "Uncle Bunky" from a local children's television show he used to host.
Williams owned property on the Island for many years, Brooks said, but he was moving out of the city and state to be with family.
"(Williams) says the Island just ain't what it used to be," Brooks said.
Brooks and Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority Director Roger Short discussed some of what the area used to be. There was the Hi-Hat and the Silver Spur among other clubs, as well as a Pepsi plant and a gas station, Brooks said.
There's still the Sanders Oil Company and Columbus Scrap as well as industries including KiOR and Baldor, but a lot of activity that was once there is now gone. The Island committee was formed to change that, focusing on a more family-friendly development approach designed to complement the traffic that will be generated by tournaments at the nearby Columbus Soccer Complex.
Brooks, Short, city planner Christina Berry, councilmen Kabir Karriem and Gene Taylor -- as well as former federal programs director George Irby and county supervisor Jeff Smith -- convened to discuss options for revitalization of the area. Three Island landowners on the committee, Greg Rader, Tony Carley and Stuart Phillips, had obligations that kept them from attending, but the other members still inched closer to a stage where they say they may be ready to set a public hearing on the matter after they meet again in the next two weeks.
What can it be now?
The biggest hurdle to breathing new life into the area? Accessibility, Berry said.
"It's obvious that transportation is going to be the major issue," she said. I think the first thing is to figure out is how to get the transportation aspect worked out. There's only really one way in the Island and one way out."
Another issue is property acquisition. The upper portion of the Island is about 80 acres, but according to a property map, the county owns only about five acres of that, just south of the motel beside the old Highway 82 bridge.
"We'll definitely have to look at options on property, whether that's if those property owners want to sell their property or if they want to do some type of lease hold on their property," Berry said. "That's going to be property owner by property owner. Forty percent of the land out there is owned by one person and the (rest) is owned by individual people."
Starting small is key in generating enough interest to necessitate a second entrance to the area that would alleviate the potential congestion that could come with redevelopment, both Berry and Irby insisted. Berry also works with another redevelopment committee which is looking into grant opportunities that would assist with efforts to rehabilitate areas including the Island, Yorkville Park and the Warehouse District.
"I started looking at the feasibility of making it look kind of like a business campus where there's corporate headquarters there. There's also an area where you first come into the Island where you can use that more as a retail type of area," Berry said. "The visioning part is no problem. Whatever uses you put out there is going to affect any traffic that comes out there."
"Other things may happen after you have that traffic out there," Irby said. "It may be a restaurant. It could be a number of things, but something that attracts families, I think, should be the first focus because people like taking kids places."
Karriem suggested visiting other cities comparable to Columbus to see what leaders have done to use landmarks such as the Highway 82 bridge as a focal point for expanded development.
"Whatever is an inexpensive start to spark the movement that we need for development out there, I think we need to try to do that, but we need to see how we connect the dots," Karriem said.
While the committee works to set a public hearing date and set up an email account where people with suggestions can provide their input, Brooks said anyone can share feedback with him and committee members through his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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