January 30, 2014 10:31:06 AM
In November, officials from the Golden Triangle Development LINK agreed to partner with a committee of city and county officials to explore economic development opportunities for city-owned property on the Island.
That was before LINK officials announced a week ago that they would no longer oversee retail development in Columbus after councilmen discussed contracting with another firm, Birmingham, Ala.-based Retail Strategies, for similar services. The announcement marked the end of an 11-year retail partnership between the two parties but did not affect the LINK's intention to continue pursuing industrial development for the city nor its partnership with Lowndes County.
LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said the decision will have no bearing on the LINK's involvement going forward with the Island committee, provided that retail options are not part of the group's plan there. The two parties met earlier this month and plan to meet again next month, he said, because there would still be some interest in assisting the group if community development is its objective.
"I think we've made it pretty clear where we stand on retail," Higgins said. "But what if we're talking about putting an amphitheater over there? What if we're talking about putting a pavilion and picnic tables and playgrounds? In my mind, that still fits under what we get paid to do. I think it would be wrong for us to cancel a brainstorming session because a lot of things might come up that are not going to fit in that same arena (as retail)."
Former Columbus federal programs director and committee chairman George Irby said he has not spoken with anyone at the LINK since last week's announcement but hoped they would still see the project as a joint-venture between the city and county even though the property now belongs to the city. Columbus city planner and committee co-chair Christina Berry said the two entities will still team together on revitalizing the seven-acre parcel adjacent the Old Highway 82 Bridge opposite downtown. The committee also has plans to travel to Chattanooga next month to gather ideas.
"We are still committed to working with the LINK as it relates to the Island and we're ready to move forward with that relationship," Berry said.
Part of discussions during this month's meeting focused n what the committee hoped to accomplish in Chattanooga, she added.
"Typically what you want to find out is how those ideas came to fruition, particularly as it relates to funding. You also want to know what challenges (Chattanooga officials) may have encountered developing their property," she said. "We're trying to dig into the details of what went into their process and who supported their efforts, whether it was from a foundation, the federal government, the state government, a local entity or if there was a partnership with private development."
While no specifics have been provided on what the committee wants to build in the area, Higgins said his organization's role is to conduct research on the area and provide the committee with a list of feasible options it can refine based on data including existing truck traffic going back and forth from existing industries there.
"I don't know what goes over there. It's not like I have all the answers," he said. "That's why I'm bringing in the team that I work with and getting those guys to help us. I've been around long enough to know if you get enough people in a room throwing stuff out, some (things) will make sense and some won't. You've just got to see what sticks."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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