February 27, 2014 11:09:40 AM
Thirty-three days after ending a 10-plus year partnership on retail development, the Golden Triangle Development LINK and city of Columbus have renewed those ties.
A joint press release Wednesday confirmed the LINK will resume recruiting retail opportunities for the city. On Jan. 23, the tri-county economic development engine that originated in Columbus and Lowndes County announced that responsibility would be the city's alone moving forward. The announcement came two days after councilmen considered contracting with another retail recruitment firm to augment the LINK's work.
During a specially called meeting Jan. 14, two representatives from Birmingham, Ala.-based Retail Strategies spoke to councilmen on what they would do to recruit more business and sales tax revenue if the city entered into a contract with the firm.
A majority of councilmen The Dispatch polled before the Jan. 21 meeting said they would vote in favor of contracting with the firm. One of those councilmen, Charlie Box, made a motion during the meeting to execute the contract but the motion was tabled. During the meeting, Mayor Robert Smith suggested discussing the idea with the LINK before proceeding. Smith said failing to do so would be "a slap in the face" to both the LINK and its longtime CEO Joe Max Higgins.
Two days later, officials from the LINK said they were discontinuing their retail ties with the city but would continue representing its industrial development interests. Higgins said during exchanges with city leaders before the announcement, LINK leaders "didn't hear anything that made us want to stay at the table."
On Wednesday, LINK executive committee chair Gordon Flowers said Smith was instrumental in bringing the two parties back together on retail recruitment.
"Mayor Smith wisely thought through the situation and suggested that we get together with the council members and have further discussions," Flowers said. "We were able to express ourselves and air the issues out. We provided the members of the council and the mayor information that showed what retail development had occurred here in Columbus and we were very pleased with what the LINK has accomplished in the last years. I think they understood and acknowledged that."
Smith said initiating those discussions was "the right thing to do."
"I thought we did what's in the best interests of the LINK and the city," Smith said. "I was just elated that we could reconcile our differences, work together and move forward from this point on."
Box said the idea of working with a second retail recruiter as well as the LINK had no bearing on the LINK's performance and that he'd been pleased with the LINK's results. Reuniting with them will be what is best for Columbus' tax base, he said.
"We probably just should have thought about it a little more," Box said. "I don't think we had the lines of communication open like we should have with them to see what they have been doing."
Higgins could not be reached for comment by press time but said in the release that he was pleased the partnership was renewed.
"We look forward to pursuing development and growth for the City of Columbus, together," Higgins said. "Now let's get to work."
The two Retail Strategies representatives, Lacy Beasley and Charles Branch, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.