August 6, 2014 10:29:54 AM
The five people tasked with leading a major restoration project aimed at improving blighted areas of Columbus have been selected.
Councilmen approved Mayor Robert Smith's recommendations for a group of five who will become the first members of the Columbus Redevelopment Authority. They are John Acker, Mark Castleberry, Andrew Colom, Tommy Lott and Robert Rhett.
The authority will oversee the urban renewal district established by the council in May, which consists of 830 blighted parcels covering 1,296 acres in four main areas of the city, including an area along Highway 45 and several areas near downtown.
A date for the authority's first meeting has not been chosen.
Establishing the group comes after more than a year of identifying areas of aging and abandoned commercial space and tying them into the renewal district.
Establishment of the district and authority was initially brought to the council in January by Tripp Muldrow, a planning consultant from the South Carolina-based Arnett Muldrow firm, who worked with Columbus Director of Community Development and City Planning Christina Berry on the urban renewal project. Muldrow said at the time that the authority could act as a conduit to the council but also act as a private corporation to redevelop blighted parcels.
Along with a commercial corridor of Highway 45, the urban renewal area consists of commercial property along Fifth Street, between Second Street and Sixth Street, between 12th Street and 19th Street, North Seventh Avenue, The Island and the Warehouse District.
The committee would be able to acquire and sell property, rehabilitate and improve structures, pursue public-private partnerships, demolish buildings that can't be rehabilitated, consolidate titles and acquire and distribute funds and grants.
On Tuesday, councilman Marty Turner asked Berry if the council would be turning city-owned parcels over to the authority.
"That has not been brought before the council," Berry said, "but that is something we may look at to see if the council will accept that if we see that it's feasible."
Under the urban renewal state code, Smith has the right to appoint the initial board for staggered terms of one, two, three, four and five years subject to council's approval of those appointees.
Acker, an insurance agent for State Farm who has an office in Downtown Columbus, will serve a one-year term.
Colom, a manager for CrossCurrent Realty and member of the Columbus Light & Water Board of Trustees, will serve a two-year term.
Lott, a second-generation owner of public accounting firm T.E. Lott & Company, will serve for three years.
Rhett, a Realtor and second-generation family member of Rhett Real Estate, will serve a four-year term.
Castleberry, a local developer who is behind the construction of three major hotels on 18th Avenue North and The Mill project in Starkville, will serve five years.
In other business, the council:
■ Approved a five-year agreement with Claude Hendrickson of Columbus Aviation establishing the company as the new fixed-base operator for the Columbus-Lowndes County Airport. The city and Lowndes County split a $26,000 yearly payment to Tri-South Aviation, the previous fixed-base operator. City Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong informed the council that while the city and county would now be splitting a $40,000 yearly cost, Hendrickson had showed interest in purchasing the airport and bringing new features to the site.
■ Heard a report from Robyn Eastman of city project managing firm J5 Broaddus on the public works department and approved the firm hiring J5 employee Derrick Nash to serve as the deputy director of public works for six months to assist director Casey Bush at no cost to the city. At the end of six months, the city can continue to have Nash as an employee if it reimburses J5 Broaddus for his salary.
■ Authorized council attorney Jeff Turnage to file an injunction against the owner of a derelict property. Turnage declined to identify the owner until the suit was filed.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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