October 1, 2010 11:52:00 AM
Over the past decade, downtown Columbus has come to life.
Its historic tales have been retold, with numerous renovations holding true to their rich history. There is a plethora of shopping opportunities for a myriad of connoisseurs. And downtown''s 148 upper-level dwellings are nearly fully occupied.
The revitalization seems to have happened overnight, but many people have worked tirelessly for years to see downtown in its current glory.
Wednesday afternoon, Annette Thompson, associate travel and living editor for Southern Living, took a stroll through downtown, taking in the atmosphere and touring its historic buildings.
Thompson was in town working on a story for the magazine, on Great American Main Street Award winners. Columbus won the distinction from the National Trust for Historic Preservation earlier this year, along with Fairmont, W.Va., Ferndale, Mich., Lee''s Summit, Mo., and Paducah, Ky. Thompson already has visited Fairmont and Paducah, trying to capture "the energy that goes behind turning a downtown into a vibrant area." Those two cities and Columbus will be the focus of the piece.
"I''m so impressed by the number of residents living downtown above the shops. That kind of community will keep your city lively and energetic," said Thompson. "I''m also very impressed with the number of historic buildings that have been restored and revitalized."
Nearly every building in downtown has been renovated at least once, said Amber Murphree Brislin, director of Main Street Columbus Inc.
Recent projects include Holly Hocks at 204 Fifth St. S., by Gloria Herriott; the Firehouse Commons (the old firehouse behind City Hall), by Mark Smith; Huck''s at 121 Fifth St. S. (an old J.C. Penney store), by Chris Chain; the old Coca-Cola Building, now Bella Interior at 515 College St.; Castle Properties and the Brunini Law Firm, next door to each other at 412 and 410 Main St., by Mark Castleberry; the Bancorp South Building (aka the McGahey building), by Billy and Cathy Coleman; and the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center, a project of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Thompson noted Columbus is "way ahead of the curve" on downtown dwellers.
"Most small cities are still dealing with empty storefronts," she said. "They haven''t even contemplated the benefits of downtown residents yet."
"Of our now 148 downtown upper-floor housing units, the first was built in 1979 by Lee Whitehead," said Brislin. "Since then many more have followed and we now lead the state in upper-floor housing."
For cities who are successful in filling their downtown with residents, it invigorates the area, Thompson said, and "downtowns become more active, with a variety of shops (from groceries to drug stores to galleries to hardware -- all the kinds of everyday small businesses).
"Restaurants and coffee shops become town centers, places where locals congregate to socialize. Columbus is well on its way to this vibrancy," she continued.
Admiring Mississippi pottery in The Purple Elephant, Thompson, led by Brislin and Jan Miller, central district coordinator for the Mississippi Main Street Association, Thompson strolled west along Main Street to 420 Main in the former Carousel children''s clothing store, where Donna Garrison was working on getting Savvy Spaces ready to open.
The store will house local vendors, from crafts and arts to children''s books, accessories, candles and soaps.
Farther down at 412 Main, Castle Properties development company''s building dates back to the 1890s and was an old bottling company, said Mark Castleberry.
Next door at the Brunini Law Firm, also restored by Castleberry, "We wanted to set a standard for balconies," he said.
While much of the restorations in downtown were done before Castleberry''s projects, "We probably tried to up the ante a little bit," he said.
WCBI at 201 Fifth St. S. was the first full restoration downtown, said Brislin; it was done by the Imes family.
"Chris Chain has also been instrumental in really getting downtown renovations up and going," she added.
Thompson said Columbus'' sense of community, paired with the leadership of Main Street Columbus is a formula for "smart growth."
"There''s a contagious sense of caring in your community, from the volunteers setting out flowers and pumpkins on the street to the guy who drives the tow truck," she said. "Everyone I met obviously cares deeply about Columbus."
The story on Great American Main Street communities will run in Southern Living magazine sometime next year.
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