January 29, 2011 9:14:00 PM
Downtown Columbus gets a lot of love. It''s clearly no secret that we beat the drum for downtown businesses -- not because our office happens to be downtown, but because we believe a vibrant city center can lift up a city and keep it growing and relevant, especially a city with a downtown as historic and full of potential as ours.
Helping downtown along is Main Street Columbus, the organization that bands downtown businesses together and promotes the area as a destination.
But the truth is, most people in Columbus shop along Highway 45. However, the 45 business corridor leaves much to be desired. Frankly, the roadway itself is ugly, cluttered with disjointed power lines, outdated signage, oversized billboards, crumbling curbs and roadways, and a noticeable lack of landscaping.
Abandoned buildings of all shapes and sizes dot the road as well. Locals keen on traffic problems know when to avoid certain intersections, and steer clear of 45 altogether. (Hint: Highway 82 and 18th Avenue at 5 p.m.)
All of this is evidence of a lack of adequate zoning rules and neglect by the city dating back decades.
But despite the negatives, the positives are overwhelming for retailers. Dining choices from barbecue to sushi and everything in between can be found along 45. Of course, Wal-Mart, Kroger and most of the major car dealerships in the city are located along the road. Belk, Reed''s, Old Navy and other clothing stores are there. And, of course, Leigh Mall, with its department stores, restaurants and specialty shops.
Boutique-style shops including Monograms Plus and Pitty Pats offer high-end gifts and other items you''d be surprised you can find in Columbus.
Highway 45 is a major retail destination, drawing shoppers to Columbus from across the Golden Triangle and Alabama.
Yet unlike Main Street, there''s no organization or advocate for the shops, restaurants and other businesses along the corridor. Despite all it offers, there''s no coherent marketing message or master plan to improve the street.
Main Street Columbus, the organization in the downtown district, holds festivals, open houses and other events designed to raise awareness and bring in shoppers. It coordinates advertising, touting its member businesses. It''s an advocate for beautification. It seeks out grants to improve downtown, and works to attract businesses to empty storefronts.
Not so on Highway 45, where it''s every business owner for himself.
There''s missed potential here. The Highway 45 corridor is a sleeping giant that needs to awaken. Businesses along the corridor could only benefit by forming an association, designating a leader, and working to raise funds for beautification, promotions, and other ways to improve the area and draw even more shoppers.
Retail growth is largely stagnant, not just here but across the region and nation. Still, we''re able to score a few victories amid the recession, most of them along Highway 45. New hotels and restaurants are coming in. Retailer T.J. Maxx will provide a huge shot in the arm, with its plans to locate near Old Navy.
Imagine how the area could grow and prosper even more if businesses along Highway 45 banded together, demanded more infrastructure attention from the city, and lobbied with one voice for new visitors and business.
lorenza102053 commented at 1/29/2011 10:46:00 PM:
I have worked in Leigh Mall for the last 15 years and I totally agree with the views expressed on this article...I have never seen a town that appears to cut off it's nose to spite it's face as much as Columbus. That may not be what is desired, but that is what appears to happen. I would love to see some organization , co-operation and improvements on Hwy 45 N. and the town as a whole, but there will have to be some local business people and leaders willing to think of the town and the citizens first and not just what they can control. If the town grows and prospers we ALL benefit ...I just hope that the new generation that is taking over will see that and Columbus can quit being left behind Tupelo and Starkville in progress and being an exciting place to live....
kj commented at 1/30/2011 1:35:00 PM:
The biggest problem with 45 is that there is an idiot in charge of traffic lights. Why does the Walmart light function on a timer 24/7? Why is it that you can't go from a red light at KFC all the way to Bluecutt without being stopped at the Applebees light?
And we're allowing the very same merchants who have made an eyesore out of 45 to expand further down the corridor and put up LED billboards (even though there was a moratorium on new signs at the time) where we don't need more crap distracting drivers.
Kudus to the idea of a merchant association, there's a lot of good that can come of it. But convincing everyone that there's a benefit to living and working and shopping at someplace nice is going to take time and some self-discipline on the part of the city council and merchants.
commonsenseincolumbus commented at 1/31/2011 11:52:00 AM:
Let's not forget that you couldn't give a downtown building away 20 years ago, but now it is the best looking area of town. Transforming 45 will not happen overnight but the same type of vision that drove downtown to change will help 45.
The people who did the charrette in Columbus last year had some interesting ideas to transform Gardner Blvd. They Photoshopped a photo of Gardner by placing the power lines under ground, adding sidewalks, landscaping and some pedestrian-level lighting. Some of those ideas may work to improve 45 as well.
I think the billboard moratorium is on new billboards. I THINK they replaced traditional billboards with the LED ones. Those LED ones are very distracting though and certainly don't do much to enhance the look of the area.
riverrat commented at 1/31/2011 5:39:00 PM:
I could not agree more KJ, the traffic engineering is Columbus has to be the worse. And it doesn't stop with HWY 45 North. Try Main Street at 5:30 AM on a holiday/weekend and hop scotch from one light to another in the downtown area with one way streets. Calling the mayor's office does no good either.
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