Our View: Build a more attractive Columbus

March 10, 2011 12:54:00 PM

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On the demographic surveys that retailers use to build new stores and restaurants, Columbus looks surprisingly similar to other Mississippi cities.  

 

Columbus and Tupelo, for example, have median home values, in the $100,000 range. Columbus'' percentage of households with income of $75,000 or more -- or, people with disposable income that retailers covet -- is on par with Tupelo at around 20 percent, though our population is smaller. 

 

Local developer Mark Castleberry, who is behind developments including the shopping strip on Highway 45 housing McAlister''s and Game Stop, and the new hotel development nearby on 18th Avenue at Highway 82, shared these and other demographic numbers during a talk with the Columbus Rotary Club this week. 

 

So, if we''re so similar, the age-old question arises: Why don''t we have a Target? 

 

That''s because the numbers are also so different, in some key areas. Take population. Tupelo, which is already much larger than Columbus, is growing, according to the latest census. Columbus is shrinking. 

 

Current annexation plans city is exploring do little to address this shift in population. We can''t annex our way to a bigger population -- the numbers simply don''t work. 

 

Those are some of the reasons we shouldn''t expect a Target in Columbus "in our lifetimes," one economic development official has said. 

 

That''s not to say we don''t have our share of wins. A T.J. Maxx is on its way to Columbus -- a momentous development for lovers of discounted designer clothes. Expect lines to wrap around the store when it opens. 

 

And, developers like Castleberry are plugging away, investing in the Golden Triangle, luring hotels, and restaurants. Columbus is getting a Fairfield Inn, a Courtyard By Marriott, and new Hampton and Hilton Garden Inns are on the horizon. 

 

In addition to Logan''s Roadhouse, chains including Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden and IHOP have expressed interest in Columbus -- but no promises. 

 

So our on-paper profile is paying some dividends, enough to have retailers come in for a second look. 

 

The key for Columbus remains putting a prettier face on that second look. 

 

Take a drive down Highway 45. Notice the abandoned Taco Bell, the empty car dealerships, the crumbling curbs, the potholes. Take in the gigantic billboards and the tangle of power lines. 

 

Columbus is "under-demolished," Castleberry said. We clearly agree. 

 

Coincidentally, the city of Columbus is hosting a public meeting at 4:30 today, seeking input on a master plan. We believe any plan needs to address the slipshod development along the Highway 45 corridor. A plan to beautify the road and strengthen zoning laws should be implemented, there and along other business corridors in Columbus. 

 

Decades of anything-goes development are hindering economic growth in the city, not helping it. Changing this mind-set will take resolute leadership. And, you know where leaders get their resolve? From an active and outspoken citizenry. We urge you to get involved. 

 

We''re late to the party with a comprehensive master plan, but better late than never. Columbus'' residents should demand rules that undo the past messes of vast parking lots with no trees, obtrusive billboards and vacant, blighted buildings. 

 

Let the city hear your voice today, and during future meetings, as the city puts together a new comprehensive plan. 

 

We can''t annex our way to growth, like Tupelo has done. But we can lure new residents, and help out all of our home values in the process, by making Columbus a more attractive place to live. A renewed sense of pride in our community is the best way to grow Columbus.