Our opinion: A development worth checking out and checking in

March 25, 2011 9:24:00 AM



Maybe April Fool''s Day was unlucky. 


Developer Mark Castleberry of Castle properties, who is developing the cluster of hotels and restaurants at 18th Avenue North and Highway 82, had pegged an April 1 opening date to the Fairfield Inn and Suites, the first of the development''s businesses to go online. This week, Marriott officially put a March 30 opening date on the hotel. 


April 1, March 30. Either way, we''re smiling. 


The hotel development is a bright new light on Columbus'' retail horizon. Near the Fairfield Inn, the skeleton of a new Logan''s Roadhouse restaurant is taking form. Midyear, work is expected to begin on the Fairfield''s neighbor, a Courtyard by Marriott, which will feature amenities including an indoor pool and a Starbucks coffee shop. That hotel is slated to open mid-2012. 


Other restaurants have expressed interest in the development''s other two restaurant pads, among them IHOP and Olive Garden. 


The development is another win for Castleberry, who is becoming notorious for sprinkling attractive retail developments around Columbus and the Golden Triangle. He''s also responsible for the shopping center on Highway 45 in Columbus that''s home to the McAlister''s, Game Stop and Dunkin'' Donuts and for retrofitting the former Walmart location behind it. He''s also rehabbed hotels in Starkville including the Hampton Inn and Comfort Suites. 


The 18th Avenue development, however, is worth noting because of its size and economic impact. The project can also serve as an example of how public and private entities can work together for the benefit of all. The project wouldn''t be there if not for the city of Columbus, which was able to land a federal infrastructure grant for road and drainage improvements at the site -- and the improvements are substantial. A creek running through the center of the project had to be channeled and the property graded. New stoplights were installed, and Sixth Street was widened and repaved. 


The project also wouldn''t be there if the demand wasn''t there. That demand is fed by Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi State University, and local industries including Severstal and Paccar. Tourism events including Pilgrimage also draw out-of-towners. 


The properties will mean more tax revenue for the city. They''ll buoy other nearby restaurants and businesses, in addition to drawing new ones. A dormant, unsightly, undeveloped property has been transformed into a little economic engine for the entire area. 


We thank Castleberry and city leaders for working together to make this project happen, and for giving us a development we all can be proud of.