October 26, 2012 11:47:23 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
The City of Laurel and Columbus are approximately 150 miles apart, but the cities are very similar in terms of population and economics. That's why Laurel and Jones County elected officials, as well as members of the city's Main Street Association, descended upon the Friendly City Thursday to tour the downtown area.
"We were very impressed with many things during our trip to Columbus, especially the way the city and county have worked together and the curb-appeal of downtown," Laurel Main Street Executive Director Judy Holifield said. "The Riverwalk is gorgeous and Columbus has a beautiful downtown. You can see that it was very well-planned and a lot of planning goes into its upkeep."
Mississippi Main Street Executive Director Bob Wilson was also on hand for Thursday's tour. Wilson said he attended the tour because he wanted to see the work of Main Street Columbus firsthand.
"I was very impressed with Downtown Columbus," Wilson said. "One of the main things that stuck out was the way the city, county, Main Street Columbus and the tourism board all work together. There are many things of which the people of Columbus can be proud. It shows what you can accomplish when everyone is willing to work together."
Wilson also praised Main Street Columbus Executive Director Amber Brislin and the legacy she leaves behind when she leaves the organization.
"We are sorry to see her go," Wilson said. "We are glad to see her stay on board and be involved with finding her replacement. Because of her cooperation, what could have been a bad situation is instead working out quite well."
Brislin said the group toured the Hitching Lot Farmer's Market, Columbus Soccer Complex, Riverwalk, Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, a few downtown buildings and apartments and Leadership Plaza before having lunch at Huck's.
"It's always great to host a tour for another city (like Laurel) that has chosen Columbus to learn from," Brislin said. "While the Laurel group was here to learn from us, the Columbus group always learns something from them as well. Laurel's Main Street program only began on 2007, while ours began in 1985, but there are many interesting similarities in our organizations and communities, so it was great to share our story of downtown revitalization with them, so they can continue their progress and hopefully learn from some of our challenges and successes along the way. The group was very impressed with our downtown and left very enthusiastic about taking information and ideas back to Laurel. I hope we can continue to both teach and learn from other communities in the future."
Laurel is located in South Mississippi between Meridian and Hattiesburg. With a population of about 24,000, it is the largest city in Jones County, which has approximately 65,000 residents. Laurel is home to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the state's oldest art museum. Like Columbus, the city has a historic district where the annual Blues Bash is held. Laurel City Council President Thaxton also praised Columbus for its quality of life.
"We have been treated very graciously by the Main Street Columbus group," Thaxton said. "We were impressed with the cooperation between the city and the county and the way they have improved the standard of living in Columbus. The Riverwalk area is definitely something to be proud of."