October 12, 2013 11:32:41 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
A celebration marking the restoration of the Old Tombigbee River Bridge at the Columbus Riverwalk will begin with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 18 followed by rousing blues and barbecue at 11 a.m.
It's a new era for the circa 1927 bridge that once connected Columbus to all points west. With a snip of the ceremonial scissors Friday, the bridge takes on a new persona, as a pedestrian walkway and event site.
Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Nancy Carpenter outlined activities scheduled at the bridge Friday. After the ribbon cutting, at which Mayor Robert Smith, Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders and Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert will be among speakers, the party begins.
At 11 a.m., award-winning blues artist Grady Champion takes the stage, followed at about 12:30 p.m. by another popular group, Homemade Jamz.
Hank's No. 1 BBQ will be on hand with barbecue, chips and a drink for $6, said Carpenter. Sweet Pepper's Deli will sell hot dogs, cookies and tea.
Local and regional artists will display original artwork on the bridge. They include former Columbian Dana Sisson Mosby, with signed prints made from her original oil painting of the bridge. Other artists expected are Sharon Foster, Ralph Null and Caterina Mendolicchio, all of Columbus, Patricia and Chloe Muse of Birmingham, Ala., and Two of Us Pottery from Choctaw County. Work by Joy Phillips and Renee Sheridan of Columbus will also be available, as will books and other items.
Past and present
As a student at Mississippi State, Carpenter drove across the bridge more times than she can count, as have many longtime residents. Even then, she said, there was a sense that is was an historic structure.
"Now to see it restored, with a boardwalk and coach lighting, is wonderful," she said. "This will really enhance citizens' and visitors' access to the beautiful Tombigbee River and the downtown Columbus area." Already, inquiries are coming in to the Convention and Visitors Bureau about bridge rental for receptions, weddings and parties, she added.
The city, Lowndes County and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau matched $500,000 of a $2 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to make the bridge project possible.
"Federal dollars are not always available, and they're very competitive, so when you have an opportunity to go after that, you want to take advantage," said city planner Christina Berry Thursday. "Those dollars may not be there later."
Neel-Schaffer Inc. performed the rehabilitation design and construction oversight. Construction was awarded to Malouf Construction. Work included pier stabilization, structural steel and concrete rehabilitation, lighting, timber boardwalk, walking surface, handrail, paint restoration, concrete curb and gutters, connection to the Riverwalk and access lighting.
Planners are looking forward to continuing enhancements, including improvements to shorelines and to the area at the west end of the bridge.
"This has been a great project for the CVB to work on with Mayor Robert Smith, Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders, engineer Kevin Stafford of Neal-Schaffer, and city planner Christina Berry," Carpenter said.
Berry remarked, "I see this as the bridge that creates opportunities. If you put your mind to it, the creative possibilities are endless -- weddings, kiosks, marathons, exercise events, parties ... how many places can you go and get married on a bridge?" She envisions the structure becoming an even more widely-recognized symbol of the city.
"When people post a picture of it on Facebook or Instagram, you'll know that was in Columbus," she said.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.