A bridge too far

April 21, 2010 10:24:00 AM



In trying to pawn off their bridge on the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city and county burned one. 


We know the background well by now: The city applied for a state Department of Transportation grant to restore the old Highway 82 bridge, which spans the Tombigbee River at the entrance to the Riverwalk, into a pedestrian walkway several years ago. At that time, the city and county agreed to each cover 10 percent of the match -- estimated to be $200,000 each on what''s projected to be a $2 million project. 


The state finally found money for the project last month. The city, during a gathering below the bridge thanking MDOT for the grant, reminded the county it had committed 10 percent to the project. 


Then, amnesia set in among county leaders. The county, some of whose leaders pride themselves on being financially sound while the city is struggling during the recession, suddenly was also broke. The city took a knock for not reminding the county of their commitment sooner; supervisors'' president Harry Sanders said he felt "blind-sided." 


So, the city and county went looking for someone to sell a bridge to, and settled on the CVB. 


Trouble is, the city and county, who were squabbling about a lack of communication surrounding the project, then "blind-sided" the CVB.  


The first time CVB executive director/CEO James Tsismanakis heard about the city and county''s scheme to pawn the bridge off on him was just before a City Council meeting, in which the council voted in favor of a resolution asking the CVB to fund both the city and county''s share of the bridge project. The county passed the same resolution days later. 


At that county meeting, Sanders passed himself off as an expert on how flush the CVB is with cash. They bring in $1.5 million a year, he said. On top of that, they have all kinds of grant money. What are they doing with all that money? Surely they can pay for our bridge. 


This further irked CVB board members, who were still mostly oblivious of what the city and county were planning. 


Sanders'' claims aside, the CVB seems to be doing OK. The board is operating on a $1.35 million budget for 2010. Of that, $295,000 goes to payroll, their biggest line item. Another $200,000 goes to marketing and advertising of Columbus and Lowndes County -- which we''d expect of them, if not more. Another $100,000 is handed out as grants for tourism projects throughout the city and county -- helping to fund various festivals and other events. 


However, the CVB also is paying $192,726 in 2010 to the Columbus Lowndes Development Link. We find this a questionable use of tourism dollars, especially since the CVB does its own promotions. 


The CVB also has $120,000 in its budget dedicated to "special projects." 


The bottom line is, the CVB can afford to do what it did Tuesday: Agree to fund a third of the bridge project, to the tune of $133,333. We believe that was more than a fair decision -- this project was primarily a city one, that the county agreed to help fund. The CVB was never a part of the equation, until now. 


We can only wait and see if that''s enough to satisfy the city and county, and if the project will move forward.