Steve Mullen: Teamwork, and vision, needed for downtown


Steve Mullen



For decades, management types have been warned to avoid a "silo" mentality in their businesses -- imagine those tall Midwestern grain silos, which hold everything in and keep everything else out. Simply put, people tend to cluster within their own area, or their own department, inside a business. As the thinking goes, while individual departments within the same business might look similar, they don''t communicate -- they''re trapped within their own silo. So, good ideas don''t spread and the left hand doesn''t know what the right hand is doing. The business doesn''t innovate, or grow.


Business consultants have made great fortunes teaching businesses about these perils, and how to avoid them. Still, they persist.


When it comes to silos, the entrance into Columbus looks like rural Nebraska. Tall silos built by the city of Columbus, Lowndes County and the Convention and Visitors Bureau dot the landscape.



Who can blame them? Organizations gravitate toward silos -- especially ones that really don''t have to work together. But with our limited resources during the recession, and multiple downtown projects trying to get off the ground, a little teamwork and prioritization would go a long way.


Look at the things that have been built, are being built or are being considered for downtown. We have the Riverwalk, the Tan Yard Park soccer complex in Burns Bottom, improvements to the Trotter Convention Center, an "art park," and a new CVB building near the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. And, of course, we have the old river bridge pedestrian walkway, which is the hottest of all these hot potatoes right now -- a $2 million project with no discernible champion at this point.


While the city and county are working together on the soccer complex, it''s really the county''s baby -- Supervisor Harry Sanders insisted on its Burns Bottom location, and engineered the funding scheme. The bridge was the city''s baby, but it can''t fund an estimated $400,000 grant match on its own, and is having a rough time finding other backers (though the CVB just had its arm twisted into contributing a third of the match). The CVB wants an art park/sculpture garden on Main Street next to the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. Developer Mark Castleberry is planning to build an apartment/office complex behind the Welcome Center, with the CVB as its main tenant. The city is committed to improvements to the Trotter, though that doesn''t seem to be an immediate priority.


So, each of these entities is plugging away on its own pet project. Sadly, however, each seems to be looking at each project separately, when they should be looking at them as pieces of the same big puzzle.


What would happen if instead of approaching all these things piecemeal, the city, county, CVB and private developers sat down and considered them all as a whole? All are improvements to the city''s front door. Thematically, all could be connected, and serve a larger vision.


Instead of an "art park" on a lone city lot next to the welcome center, for instance, why not come up with a plan to spread sculptures throughout the area -- a master sculpture plan with pieces disbursed around the welcome center, the Riverwalk, and Tan Yard Park? The new CVB office could be home base for a sculpture walking tour that takes patrons through each area.


We have a stage area below the bridge. Maybe other stages could be constructed on the bridge itself, in the park, and near the welcome center for music festivals that take advantage of both downtown and green spaces. You''d have the makings of a one-of-a-kind festival set in a unique natural setting. Why not get Main Street Columbus and the Arts Council in on these discussions too?


Those are just two ideas that sprang immediately to mind. Just think if all these folks were busting out of their silos, talking together, brainstorming, sharing ideas, and coming up with a master plan on how all these projects could work together, instead of what we''re limping along with now -- a mishmash of half-funded pet projects and hurt feelings.


Yes, the hurt feelings are running rampant. The county got its feelings hurt when it got "blind-sided" by the bridge plan. The CVB board was all up in a bunch after supervisors talked smack about them in their county board meeting, while voting to dump the bridge in the CVB''s lap. And, of course, the City Hall Event That We''re Moving On From was sparked by the bridge project.


Enough with the antics, the lack of communication, the black eyes, and the frowny faces. All these projects might be good alone, but they''d be great together, if all parties could pool what resources are available, and work together toward a single vision.


Too often, in this Friendly City, we wonder why no one seems to get along. Here''s an opportunity. Who, among our leadership, will take the first step to forge a shared vision for downtown?


I bet I''m not the only one who would like to see a seamless blend of meeting spaces, art, walking trails and recreation areas, rather than a mishmash of silos.




Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.


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