Architectural walking tour off on new foot

One of Columbus’ first tourism tools is expanding for a test run.

The Columbus Area Visitors Center’s walking tour, launched in 1973 long before bus tours, will be offered free at 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays beginning next week and running through March.

Previously, the 90-minute excursion — normally costing $15 — had been scheduled a couple of Saturdays per month in warm-weather seasons, said Erin Hawkins, the center’s director of marketing.

“We’re doing this in response to a shift in the way we think people want to experience our architecture,” Hawkins said. “We’ll use feedback we collect during March to help determine future plans.”

That includes offering the tour more often, highlighting 15 to 18 structures, from Koetter Kim & Associates’ The Commons to I.M. Pei’s Bartholomew County Public Library and Henry Moore’s Large Arch sculpture.

“People sometimes are surprised by the density of our architectural assets in such a small area,” Hawkins said.

The tour, normally limited to 12 to 15 people with a tour guide, stretches about seven-tenths of a mile. But the walking option does allow residents and visitors to experience some of Columbus’ unexpected wonders, as its branding suggests, at a slower, more leisurely pace.

Organizers say the idea is to reacquaint locals and others with an up-close and personal view of the design diamonds in the jewel known as Columbus. The city is ranked sixth nationally by the American Institute of Architects for architectural innovation and design.

“We realize it might be kind of early for this,” said Karen Niverson, the center’s executive director. “But we wanted to get this out there for people now.”

Niverson sees it as more than a chance to show off fine design.

“The experience that you have with a walking tour is so much more personalized and can be customized. This also gives people the opportunity to become a little more familiar with our local businesses, shops and eateries as they pass by.”

The tour will be conducted on the scheduled days this month unless there is lightning or a downpour of rain, according to organizers. Hawkins said that, in the past, guides still have led tours in a misting rain.

Niverson said she finds it interesting that the short trips that first introduced local structures to architecture aficionados could make a significant resurgence.

“We’re kind of coming back to our roots,” she said.

In doing so, Hawkins said the new version of an old option offers one other possibility: selfies.

“We hope this will increase the number of people talking about us on social media,” Hawkins said, “and showing off our beautiful city.”

Walk this way

What: Columbus Area Visitors Center 90-minute, guide-led walking tour, beginning at the center at 506 Fifth St.

When: 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays from Tuesday through March 31.

Cost: Free (normally $15).

Sign-ups: No registration necessary.

Information: 812-378-2622 or columbus.in.us.

Tour guide training

What: New tour guide training.

When: 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays, April 2 through May 7.

Where: Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.

Information: Those planning to attend must contact Joyce Orwin at 812-378-2622 or jorwin@columbus.in.us.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.