If you’re looking to revamp a riverfront, it’s always beneficial to visit a location that’s already accomplished it.
A delegation of Columbus leaders did just that when they recently attended a national conference on downtown redevelopment. They traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, not just to learn about the latest riverfront development trends, but also to present the Columbus story and where it is evolving.
The five-member group represented the Columbus at the 2017 CEOs for Cities Greenville Spring Cluster Workshop, giving Columbus representatives a chance to tour and learn about how Greenville re-made its downtown into a destination by capitalizing on its riverfront.
Columbus has been working on a major upgrade to its own downtown riverfront area that could include water recreation, and more pedestrian and bicyclist access.
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Greenville transformed its riverfront over a decade-long period from an area where a scenic waterfall was obstructed by an interstate overpass to a show-stopping waterfront panorama that complements a revitalized downtown.
Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp., said his takeaway from Greenville was to “have big dreams.”
“They had big obstacles,” Hester said. “They had this beautiful waterfall with an interstate overpass running over it. And they maximized what they had. It’s a living lab on what a community can do to turn an area around. The transformation there was significant.”
Led by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, the Columbus delegation also included Cindy Frey, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce president; Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County; and Karen Niverson, executive director of Columbus Area Visitors Center.
Lienhoop said the riverfront isn’t the only development opportunity underway in Columbus. The city’s entire urban core needs to be considered, he said.
“Part of what’s come out of Greenville — and we’ve gone to a lot of presentations in Indianapolis who have brought speakers in on this — is that people expect the community to have an urban core,” the mayor said. “And it needs to be lively and interesting.”
And while the city has identified the Fourth Street corridor as Columbus’ downtown entertainment district, that may not be enough in the future to create an urban core with those kind of characteristics, Lienhoop said.
“The mayor from Charleston, South Carolina, talked to us about people who walk through your downtown,” Lienhoop said. “To keep them there, you need to have something interesting every 20 feet or so. I don’t know if there’s any magic to 20 feet. In Greenville, I would say it’s about 60 feet. But you have to keep people interested.”
Souza said Greenville’s efforts revolved around a gutsy decision and big idea that turned into a goal for the South Carolina city: Greenville wants to be the number-one place for foreign investment in the United States.
Using that as a guiding principal, Souza said the city leaders went about creating the kind of community that would attract international investment by focusing on quality of life — making the city attractive to a future workforce.
Building around Greenville’s riverfront, the city recreated an area for recreation, shopping and entertainment, Souza said.
For Lienhoop, creating that kind of space also means a renewed focus on opportunities for urban living downtown — perhaps along the lines of the Cole Apartments at 200 Jackson St. — to create the kind of foot traffic that Columbus’ urban core will need in the future.
“We are a neat community and we have a great downtown, but our downtown is relatively small,” Lienhoop said, describing those boundaries as Washington Street and Fourth and Fifth Streets, and then the riverfront.
Right now, there aren’t a large number of people living in that area, and particularly not a large number of the type of people Columbus is trying to attract — young professionals, millennials, who are interested in having a lot of choices for dining, nightlife and entertainment, he said.
At the same time, some of the businesses that do have located downtown have struggled to stay open.
The closings of Bistro 310 in 2015 and Jordy McTaggart’s Irish Pub in 2016 are examples, he said.
Although new operations are moving in, some of the issues that led to the two facilities’ inability to maintain viability still exist — mainly a lack of enough foot traffic to sustain them, Lienhoop said.
“To maintain viability, we need to think foot traffic,” he said. “And we need to help developers see the opportunity here.”
Souza said a city’s “walkability,” its ability to provide pathways that residents can use to reach amenities easily, was another focus of the conference.
“It’s about how cities are making themselves more liveable for their residents,” she said.
In addition to taking in tours and listening to presentations about how other cities are approaching developing urban cores, members of the Columbus delegation also presented at a session at the conference. Lienhoop talked about the State Street Improvement project, which has added streetscape improvements on the east side of Columbus.
Upcoming phases of the project include the addition of an urban trail down Fifth Street, connecting the downtown riverfront past some of the city’s architectural treasures to the Haw Creek Bridge and then continuing east.
The plan behind all this is not only to link both sides of the city through improved infrastructure, but also to create an inviting palette where developers might want to locate a housing or mixed-use development that will serve the urban core, the mayor said.
Among the items needed for an urban core to survive will be a grocery store and a pharmacy as part of a mixed-use development, the mayor said.
Hester said he would like to take a bus full of community stakeholders to Greenville to show them how a riverfront can help transform a downtown area and perhaps broaden the community’s thinking about the future of the riverfront.
“When you look at Greenville, you have to consider they began the project 20 plus years ago — they had longevity,” Hester said of that city’s downtown transformation. “And they had persistence. We’ve got that here. We’ve got to remember that there are lots of places who say we have a great city. But as a community we can’t rest on our laurels.”
The CEO’s for Cities City Cluster Workshop in Greenville, South Carolina was May 15-17.
To learn more about CEOs for Cities, visit ceosforcities.org/
Visit the Greenville, South Carolina visitors and convention center website at visitgreenvillesc.com/