Columbus Chamber Inter-City Leadership Trip Highlights Downtown Development on Day One

Shelley Dean

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Wednesday kicked off the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s 23rd annual Inter-City Leadership Conference (ICLC). Each year the Chamber selects a community that is doing well in targeted areas and that has ideas and best practices to share. This year 141 business, civic and non-profit leaders from Columbus and the surrounding areas are visiting Greenville, South Carolina – one of the South's biggest success stories. 

The ICLC first went to Greenville in 1999, but thought the city was worth a second look. Greenville has continued to prosper, thanks to smart economic development, good urban planning and successful public-private partnerships. Day one of the ICLC focused mainly on Greenville’s nearly 40-year journey to become an award-winning downtown. 

“Greenville is hungry and restless with an intense burning desire to do more,” said Greenville Chamber President and CEO, Carlos Phillips. “And that is better than any building or physical structure.”

Greenville faced many of the same struggles as other cities, including Columbus. To meet the challenge, Greenville set out to remake Main Street and to create an atmosphere that would be conducive to office and residential uses, specialty retail, entertainment and the arts. Downtown's rebirth has been a process marked with significant achievements, hard work, strong partnerships between the public and private sectors and some missteps.

“It was not always easy and was never without critics,” said Mayor Knox White. “The city pushed ahead, reclaiming the river, getting people to live downtown, investing in the arts. We focused on what makes us different from other cities. We played up our personality and it is what makes Greenville great.” 

Greenville used their resources like the Reedy River and they built around that and focused on it. They came up with a plan, they united behind it and they worked towards a common goal. That meant narrowing some streets from four lanes to two lanes, adding trees, restoring old buildings, removing a highway bridge over a neglected waterfall at the Reedy River and cultivating a robust economy of hundreds of restaurants and shops downtown.  

Brian Anderson, CEO of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce discussed Columbus’ plan, the Regional Prosperity Initiative and its transition into Columbus 2025. “We have the building blocks to make our plan successful. But we have more than that. We have action already happening which provides the momentum to move forward.”  

Columbus already has many of the attributes Greenville touts; strong public-private partnerships, public art, water features, events, attractive streetscapes, a focus on the river, a transition to a more walkable downtown, and as Anderson discussed, a plan to continue advance Columbus. 

“It was never about trying to get the next big thing. It’s about highlighting what is unique and taking calculated risks,” said Nancy Whitworth, Greenville’s Deputy City Manager. “It about quality not quantity and keeping a balance of uses.” Something Columbus leaders are looking at as they move forward.

Downtowns are not just about the big projects and attractive streetscapes. Making a place look good will not make things happen, but it does give an identity and a sense of place that can set the stage for a transformation.