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A River of Renewal Runs Through Downtown Columbus, GA

Developments mean a renewed arts and entertainment scene – plus more opportunities for small businesses.

By Amy Antonation on January 13, 2023

Revitalization projects have transformed downtown Columbus into a hub of fun activities.
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Downtown Columbus, GA, is booming, and that means good things for locals and local businesses. With new developments in Columbus taking shape in the heart of the city and along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, small businesses are setting up shop in the newly trendy downtown.

That’s a win-win for residents as well as entrepreneurs who are getting in on the fun and investing in the area. Chris Woodruff launched The Cotton Companies in 2015 with the goal of changing communities.

“We’re real estate as much as community developers,” he says. “We re-create a sense of place and community where it may have been lost.”

Fetch Park in Columbus is an off-leash dog park that caters to pup parents with a bar and events like beerfests, puppy yoga and bingo.

Unleash the Excitement

Recent projects include Fetch Park, an off-leash dog park that caters to pup parents with a bar and events like beer fests, puppy yoga and bingo.

One great project is Midcity Yards, which, says Woodruff, “has been a huge win showing what we can do to breathe new life into blight.”

The 14,000-square-foot retail space is welcoming a third taproom of Atlanta’s Scofflaw Brewing Co. as well as Moe’s Original Bar B Que in late 2022. Woodruff notes that attracting Scofflaw speaks volumes to the potential of Columbus.

“Outsiders can come in and really do rather well,” he says. Future plans for the street also include construction of over 100 new apartments. Just a couple of blocks away, The Cotton Companies is currently developing Highside Market, which will include 55,000 square feet of leasable retail, food and beverage, and office space, plus a public park.

There, Woodruff plans to focus strongly on programming, with movie nights, yoga in the park, and possibly even open-air theatrical performances.

Rocket Fizz and Pop Uptown in downtown Columbus, GA

Movin’ on Up(town)

Smaller businesses have staked their claim in central Columbus, too. Hair salon 501 Salon Experience, candy shop Rocket Fizz and Agave Bar and Grill are just three establishments that have been lured downtown over the last five years.

“You know when you go to a city that has a thriving downtown and uptown area, that’s a really cool city,” says Chalet Kossey, owner of 501 Salon Experience. She also loves the collaborative spirit of the district’s business owners. “There are so many businesses down there I know that if I asked for help, they’d say, ‘What can I do?’”

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones drawn to the area; artists have made their mark as well. Buildings like the five-story Heritage Tower office space, event space and pop-up market, and other spots along 12th Avenue have been tricked out with colorful and elaborate murals, lending an inviting air to the business district and providing an incentive for customer foot traffic in the area.

Remaking the Riverfront

Riverfront rejuvenation is going strong, thanks in part to W.C. Bradley Real Estate’s Riverfront Place. The $250 million, mixed-use development sits on an 8-acre parcel on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus’ Uptown neighborhood.

The site was formerly the home of Eagle and Phenix Mills, a textile mill with over 1 million square feet of industrial space under one roof. (Part of the original mill was restored and became Eagle & Phenix, another one of Bradley’s mixed-use projects.)

When Riverfront Place is completed in early 2024, its six buildings will include over 750 apartments, up to 15 retail shops and restaurants (including a rooftop bar with stellar views of the river), the high-end Hotel Indigo and an office tower that will serve as the headquarters of Synovus Financial Corp., among others.

A central park, coffee shop and grocery store are additional draws for residential and business tenants. And there will be plenty of room for smaller retailers and home-grown restaurants to take advantage of the development’s built-in customer base.

“Our grocery will likely be a regional or national operator,” says Pace Halter, president and chief operating officer of W.C. Bradley Real Estate. “But the smaller spaces are really designed for local and regional retailers and restaurants.”

Zip lining in Columbus, GA
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Downtown Activity is Zipping Along

One thing all residents can agree on, both native and new, is that the Uptown Columbus district is getting more dynamic all the time. About 600 businesses and 11,000 workers are enjoying success in Uptown Columbus, and entertainment venues and community events are also thriving.

The district includes attractions like RushSouth Whitewater Park, Chattahoochee RiverWalk, Coca-Cola Space Science Center, zip lining, disc golf and a splash pad. Events include an Uptown Riverfest in May, a Friday Night Concert Series from September to mid-October, and Market Days on Broadway every Saturday from April through November.

“More young people are coming Uptown because Columbus State University has established their performing arts, nursing and medical departments in the district, and about 400 students also live in residential halls in a nearby building that the university owns,” says Ed Wolverton, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 1983.

Wolverton says adding to the district’s energy is Columbus Georgia Convention and Trade Center, which attracts tourism dollars. Uptown also has seen the recent opening of four hotels: Hotel Indigo, AC Hotel by Marriott, City Mills, and Hampton Inn and Suites.

“The word ‘dynamic’ is perfect to describe Uptown Columbus these days,” Wolverton says. “It’s a unique district with an inviting atmosphere. It’s clean, safe and attractive for businesses, residents and tourists.”

Staff writer Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.

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