Friday, January 22, 2010

22 JAN 10: The South Could Rise Again

One of the first rules I learned about Columbus television news involved directions. I was told you do NOT refer to the "north side" or "south side" of Columbus on the air. It was a touchy subject with some people, I was told. I guess that all changed when the Muscogee County schools dared to open an East Columbus Magnet Academy.

The so-called "north-south divide" was the focus of a town hall meeting at the RiverCenter Thursday evening. Business owners and supporters of Columbus South talked about improvements in their side of the city - but if the goal really was "One Columbus," shouldn't residents of Green Island Hills have received equal time?

Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman admitted during the town hall he doesn't like to say he's from South Columbus. He prefers to use the phrase "Greater Columbus.... because all of Columbus is great." Of course, Trim Down Columbus is trying to move that in the other direction....

Former Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff revealed Fort Benning officers had to be told several years ago to stop denigrating "Columbus South." I don't understand why they had to be told that. Those officers might have been sincerely convinced the Platinum Club on Manchester Expressway had hotter dancers.

But the focus of the town hall was on the effort to improve Columbus South. Former Muscogee County School Board member Owen Ditchfield said six new motels are either open or under construction -- and amazingly, not one of them is offering a "honeymoon suite" for newly-married soldiers.

Many people say the comeback of Columbus South is tied in part to the National Infantry Museum. Owen Ditchfield said someone from Walt Disney World even stopped there recently, to check the museum's operations. Based on my trip to Orlando last summer [6 Aug 09], the main goal probably was to see which place has the better "Fife and Drum" restaurant.

A couple of soundbites played during the town hall addressed why many people consider Columbus South a high-crime area. One person traced it to the opening of Peachtree Mall, when rumors developed that Columbus Square Mall had a crime problem. Apparently that rumor was false - because they're not building a new police precinct in the library greenspace.

Another video clip had a woman tracing the image problem all the way back to the Civil War - and the notion that north is good, while south is bad. There might be some truth to this. The north sides of Atlanta, Dallas and Pensacola historically have enjoyed higher incomes and fancier stores than the south sides. But then, no one tends to talk up NORTH Beach in Miami....

But let's face it - Columbus Park Crossing and all its stores were put where they are for a reason. Developers said that's where the growth of the city is, not to mention the money. Columbus South is NOT going to match that reputation simply by staging news conferences with big lottery winners.

Nice new apartment complexes near Buena Vista Road and Cusseta Road are fine. But it seems to me the "big box" stores won't take an interest in Columbus South until they see more upscale families living there. I don't think Bob Poydasheff has even moved to the street named after him a few years ago.

(One person at the town hall pointedly asked why Mayor Jim Wetherington doesn't go to restaurants in Columbus South for lunch. Maybe he's trying to set a good example for the rest of the city - by saving on gas, and eating at a Burger King or McDonald's closer to the Government Center.)

The people of Columbus South had some trouble telling their stories, because WTVM had "technical difficulties" for several minutes during the live town hall meeting. I really don't think it's fair to call this the Baker Village curse....

(To be honest, WTVM is the only station in Columbus which can put on such a town hall meeting these days. WLTZ might try to fly all the local leaders to Davenport, Iowa.)

As for the competition: Midtown Inc. had a networking lunch Thursday, which focused on restoring old neighborhoods. That part of town doesn't have to worry about building new motels. The issue there Thursday involved criminals using the current motels as a parking lot for stolen cars.

You're invited to hear me sing this weekend! I'll be part of a worship service at the United Church of God of Columbus. It starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at the Woodmen of the World hall on Milgen Road, next door to Lumber Liquidators.

BLOG UPDATE: Our thanks to the mayor's office for sending us a copy of the "Memorandum of Understanding" Thursday, dealing with land south of the main library. My main concern actually was that members of the public were unable to review it -- and some of them might have an interest in understanding it, too.

After looking carefully over the three-page memorandum, I couldn't find the word "park" anywhere in it. Instead, it has words such as seeding, landscaping and "beautify." Usually the only "P-word" politicians try to avoid is pork-barrel spending.

Meanwhile, attorney Josh McKoon tells me the plaintiffs in the Education Park Coalition have called a follow-up news conference for next Tuesday. If you walk into the Columbus Public Library and find papers ripped to shreds all over the lobby, you'll know what the plaintiffs said.

Let's see what else was growing, on a wet and mild Thursday:

+ Shawn Skillman presented his final sportscast on WRBL - only five hours after introducing his successor, who was live at the Civic Center. For a little while, I actually thought the station had stumbled upon enough money to hire a second sports reporter.

(Skillman is returning to his home state, for a new job in Columbia, South Carolina. We'll know in the next few days whether he's part of a package deal, to become the new sidekick of Conan O'Brien.)

+ Troup County High School announced plans to hire Charles Flowers as head football coach. Flowers claimed two months ago he was retiring from coaching. It's now clear he meant the baseball version of "retired" - where you can come back up in one or two innings.

(In fact, the Citizen-News of East Alabama revealed several weeks ago that Flowers was a finalist to coach Phenix City Central. So truly this Flowers is a hardy perennial....)

+ Managers announced the name Columbus Metropolitan Airport is out. The new name of that place where airplanes take off and land is Columbus Airport - without the Metropolitan. Take that, Phenix City and Waverly Hall! This is our airport, so go build one of your own....

(Columbus Airport Manager Mark Oropeza admitted to WTVM his complex has a "leakage problem," when it comes to airline passengers going to Atlanta. A leakage problem?! He makes it sound the Honor Flight last year showed the need for the airport to sell Depends.)

+ Several local ministers announced a new child safety program called "East Columbus Clergy at Work." Parents are urged to drop off their children at churches, if they cannot be taken to school. Why haven't churches done something like this before? Have pastors waiting at the end of class, to get those evolution lessons out of their minds.

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths felled Fayetteville 2-1. The Snakes tried several stunts to make sure fans received more for their money. The beers cost two dollars, the hot dogs cost one dollar - and goalie Ian Vigier made 54 saves.

+ Georgia topped Tennessee in women's basketball 53-50. Shouldn't the university go ahead and name the court at Stegeman Coliseum after women's coach Andy Landers? If that honor hasn't been given to Hugh Durham by now, he'll probably never get it.

+ Instant Message to John Edwards: Best wishes with that mercy mission to Haiti. But you really ought to become a professional poker player - because you've now proven you can lie and bluff with the best of them.

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