Thursday, December 02, 2010

2 DEC 10: This Old House

Drive eastbound into Columbus on the 13th Street Bridge, and glance left. You'll see something which must make visitors and newcomers scratch their heads. A modern office complex practically is wrapped around a large mansion. And it's NOT because an 88-year-old man lives there, refusing to move out.

I'm talking about the Mott House, which faces the Chattahoochee River near the 14th Street Pedestrian Bridge. We took a new look at that old building this week, because of an e-mail we received:

Mr. Burkhard,

I am professor of History Education at Columbus State University.

I read in one of your blogs about Columbus that you attended a TSYS shareholders meeting in April in which the question of the fate of the Mott House was discussed [22 Apr].

For scholarly reasons, I am very interested in the answer to this question. Can you shed any light on it?


Richard E. Gardiner, Ph.D.

Talk about a humbling request. A professor considers a humor blogger a more reliable source than Wikipedia....

The Mott House was simply a curiosity of mine -- a side issue which I brought up with a TSYS spokesman at the April shareholders meeting. Cyle Mims told me then the building might not be structurally stable. If it was still standing after Tuesday's rainstorm, that information might not be accurate.

I called Cyle Mims again for more details on the Mott House's condition, and what TSYS does with it. Mims assured me Wednesday the building is structurally sound - so it's NOT a case of Mott turning to rot.

Longtime Columbus residents know the Mott House was a big issue in the late 1990s. When TSYS announced plans for a new downtown headquarters, the Historic Columbus Foundation lobbied hard to ensure the building would not be harmed. The site now is a classic example of the slogan "What Progress Has Preserved" - while the old Baker High School becomes what default has demolished.

(The Mott House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. We'll see if a Columbus Councilor makes a similar suggestion this month, about outgoing mayor Jim Wetherington....)

Callie Hecht with the Historic Columbus Foundation told me Wednesday the Mott House is owned by TSYS. The foundation has no control over what the company does with the building. So far TSYS has resisted the temptation to borrow from SunTrust, and add an electronic sign showing the stock price.

Cyle Mims says TSYS has performed upkeep on the outside of the Mott House as needed. But he told me the interior of the building is empty. That may surprise people at the Historic Columbus Foundation, who think it's used for storage. And it may disappoint the incoming mayor, who's making a big deal about city land being underutilized.

Cyle Mims says TSYS has "no immediate plans" to use the Mott House for anything. So it sits vacant, more than 170 years after it was built. Really now -- no tours?! No corporate board meetings?! No offer to Columbus State University to turn it into a RiverPark campus sorority house?

One other TSYS topic came to mind Wednesday, when I talked with Cyle Mims. The company's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer is Philip Tomlinson. The Columbus Mayor-Elect is Teresa Tomlinson. Mims says to the best of his knowledge, the two are NOT related. But I noticed Philip Tomlinson donated to Teresa Tomlinson's campaign - undoubtedly by credit card.

BLOG UPDATE: To the victor go the TV appearances - and Mayor-Elect Teresa Tomlinson was all over the dial Wednesday. I'm not sure if she picked up more campaign signs around town, or congratulations from reporters.

Teresa Tomlinson had a hoarse voice when she appeared live on WRBL's "Midday." She admitted calling outgoing Mayor Jim Wetherington for advice from time to time, during the campaign. Does that mean Wetherington secretly voted for Tomlinson? Or did the runoff candidates make a deal, giving Zeph Baker a hotline to the city manager?

The Columbus Mayor-Elect said she's skeptical of the current approach taken by the Office of Crime Prevention. Instead of writing grants, she wants the office to focus on "tried and true" methods of preventing crime. Hmmmm -- when WAS the last time the city had a gun buy-back day?

WTVM persuaded Teresa Tomlinson to pull out her old school yearbooks and photos. From what I saw, the "hottie nerd" from Atlanta was a hottie first....

Teresa Tomlinson said she became an attorney in Atlanta, after dreaming of becoming a chemical engineer. So instead of becoming mayor of Columbus, she could have been even more powerful - as an oil executive controlling our gas prices.

Wednesday was a day for analyzing the runoff results. Dick McMichael's blog declared Teresa Tomlinson's triumph "another Democrat win," even though the mayor's race is nonpartisan. Now I'm wondering if McMichael is the secret author of "The Truth About Teresa."

That anti-Tomlinson blog had a post-election post Wednesday night, perhaps provoked by a comment we left there earlier in the day. Instead of congratulating the winner, it claimed "several controversies" are developing in the wake of the runoff. Is Zeph Baker going to show bruise marks, from that "bully" opponent?

-> We've turned around a recent slump at Columbus-area poker tournaments. Read about it at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: Wednesday's mention of the Ledger-Enquirer's overseas call center may have led to another message....

On the Columbus paper thing, the word is that the paper will no longer exist in the upcoming months - maybe they should be writing their own ghost stories now...

I don't know who spread that "word," but I would be very skeptical about it. Nearly two years ago, I speculated the Ledger-Enquirer might drop its Monday edition. But the newspaper still is published seven days a week -- as if the sports staff knew Auburn football would become a hot topic on Sunday nights.

Yes, the Ledger-Enquirer is about to trim dozens of jobs by shifting its printing to Montgomery. But the newspaper still is hiring people to work in the newsroom. I've read about U.S. papers which hired people in India to watch and write about televised City Council meetings. [True!]

And even if a printed newspaper went away, online papers still could thrive. A newspaper in Seattle switched to a web-only approach last year, and it still seems to be thriving. But then again, it's Seattle - an area where many Microsoft employees were addicted to the Internet already.

We'll have reader e-mail about the Columbus runoff Friday. Now let's see what else caught our eye Wednesday....

+ The NCAA ruled Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton can play in Saturday's conference title game. Investigators determined Newton never knew about his father shopping him around colleges for money. The father now is under some kind of restriction - which I think means he'll watch Saturday's game from the top row.

(WTVM reported some Auburn students were so thrilled by the Cam Newton ruling that they rolled Toomer's Corner in the middle of the week. If the Tigers win tonight in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament, sandwich sales at Mama Goldberg's Deli might increase ten percent.)

+ Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Hugh Shelton signed copies of his new book at Fort Benning. The retired general's book is called "Without Hesitation" - and some fellow veterans want that title applied to an attack on North Korea.

+ Hanukkah began at sunset, with the lighting of a menorah at an unlikely Columbus location - North Highland Church on Whittlesey Boulevard. Now that I've mentioned this, a few activists may hurry there today to talk Pastor Dennis Lacy out of converting to Judaism.

+ Phenix City Police officer Christina Presley sued the city, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination when she was passed over for a promotion. Presley might try moving to the Columbus Police Department - because in a few weeks, she'll have some female friends in very high places.

+ CBS News reported Georgia ranks second in the U.S. in the number of state prison inmates filing fraudulent federal tax returns. More than 7,000 returns were filed last year, in an attempt to gain refund checks. And here's the scary part - once these inmates finish their sentences, they might apply to work at H&R Block.

+ Alabama Governor Bob Riley ended weeks of rumors, by calling the new state legislature into a special session next week. I'm sorry, but this strikes me as an ego trip by a Governor who leaves office next month. Isn't a photo shoot in front of the locked doors of Victoryland good enough for him?

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) found Columbus State's men topping Talladega 80-67. Since it's an NAIA college, Talladega's players are unlikely to go on to pro basketball - so they're probably taking courses to work on NASCAR pit crews.

+ Instant Message to everyone who lined up to receive free meals outside the new Chick-Fil-A in LaGrange: I hope you're all below the poverty line. And I hope you didn't pay homeless people to hold your place in line, then send them away to buy beer.

SCHEDULED FRIDAY: A crime story with a happy ending....

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