COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Tomorrow they will hold the Grand Opening of the new Ralston Towers. Earlier this month, the largest piece of public art in Columbus was dedicated on the city’s Riverwalk.
In a strange way, these two events are connected. And that connection is Chuck Hart.
Most people are asking: Who’s Chuck Hart? It’s a fair question. He was a man of meager means who loved the riverwalk – and died a tragic death.
Most people do not know who Chuck Hart is, but they know how he died in the summer of 2017.
He was found dead in his un-airconditioned room inside the Ralston Towers. That event and jury awarding Hart’s family $125 million dollars in a wrongful death suit against the then owners, led to HUD shutting down the building.
“And, you know, when we think about a person’s life, whether they die of a tragedy or whether they die of an illness or whether they die of anything else,” Jimmy Elder, pastor First Baptist Church. “The thing is, we don’t want to remember how they left this world. We want to remember what they left in this world.”
Hart’s family created a fund at the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley. That fund donated the money to Dragonfly Trails to design and create the massive art project along the Chattahoochee riverbank.
Why the riverwalk?
“He spent a lot of time on the Riverwalk because he loved it,” said Betsy Covington, CEO Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley. “He loved hanging out here. He loved people-watching. He loved watching the river. All the same reasons I love to come to the riverwalk.”
The mural – which covers almost 7,000 square feet is painted on a concrete structure designed to keep the riverbank from crumbling.
The Ralston is now under new ownership and has been refurbished by Infinity Capital Partners.
Charles Gower was the Columbus attorney who got the attention of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding the deplorable living conditions inside the Ralson.
He represented Hart’s estate and convinced a jury the New Jersey-based owners were responsible for Hart’s death. That jury in 2019 returned a $125 million verdict.
“Unfortunately, it took the tragic death of Charles Hart to get the attention of the federal government – HUD,” Gower said. “And it took the congressmen and mayor to put pressure on HUD and it has worked.”
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson draws the connection between the Ralston’s rebirth and the vibrant art project along the river.
“Walking through it at its worst and to see it brand new,” Henderson said. “And to me, that’s kind of what this is. Because as this bank was collapsing, it was an ugly site. And when the city restabilized the bank and made a sitting area where people can enjoy the most beautiful view of our river. And then have Dragonfly come in and commission these young artists, to beautify it even more. I think there are some parrels with Mr. Hart losing his life, and never being forgotten because of the same kind of resurgence and reinvention that took place here as it did at the Ralston.”
So, a man who loved the riverwalk will now be remembered for how he lived, not how he died.
“Chuck Hart, some people would tease and say he was the mayor of the riverwalk because he would meet people here, witness to them, talk with them, welcome them to the community, and point out things they needed to see,” Elder said.