COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Heritage Park in the Columbus Historic District has fallen into disrepair in recent years.
There are big plans for the pocket park along Broadway that sits on 1 acre at the heart of the city’s original neighborhood.
It’s a short walk down Broadway to the RiverCenter, Springer Opera House, and downtown restaurants.
The Historic Columbus Foundation – a nonprofit organization – has been at the forefront of the city’s historic preservation efforts. The foundation built the park in the early 1990s and donated it to the city.
Now, the plan is to get the property back level the park and move five historic homes on the site. Those homes would then be sold and renovated.
One longtime resident has seen that corner of 7th and Broadway go from drug and prostitute-invested apartments to the park.
“I think the one thing that we all share is that we love our neighborhood,” said downtown resident Fred Greene. “And we want our neighborhood to do well. And I can not see this being a negative, in my personal opinion. I trust Historic Columbus Foundation to do a good job. I trust BHAR, the Board of Historic and Architectural Review, to do a good job. Which will oversee the exteriors of the building to make sure they remain the integrity this neighborhood needs and warrants.”
Currently, the park has major water features that do not work. This caused repair costs to skyrocket, said Justin Krieg, director of Planning and Programs for Historic Columbus Foundation.
“One of the things that we have learned firsthand with large-scale water features is they are extremely high maintenance,” Krieg said. “And high expense when it comes to that maintenance. … And we can understand the city’s hesitancy to fully fund a massive renovation of the park as it currently stands, in terms of rebuilding the pump system and figuring out a way of circulation that creates a longer-lasting water feature.”
Historic Columbus and the city began to look for another solution.
And the recent success of the City Mills restoration project that turned the riverfront grist mill into a high-end hotel provided the wherewithal to tackle Heritage Park in a different way.
Did the success of City Mills allow you to do this?
“Without question,” Krieg said. “”Absolutely. I think it was a financial payoff without question. We are utilizing the funds we received when we sold our ownership interest in City Mills. We’re using those funds to help fund a major portion of this project. But in addition, it gave both our staff the confidence, as well as our board of directors’ confidence, that we could pull off a project of that scale and this scale. So, we are really ramping up our efforts here.”
The Heritage Park project is expected to cost $2.5 million and the Historic Columbus Foundation has that money on hand and ready to spend.
Five houses – three from Westville, one from Juniper, and one already in the Historic District – will be moved to the site.
Greene lives less than a block from the park and he likes the prospect of additional homes in a neighborhood where real estate prices are rising dramatically.
Greene is also a real estate agent, so he has the perspective as a property owner and an agent.
“I think that probably both opinions are the same, really,” Greene said. “I think that, of course, those homes are going to be valuable. No. 2, I love that we are saving structures to put in there. We are not building structures to put in there.”
That was a consideration that made this project doable for Historic Columbus.
“When we initially pitched this idea, frankly as staff we were thinking new construction,” Krieg said. “And, hopefully, to find a way to build new appropriately designed structures that fit in historically with the neighborhood. And that can be a challenge and difficult to do. When we thought a little more critically about it and talked with our Board of Directors about it, the concept was brought up to bring in five historic homes.”
Moving a historic house is something that Historic Columbus has done a number of times. There are more than 25 homes in the district that have been relocated.
“And when that concept was brought up to bring in historic homes, that’s when it began to check the box for people and they began to get excited about it,” Krieg said.
Heritage Park has been valued at $500,000 dollars. Historic Columbus has committed to spending at least that across Front Avenue on the city-owned promenade. That is where many of the fixtures currently inside Heritage Park will be moved.
“Once the property transfer occurs, we are also working through with city staff a maintenance agreement for the promenade,” Krieg said. “So, the Heritage Park site will be privately owned, initially by Historic Columbus, then those properties will be individually sold and maintained by private owners. The promenade will remain city property and we are committing to the city we will maintain all of those new installations and exhibits we are installing on the promenade.
For Greene and others in the Historic District, it’s important that there is a plan.
“I will be honest with you that’s not an idea that I think I could have come up with,” he said. “So, somebody is putting some really good through into it. And I support it. I think it will be great. Of course, there are concerns. You know this neighborhood and you know we are all a pretty opinionated group of people. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. We are just opinionated. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. We are just opinionated.”
The plan has been presented to Columbus Council and is scheduled to go back to the council later this month with possible action.
A meeting was held to show the plans to the public. Thus far, no widespread opposition has surfaced.
Greene can remember when the Historic District was one of the least desirable neighborhoods in the city. It’s arguably one of the most desirable places in the city to live. How did that happen?
“Well, with a lot of time, energy, and money from a lot of people,” Greene said. “Years ago, it was a different atmosphere. But I have watched it more from that to a designer neighborhood, I guess. Or a neighborhood in which people want to live in. It’s very desirable now. And, of course we are all happy about that.”