Former Columbus city manager returns 25 years later. Hear what he says about the progress

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Columbus has changed dramatically in the last 25 years.

How much?

On Monday, WRBL News 3 caught up with former city leader Michael Brown, who has been spending the weekend here with his family as a tourist.

But he is not just any tourist. Brown was the Columbus city manager in the 1990s when the Columbus infrastructure began to change. And he was here in 1993 when citizens voted in two sales taxes to drive the remake of the city.

What did he think of the Columbus of today?

“Amazing,” was his quick answer. And he used that word at least a half dozen times.

And he has a perspective to throw that adjective around.

When Brown left in December of 1994, think what Columbus didn’t have that it does today. There was no Civic Center. No RiverCenter for the Performing arts. No public Safety building. No Infantry Museum. 

Downtown was certainly not the uptown of today.

There was no whitewater course in the Chattahoochee River. There was no 13th Street bridge.

And one of the things that made Brown’s return trip amazing was it was the first time in 25 years he had visited Columbus for any length of time.

What we take for granted was new to him — though he was involved in the planning that led to the Columbus of today.

“Columbus lined it up,” Brown said. “But above all, I think the community … you have to have the engagement and the support of the community. And Columbus has put that together. Sometimes they are skeptical of the projects and the leadership’s motives. But the leadership and the community have to be together to get things like this done.”

Back when Brown was the city manager, four city managers ago, people in Columbus talked about needing an ‘it’ to compete for tourists.

What is the “it?

“I think the ‘it’ in Columbus is to recapture the beauty and functionality of the fall line,” Brown said. “It turned from being a manufacturing source of energy to a source of enjoyment and commerce. You took the ‘it,’ mainly being on the fall line and created ‘it’ into a new ‘it,’ which is a modern ‘it’ with recreational access, people living here and doing business here.”

Brown spent 15 years as the city manager of Savannah when he left Columbus. He now owns a consulting business that works throughout Georgia. He draws an interesting comparison between Columbus and Savannah.

“People love Savannah because you can just go and be there,” he said. “And in many instances, this is even better. Look at that beauty. You don’t have places like this. I think the story is here.”

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