Plans to redevelop the Burns Bottom neighborhood are in the final stretch. After four years, the Columbus Redevelopment board has purchased all but about five of the more than 70 properties in the district near downtown Columbus, bringing the organization closer to redeveloping the blighted area.
“There are five dwellings left to be purchased,” said CRA Vice President Mark G. Alexander Sr. “Those are moving forward, and we are approaching the owners as sensitively as possible.”
Alexander Sr. said redeveloping the area will follow the New Urbanism principle, which is an urban design that promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of affordable housing, retail and service and recreation activities. The project area covers five blocks between north Third and Fourth streets, running north-to-south from Second to Seventh Avenue.
“We are excited about the evolution of the area,” he said. “Since the area overlooks the (Lowndes County Soccer Complex), we have renamed the area to be ‘ParkView.’ Given the location, the dwellings will be ideally located across from the soccer park, near downtown restaurants, the river and the Riverwalk.”
Alexander Sr. said planning is underway to create a conceptual design comprised of both commercial and residential developments. He said CRA is in the final stages of engineering to allow for appropriate drainage, street enhancement and lot layout.
CRA, established as a city council-appointed board in 2015, has been acquiring properties in the area of mostly vacant lots and low-value housing, which is being demolished to make room for the higher-value development.
The project is paid for with a $3.2 million urban renewal bond the city council passed in 2017 and backed by a 2.5-mill ad valorem tax increase. CRA borrowed the money up front, and the tax will be collected through 2029 to pay off the bonds.
Mayor Keith Gaskin praised the progress on moving forward to redevelop the neighborhood at a speech to Columbus Rotary on Tuesday.
“I believe the work going on in Burns Bottom is exactly the kind of development we need to move the city forward,” he said. “I also want to see the families that still live in that area treated fairly and communicated with in a timely fashion.”
City Chief Operations Officer Mark Alexander Jr. — son of the CRA vice president — said no one has been forced to leave their homes. CRA has not seized any of the houses through eminent domain, the forcible sale of private property to a public entity for an expressed public need.
However, CRA can only offer fair market value plus a relocation allowance to homeowners in the neighborhood per state law.
Burns Bottom is one of two major projects CRA has undertaken. In 2018, the board successfully marketed and sold the former Lee Middle School property to local developer Scott Berry for $450,000. That property was redeveloped for the Lofts at Lee apartments and the Lyceum at Lee event venue.
Board President Marthalie Porter said acquiring property on the scale of Burns Bottom is not an easy endeavor.
“It was a big undertaking as far as finding the heirs and working with people and all,” she said. “It was a big project to take on, but right now, we’re really close to being finished with what we started with.”
Porter said if a homeowner decides not to sell, the project will continue to move forward.
“We are not going to force them to move. We want to work with everyone,” she said. “We want everyone to be satisfied — we’re doing our best to work with the remaining homeowners.”
Porter praised former Mayor Robert Smith and prior city councils for having the foresight to pursue urban renewal initiatives that will help eliminate blight and increase the tax base.
“This was courageous — forward thinking — I would like to thank them for that and trying to get something started that has not been here before,” Porter said. “They were willing to see the value in setting up the urban renewal program in Columbus.”