Work is underway to demolish the old gas station on Highway 45 across from the Magnolia Bowl as part of ongoing efforts to redevelop Burns Bottom.
The former Chevron station and the small building immediately south of it — formerly a tattoo parlor — are being demolished by the Columbus Redevelopment Authority in hopes of making the corner property more attractive to developers.
The site, at the corner of Fifth Street North and Fifth Avenue North, was owned by Sanders Oil until 2013, when it was bought by Sipsey River Oil Corporation of Vernon, Alabama. Sipsey sold it to the CRA in 2019. It sat there and decayed thereafter while the CRA tried to attract a buyer.
“There was a little interest in it, but not much,” said CRA board president Marthalie Porter. “We thought taking out the gas tanks in the ground and the concrete would make it more ready for a developer, because now somebody else doesn’t have to do that.”
The area will be seeded and left to grow, similar to what the city did with the old Gilmer Inn property on Main Street, she said.
Porter described the site as “the premier corner” in the area, because it both overlooks the Lowndes County Soccer Complex and is the gateway into downtown.
“There are very few sites available on Highway 45 or Fifth Street,” said CRA vice president Mark Alexander Sr. “It’s close to downtown, it’s not as expensive as something further down the highway and it still gets a good traffic count.”
Alexander said the CRA would like to see a restaurant on the old gas station site, with light retail in the adjacent space. Both Alexander and Porter added that that was flexible, depending on the developer and its plans.
Alexander described the corner property as ultimately serving as a linchpin to tie together the soccer complex and downtown to the Riverwalk.
“That soccer complex is quite something,” Alexander said. “There are hundreds of people out there when there are soccer games. It’s covered up. There are a lot of people out there during the day, using the exercise stations and walking. It’s well-used and it’s beautiful.
“That corner overlooks the complex, and through it connects to the Riverwalk and the amphitheater, once it’s finished,” he added. “It will be a beautiful integration into downtown, and we want the whole area to be very walkable.”
Porter agreed, adding that she hoped developing it would be a “springboard” for continued redevelopment north to the bypass.
The CRA, founded by the city council in 2015, has bought all but three of the 70 parcels in the approximately 15-acre zone surrounding the soccer complex, known as Burns Bottom. The area is mostly vacant lots and low-value housing, which is being demolished to make room for future development.
The project is paid for with a $3.2 million urban renewal bond the city passed in 2017 and will be repaid by 2029 with a 2.5-mill ad valorem tax.
Alexander said it would probably be early next year before all of them were acquired.
“We wanted to be finished by the end of the year, but that’s probably not going to happen,” he said. “We expect to finish by early next year. The last few are usually the hardest.”
Commercial and residential spaces are planned for the area closer to the complex itself.
“The area behind Munson and Brothers to the corner of Third is planned for a commercial area with residences on top,” Porter said. “The plans are for the area to be two-level up to Fourth Street, facing the Farmers Market, then residential up to Seventh Avenue North, down from Little Dooey’s.”
Some dirt work had been done at the old Chevron site, Porter said, but is incomplete mostly due to the weather. Although there is no hard timeline, she said she expects it will be finished in the spring.