Welcome, visitors to Columbus! Jump on board our red double-decker tour bus here, for a quick trip around our historic city. This isn”t the tour we had originally planned, but recent events have caused a slight change to the program.
We”ll get on here, at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. To your left, we can see the historic, old Highway 82 bridge. Beneath the bridge right there, on a sunny afternoon, the day before April Fool”s, in front of assembled state and local dignitaries, the Board of Supervisors were informed that they owed $200,000 on a $2 million state grant to turn the bridge into a pedestrian promenade.
As it turns out, the county says they don”t have the money for the match. (If our supervisors were students of history, they”d know that they approved the match several years ago, but are now finding a legal reason not to pay.)
Please don”t ask where the bridge goes. No one wants to go there, on foot or otherwise. Still, it will be a nice $2 million stroll to get there. We could say the bridge is part of a master plan for development, if we had one. Rest assured we”re working on it.
While we”re over here, look across the street to historic Burns Bottom. We”re going to build soccer fields there. The soccer fields have been talked about for so long, no one, including our eldest historian, remembers how it all started. We believe discussions started around the time soccer was invented. The city and county don”t necessarily have money for that either, but it”s going to happen. It”s actually going to turn out nice.
Let”s turn our attention to City Hall, down the street here. Note the architectural accents. If you peer closely into the entranceway, you may spot the mayor and a councilman punching and strangling one another. Yes, there they are! You”re a lucky group; they don”t appear for everyone. Did I mention we are known as the Friendly City?
Over here, behind City Hall, is our historic Lowndes County Courthouse. There on the front lawn, notice two of our supervisors bumping their bellies and arguing over an issue that no one particularly cares about. At least they appear to be on speaking terms today. Some of the supervisors aren”t.
We”ll turn onto Military Road. This road was surveyed and built following the War of 1812. I hope no one was holding a cup of hot coffee, because your lap is now scalded. We are sticklers for historical accuracy. That”s why the road hasn”t been paved since Andrew Jackson was in office. But this road, like many of our thoroughfares, is a work in progress. Repaving will start any day now.
We”re coming up on Mississippi University for Women. Our insistence on historical accuracy means that we won”t change the university”s name, even though men have been admitted for the past 28 years. To be fair, the school”s last president saw the writing on the wall, and tried to change the name last year to boost enrollment. But a small group of alumnae derailed the effort. It”s now merging operations and programs with Mississippi State University. Note the period architecture on that abandoned dormitory.
We”ll travel down the road a bit. Over here is the Golden Triangle Regional Airport and our newly branded Regional Global Industrial Aerospace Park. Admire the shiny new steel, automotive and aerospace firms. We want to put some more on that big empty field over there; we”re courting more than a dozen companies this very day. We hope those new prospects haven”t read the paper in the past week.
As I said before, this isn”t the tour we wanted to give you. We wanted to show a united community. Our city and county leaders working well together. And, a fully independent university thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, recent history has muscled its way into our annual celebration of the past.
Normally we”re on our best behavior this time of year. But there was a thing about a bridge, and an argument, and someone threw a punch.
Pardon our mess. As one bloodied councilman said, this is a “learning moment.”
We also have some antebellum homes.
Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.
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