Columbia:  A Wistful Vista

         The people who run the city of Columbia, S.C. are perpetually trying to make something of it that it is not.  For as long as I can remember City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and other promotion-minded groups have tried to make the town a destination for tourists and conventions.  

         I recall a meeting many years ago in which a list of attractions was being drawn up.  There was a great zoo, a handsome art museum, colleges by the fistful, and historical sites by the dozens.  Why, the damage General Sherman did with his cannons can still be seen on the west wall of the handsome state house.  We even have preserved Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home! 

         "Think of it," remarked a wag, "while dad is at his convention his wife and kids can tour Wilson's Boyhood Home for excitement.  That's certainly a selling point!"  

         The giggles died down and the group admitted that selling  Columbia as a convention destination was not going to be easy.  "If only we had a dynamite slogan!"

         That was years ago.  Thousands of dollars have been spent on slogans since then  and they've all been duds.  But City Hall is about to try again.  

         The first try was "A Capital Place to Be."  Made sense.  After all, Columbia has been the capital of South Carolina since 1786.  Say, that might impress history buffs.  "Columbia - Since 1786!"  Or, to get some geographic flavor into it, "Columbia - The Soul of the South."  After all, the Confederate states launched their secession proceedings in downtown Columbia.  The meeting hall still stands. "Have a 
Blast in Columbia's Past."  

         But playing up the historical sites may not be enough for modern convention and tourism customers.  Something with some contemporary appeal is needed.  "Columbia - Home of Hootie and the Blowfish!"  Or, if a tight economy is influencing convention site decisions, we could go with "Columbia - More Bang for the Buck!"  

         Columbia chose "It's Happening Now" in its second attempt to pick the right promotional phrase.  It didn't work.  A few months ago City Council paid an ad outfit $70,000.00 for "Where Friendliness Flows."  That didn't work, either, so another $70,000.00 is being spent with a different agency to create a new slogan.  

        "Smoke Free and Proud of  It" probably won't make the cut.  "We're All Business" won't, either.  "Aspiring to Greatness" is a true sentiment but won't do anything to excite a convention site selection committee.  

       New York City's "The City That Never Sleeps" suggests excitement and fun for everyone, but that would never do for Columbia which is very low key in the entertainment department.  There are plenty of restaurants and bars, but the city fathers and mothers have made sure that any titillating attractions are kept out of the city limits.  Atlanta may have earned the nickname "Hotlanta" but there's no danger Columbia will ever be thought of as a place to kick up one's heels after hours.  "Columbia - Where the Devil Lost" would sum up the atmosphere, except in the Five Points area of the city where the evening party impulse among young people runs strong.   

     Charlotte gets by just calling itself "The Queen City."  Raleigh settled for "The City of Oaks."  Pretty bland, in our view, but they get a healthy share of conventions.  Maybe we should come right out and make our claim with "Columbia - the Convention City."  

     After devoting almost an hour to this knotty problem I can't escape the conclusion that Columbia will continue its hopeless quest to become a hot tourist and convention destination no matter how many tax dollars it takes.  Therefore, I would like to bring the matter to a close by suggesting that City Council send me $70,000.00 for suggesting a slogan that portrays the town accurately;  "Columbia: A Wistful Vista."  *

* Apologies to Mayor LaTrivia, Mr. and Mrs. McGee, and others of radio's Golden Era.           

May 31st 2008

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