Columbus, Georgia is the county seat of Muscogee County, with a population of 185,271. The city is a consolidated city-county, which means that the city's statistics are listed the same as the county's statistics. The exception to this consolidation is Fort Benning. Columbus' location along the Chattahoochee River is of historical significance, having served as its trading connection to the world in early days. In particular, Columbus' adjacency to the river allowed the region's plantations to connect with the international cotton market via New Orleans and- ultimately- Liverpool, England. The establishment of the railroad increased the city's importance, and spurred the establishment of textile mills as well as a regional reliance on agriculture. During the Civil War, Columbus' industry expanded its shipyard for the Confederate Navy along with ironworks and other munitions facilities. After the war, reconstruction began almost immediately and prosperity followed soon after.
In the early 1990s, the city implemented an aggressive campaign to designate historic districts for revitalization, and then begin demolishing large tracts of deteriorating industrial areas. With the construction of the Government Center, the renewal of the city began in full force. With these improvements, residents and businesses began moving back to the area; spurring the construction of a softball commons for the 1996 Olympic Games, a riverwalk park on the Chattahoochee River, the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, the expansion of the Columbus Museum, and road improvements to include a new downtown bridge crossing the Chattahoochee River to Phenix City, Alabama. The growth at Fort Benning also brought more than 15,000 new troops to the Chattahoochee Valley, along with economic development supported by the US Army's need for local services. Other companies who operate in the area and have contributed to Columbus' economic prosperity include AFLAC, Carmike Cinemas, Synovus, and TSYS.
Columbus is home to many diverse cultural, artistic, and athletic venues to include the Springer Opera House, the State Theatre of Georgia, the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Bradley Theatre, the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, the Columbus Museum, and the Columbus Civic Center. Columbus is also the home of the Historic Columbus Foundation's Riverfest Weekend, a major Georgia festival and a Top Twenty Event in the Southeast. Every November, SOA Watch organizes a protest, held in Columbus just outside the main entrance to Fort Benning, against the former School of the Americas. Celebrities who have appeared at the protest have included Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon. Since 2002, a counter-protest called God Bless Fort Benning Day has been organized by local residents.