COLUMBIA — City officials are hoping that the construction of the new City Hall and plaza, combined with accompanying improvements at Broadway and Eighth Street, will act as a catalyst for a long-standing effort to beautify the Historic Avenue of the Columns.
To help make that happen, the city plans to apply on Feb. 19 for state tax credits that would invite donations to pay for streetscape projects at Eighth Street and Broadway. The tax credits are intended to raise $450,000 in donations from surrounding businesses to pay for renovations on the three privately owned corners of Eighth Street and Broadway, as well as the streetscape.
“If we receive tax credits, any business or individual that donates for the renovations will receive a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the contributions,” said Tony St. Romaine, assistant city manager.
Talks on beautifying Eighth Street, also known as the historic Avenue of the Columns, have been ongoing since 1992. City officials hope the $22-million renovation and expansion of city hall, which should be done by 2010, will usher in the beautification plan.
At the same time, a vision for downtown put forth by Sasaki Associates calls for a proposed conference center between Cherry and Locust streets and new retail services on Locust, Elm and Cherry streets.
“Eighth and Broadway is going to be a catalyst for future development,” St. Romaine said.
Three organizations have worked over the past 15 years to develop the Avenue of the Columns, yet the current organization might have the best chance yet because both public and private interests are involved.
“It has been very slow in evolving, but most good things take time to accomplish,” said Shelly Simon, who is leading the streetscape effort for the Avenue of the Columns Committee. Simon has a vested interest, as she is an architect at Simon Oswald Associates, located just off of Eighth Street.
This Avenue of the Columns Committee is the latest to take on the project, which seeks to develop Eighth Street into a burgeoning market of livelihood and activity. Artists’ renditions show the street thickly lined with trees, benches, brick walkways and other landscaping that’s intended to play off the city hall plaza theme.
“For a long time,” Simon said, “Eighth Street has been viewed as a parking lot for activity on Ninth Street.”
Mary Wilkerson, vice president of marketing at Boone County National Bank and an advocate for the Eighth Street project since it began, said the project must go beyond landscaping.
“It is not enough for it to be pretty; it has to be vital,” Wilkerson said. “You can plant trees and put benches on the street, but if there is nothing there, who will sit on the bench?”
Wilkerson, too, has a vested interest in seeing the Avenue of the Columns renovations carried through. She is chairwoman of the Avenue of the Columns Committee, and her bank is at the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Broadway.
“We want to do what we can to participate particularly for the development of Eighth Street,” said Wilkerson, who added that Boone County National Bank will donate to the project if the tax credits are approved. “We see the benefit in seeing this project through.”
As the Avenue of the Columns project begins to get attention again, city officials have also begun discussions about how to implement the redevelopment of southern downtown advocated by Sasaki. St. Romaine said the two efforts go hand in hand.
“The concepts that were discussed during the Avenue of the Columns master plan process in 2004 and 2005, showing the need for pedestrian amenities and streetscape improvements along Eighth Street, were ratified by the recent study taken by Sasaki Associates,” St. Romaine said.
Sasaki’s study was done under the guidance of the city manager’s office, MU, Stephens College and downtown businesses. They hope the Eighth Street effort will build on the “town-gown” relationship in Columbia.
St. Romaine described the “town-gown” relationship as “that open door between university leaders and city leaders that is necessary to ensure good planning, not only for the core area of downtown Columbia where the city and university exist, but more so in terms of an entire community because of the large impact of the university.”
Phil Shocklee, associate director of MU Campus Facilities, said MU wants a seamless transition from downtown to the campus.
Although he and St. Romaine share a similar vision, they have different deadline expectations for MU’s part of the project, which is primarily landscaping. Shocklee said there is no timeline, while St. Romaine said he was under the impression MU would like to have its section complete by the end of this year.