COLUMBIA — The closest grocery stores to the neighborhoods surrounding the intersection of Garth Avenue and Sexton Road are more than a mile's walk.
Covenant Community Development Corp. had hoped to solve that problem by building a grocery store, apartments and other retail businesses at the corner. But after 18-months of no report on the project, its dream appears to be dead.
Since winning approval for the project from the Columbia City Council, Covenant has quietly dissolved. Its assets were transferred in June 2008 to The Intersection, a nonprofit after-school program for kids in the Garth and Sexton area. The property soon will change ownership again because The Intersection cannot manage the debt.
"It's frustrating because this has been five years of work," said Dana Battison, former Covenant board member and director of The Intersection.
After months of heated debate about the project, the council in October 2006 approved new zoning for the property to accommodate the development. By May 2007, Covenant was searching for business tenants even as it sought funding to get the project off the ground.
The city agreed to cosign an application for a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration in July 2007. At that time, Battison was hoping the project would win the grant and break ground in November.
But that's where progress came to a screeching halt.
The project passed through the first round of the grant process, but a squabble between who should have first and second place on the lien dragged out the process from December 2007 to February 2008, Battison said. Ultimately, the group made no second-round grant application, placing the project in limbo.
Covenant dissolved in June 2008 because it had “no funds, no project, no reason to exist,” Battison said.
It passed both its assets and its liabilities — including debt on the property — to The Intersection. The common thread between the two organizations is a background with Grace Covenant Community Church. Two of the six Covenant board members also were in the Grace Covenant congregation, and although The Intersection is an independent organization, it sits on property owned by Grace Covenant.
The property at Garth and Sexton where the mixed-used development was planned consists of several tracts owned by either Grace Covenant or The Intersection, according to records of the Boone County Assessor.
Finding themselves with more debt than assets, Battison said The Intersection soon will turn over the property to the debt-holder, James E. Guthrie, to avoid foreclosure. Guthrie lent Covenant $120,000 in 2006 for the development.
“I did it with the idea to help the community,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie said that he and The Intersection are trying to handle everything “peaceably” and that he does not want to foreclose. He said he would sell the land back to The Intersection tomorrow if he could.
Members of the community have differing views on how the project should proceed from here.
"The project (originally) caused a lot of controversy for various reasons, but the people could use a great neighborhood market within walking distance," First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said.
Sturtz said he was speaking abstractly because the project was so far from getting off the ground. But he had concerns regarding drainage, parking, entrances, exits and the type of store to be built.
"It sounds good, but the bottom line is someone dropped the ball," said Tracy Edwards, board member at the Positive Regional Impact Diversified Enterprise.
Edwards said he'd rather see an activity center built for the youth. But Battison still feels a grocery store is an important addition to the neighborhood, citing that the closest food provider is a Dollar General, which sells only package-prepared foods and not fresh produce.
“I think we should let the community decide what will be successful,” Guthrie said. “But I’d like to try to keep along the same lines and ride this to its conclusion.”
Battison felt much the same.
"I hope the party who will assume the property has more developer connections," Battison said. "I want to see this project done in one way or another."
Battison said that she hopes to report new developments in a month.