Boundary talks slow downtown improvement district plans

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Despite months of organizing and meetings, plans to combine downtown's two governing associations into a Community Improvement District are still up in the air.

The community district would eliminate the Special Business District and the Central Columbia Association to create a committee of appointed property and business owners. It would also establish a half-percent sales tax for downtown diners and shoppers to fund the organization.


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Members of the Special Business District started pitching the idea to downtown business owners in November. In February, the Special Business District and the Central Columbia Association organized a series of town-hall meetings to garner public support.

But efforts to turn the plans into reality have slowed.

"We're getting there," board member Mike Vangel said in a Special Business District meeting Tuesday afternoon, alluding to the pace of the committee's progress.

Vangel said there are some questions about the boundaries of the district.

The Community Improvement District steering committee has wavered between keeping the Special Business District boundaries or expanding them to include other interested businesses.

Committee members are looking at options that would expand the boundaries to include:

  • an area one-half of a block north of East Ash Street between Providence Road and Seventh Street;
  • a large section of properties — including MoJo's, the AmerenUE building and several of John Ott's commercial properties at the corner of East Ash and St. James streets — northeast of Special Business District boundaries;
  • and some properties at the corner of Hitt and Elm streets that might make beautification of Hitt Street easier to achieve.

By the Special Business District meeting next month, Vangel said, he'd like to see the boundaries finalized to either expand to include the proposed properties or remain consistent with the Special Business District, with the understanding that businesses could petition to be included later.

"It's not too huge an obstacle" to petition into the communitydistrict, said Mary Wilkerson, Special Business District chairwoman.

During a work session with City Council, Vangel said Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade brought up concern about how money collected from the half-percent sales tax would be spent.

"Councilman Wade wants a bright line drawn between assessment money and public benefit," Vangel said.

Vangel said some council members suggested marketing or helping to fill vacant store fronts should not be considered a public benefit.

But board members disagreed, saying the purpose of the community district is to benefit the public.


Wilkerson, who also attended the work session, said the council was supportive overall.

Although the Community Improvement District steering committee still has a lot of work ahead it — including gathering notarized signatures from downtown business owners — Vangel appeared hopeful.

In March, Vangel speculated that such a district could possibly be created by mid-June.

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