Council members hopeful about Stadium Boulevard plan despite risks

Friday, July 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A plan to widen Stadium Boulevard to six lanes between Interstate 70 and Broadway is finally taking shape after years of planning. City Manager Bill Watkins said he "finally sees light at the end of the tunnel."

The project, which also would include improvements to streets funneling into Stadium as well as new accesses to shopping centers along the corridor, won't happen without some degree of risk to the city. That was the message City Council members heard during a work session on the project Wednesday night.

City staff briefed City Council on the Stadium plan and the potential risk in an uncertain economy. The project is to involve an arrangement among the city, the Missouri Department of Transportation and three transportation development districts along Stadium: the Stadium Corridor, Columbia Mall and  Shoppes at Stadium TDDs.

The project has been in the works since about  2003 but stagnated when the Stadium Corridor TDD, formed by the late developer Raul Walters, failed to come on board. Before his death, Walters had refused to sign an agreement with MoDOT unless the first road projects included new right turn lanes into his property.

The Stadium Corridor recently amended its agreement with MoDOT concerningaccess points in front of its shopping centers.

Craig Davis, an attorney who represents the Stadium Corridor TDD, said the pending agreement would be a good thing for Columbia.

"Anytime you can bring a $20 million construction project to your city, it's a special thing, especially when it involves state money," Davis said.

Public Works Director John Glascock on Wednesday outlined on a map the different phases of construction involved in what city staff have come to call the "big package." The plan encompasses both the widening of Stadium and improving side roads in the area.

The primary purpose of the 57-minute briefing, though, was to make council members aware of the potential risk associated with going forward. City Finance Director Lori Fleming worked up a payment plan for the project and detailed it.

MoDOT has allotted $8.9 million for the widening of Stadium Boulevard, which is a state highway. Additionally, MoDOT has said that it won't allocate money to the surrounding smaller road projects and that the Stadium funding won't come until 2012.

Money for the initial design and side-road construction is to come from the three TDDs, but the districts don't have enough money to match the state's contribution to the Stadium widening. That means that if the city wants the project to happen on schedule, it would have to enter a 10-year loan agreement with the state, borrowing anywhere from $6.4 million to $8.2 million, depending on further design fees and the cost of the bids.

The city would repay that loan using sales tax revenue from the TDDs. But that's where the risk comes.

"Our crystal ball for sales tax revenue isn't what it used to be," Watkins said, "so we want the council to be aware that there is a degree of risk involved."

Fleming presented sales tax projections that indicated the financing plan will work. But she said that if the TDDs fail to meet those projections, the city could find itself on the hook for up to $500,000 every six months to repay the loan.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade voiced confidence in Fleming's projections.

"I understand the risk," Wade said, "but I think it's low enough that we can move forward. I have substantial confidence in her analysis."

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala echoed that.

"The general consensus is that we will proceed, although in steps," Skala said. "We will conduct a series of public hearings along the way, and it depends on coordination between the TDDs."

Mayor Darwin Hindman said it's time to move ahead.

"We've been working on it for years, and I favor going forward," he said. "I think it's just something we have to do."

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