COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid was in a suit but the conversation was casual as he took questions from the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition.
The group met Wednesday night at the Boone County Government Building, and the mayor answered questions for more than an hour about topics including rate increases and economic development.
Utility rate increase
The average customer would see an $8.25 increase in utility bills in Bill Watkins’ proposed 2011 budget after an increase of $8.70 last year.
McDavid said he would ask the council for a justification for the rate increase.
Coalition member Jack Clark thanked the mayor.
“I expect an organization to hold down costs, to be more productive, and, if operational costs are going up, that’s not the direction I want to go in a stagnant economy,” McDavid replied.
McDavid said he learned about the importance of smart growth while working to bring IBM to the city. IBM plans to finish construction on a new data center in Columbia by Oct. 15, according to a previous Missourian report.
The center is expected to create 800 jobs. Regional Economic Development Inc. played a large role in bringing the company to Columbia.
After Columbia became a finalist for the center, McDavid said the city had to show the company its parks, cultural centers and other attractive features that do not show up on a spreadsheet.
“Let me show you why your families will want to stay here,” he said in reference to bringing IBM to the city.
As the meeting progressed, an audience member questioned the mayor about the future of the Missouri Theatre, which has had financial trouble after a planned $6 million renovation ended up $4 million over budget, according to a previous Missourian article.
McDavid said the financial situation of the organization failed.
“It looks like some people are going to lose their investment,” he said.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked if MU could collaborate with the theater to have it become a new performing arts center. McDavid said the city and university are intertwined economically, and he values the theater’s cultural significance.
“This is such a beautiful asset that I cannot imagine it will not be restructured in some form,” McDavid said.
Richland Road annexation
An ongoing and controversial request by a development group to annex 271 acres outside of Columbia also came up during the discussion.
The two annexation requests were first made in November 2008, according to a previous Missourian report.
Many residents in the area oppose the request, which would zone the area as commercial property. McDavid said he understands why some people would oppose the development.
“When I lived in Woodridge, every time there was a grocery store coming up a mile away, I’d be down at City Council," he said. "I don’t want a grocery store a mile away, and I lost every one of those battles."
The council set Oct. 18 as the final date to decide whether or not to approve the requests, which the Planning and Zoning Commission has opposed twice.