COLUMBIA — The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council began its Tuesday meeting by discussing parking and Tiger Town, a proposed downtown area designed for football fans. Conversation then shifted to the council's independence and its role in development.
The issues were prompted by a report from City Manager Mike Matthes released last month that proposed combining the Leadership Council and the Community Improvement District board as part of an effort to increase departmental efficiency.
The Leadership Council is a volunteer board charged with making long-term planning and development decisions that extend as far north as Business Loop 70.
The Improvement District is an independent political subdivision comprised of business and property owners within a 43-square-block area of downtown.
The Leadership Council was established by city ordinance in March 2008. Brian Treece, vice-chair of the Leadership Council, questioned the timing of the recommendation.
“The DLC is only three years old,” Treece said. “If the council was comfortable or confident in the existing efforts they wouldn’t have created the DLC in the first place.”
Mary Wilkerson, a representative on the Leadership Council from the Special Business District, said she approved of a dissolution of the Leadership Council, citing the council's lack of clear goals.
“We have not always been clear what our charge was from the City Council,” Wilkerson said. “In fact, we’ve had to go back to them and ask what our charge was.”
Wilkerson’s fellow board members disagreed.
Linda Rootes, a member of the Leadership Council, said she thought the group should exist and that the duties given to the group by its establishing legislation had not been met. A planning report released in October 2010 at the Leadership Council's request was limited to improvements in the Broadway and Providence intersection and the North Village Arts District.
“We only got a little bit of the area covered,” Rootes said.
Randy Gray, another member of the Leadership Council, agreed.
“I definitely think we should continue,” Gray said. “On the issue of have we accomplished what our original charge was from the council, definitely no.”
Members of the Leadership Council voiced a need to outline specific goals moving forward to demonstrate its legitimacy.
“I think it would help us if we all had a sense of what are goals are and what we’re going to try to accomplish in the next month and the next year,” Rosie Gerding, chair of the Leadership Council, said.
A lack of legitimacy has been an obstacle for the Leadership Council said Phil Steinhaus, a representative of the Columbia Housing Authority on the Leadership Council. The issue was brought up during a discussion about Regional Economic Development Inc.’s plans to establish an enhanced enterprise zone encompassing low income areas in Columbia.
Enhanced Enterprise Zone
Developing an enhanced enterprise zone could create jobs while generating property tax revenue for Columbia schools and other taxing entities. New and expanded buildings and infrastructure within the zone would receive a 50 percent tax abatement of property taxes over ten years.
The tax incentives are meant to encourage the expansion of existing businesses or manufacturing companies while sparking the creation of new businesses.
Gerding commented on the exact boundaries of the enhanced enterprise zone.
“If it extends into residential zones, then developers will have the incentive to buy the land and demolish it (for commercial purposes),” Gerding said.
Treece, who earlier mentioned that the Leadership Council should work more closely with REDI, questioned the Leadership Council’s role in the development of an enhanced enterprise zone. He said a letter should be written to City Council addressing the issue.
“The letter should express (the Leadership Council's) concerns about why the enhanced enterprise zone should include residential areas if it is meant for commercial purposes, and that (the Leadership Council) would like to review and comment on the enhanced enterprise zone,” he said.
Yet the enhanced enterprise zone is intended to create jobs, not demolish neighborhoods, said Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Improvement District, who has been recommended to be a member of the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board when it is established.
“It’s more about economical development and less about physical development,” Gartner said. “There are penalties in place for businesses that receive the tax credits yet create no jobs.”
Possible consolidation of boards
The Leadership Council has taken steps to inform the public about the possible absorption of its duties by the Community Improvement District Board.
Treece of the Leadership Council said he had visited with the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association and distributed fliers citing what he called the “policy concerns and legal barriers” that were raised by the proposed action.
Gartner questioned why the flier included one aspect of the Improvement District’s mission statement — serving as the voice of the business and property owners in the district — and left out its charge of supporting and coordinating long-term planning within its boundaries.
“It sounds like we’re greedy business owners,” Gartner said. “I think what this does is drive a wedge between these two organizations.”
The executive members of each board met last week to discuss ways to collaborate moving forward. Gerding said the result of that meeting was a renewed commitment to cooperation between the two groups.
“We’re going to make a sincere effort to keep each other apprised of what each group is doing, what’s on their radar and what projects they have going on,” she said.