UPDATE: Mayor calls for two downtown boards to coexist

Monday, February 6, 2012 | 11:49 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — If Mayor Bob McDavid has his way, the Downtown Leadership Council and Community Improvement District will remain separate entities.

As a result of a memo from chairwoman Rosie Gerding on behalf of the Leadership Council, McDavid encouraged city staff at Monday's City Council meeting to allow both it and the Improvement District to coexist.

"They've eloquently communicated and articulated their desire to remain independent, and I respect their opinion," McDavid said. "It's nice to have highly engaged organizations contributing to the city."

City Manager Mike Matthes said staff will bring recommendations to the City Council once all groups have had a chance to weigh in. Gerding said Monday that her organization had received a letter from staff to formally weigh in on the report's suggestions by the end of May.

The Leadership Council and the Community Improvement District each prepared a memo to the council after a meeting between both groups' leadership last month. Should the council choose to keep both organizations, they would call for measures to ensure collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.

A December city staff report that suggested a merger of the two groups prompted the the Jan. 16 meeting. The staff report said that if there were a merger, the Improvement District should consider ways to increase the scope of its representation.

By law, members of the Improvement District board must be a business owner, a property owner or a downtown resident. The Leadership Council board comprises representatives of other city boards and commissions as well as surrounding stakeholders, such as MU and neighborhood associations.

In her report to the council on behalf of the Leadership Council, Gerding defended her organization.

"We believe that stakeholders in Columbia's downtown area include all of us, not just landowners and merchants," Gerding said.

Gerding said Monday that the broad representation of the Leadership Council board allows the group to take some of the deliberative burden off the City Council. Members represent varied interests and solicit the input of numerous stakeholders to inform their recommendations, which can make discussion easier when issues come before the City Council, she said.

"To me, that's one of the biggest reasons the (Leadership Council) needs to exist," Gerding said.

The Leadership Council provides a voice for the landowners and merchants as well. A member of the Special Business District sits on the Leadership Council, but that organization will disband later this year, and its duties will be assumed by the Improvement District.

A proposed ordinance change that would place an Improvement District member permanently on the Leadership Council board was also read at City Council's Monday meeting. It will be voted on at the Feb. 20 meeting.

Improvement District Executive Director Carrie Gartner wrote in her report to the City Council that involving business owners in planning increases effectiveness and efficiency. She noted several projects downtown that came to fruition through the cooperation of Improvement District members.

"Simply put, planning cannot be imposed on the people, it must include the people to be truly successful," Gartner said.

Gerding worried in her report that these planning projects might not be a priority for the Improvement District members.

"The (Leadership Council) also believes that the focus of these two groups is fundamentally different, with the (Leadership Council) concentrating on long-range planning for greater Downtown Columbia, and the (Improvement District) responsible for providing services and amenities to its taxpaying constituents," Gerding said.

Gartner countered this assessment with a list of numerous planning projects coordinated by the Improvement District, including the development of new parking garages downtown and the removal of canopies on Broadway.

"This organization has historically played a vital part in planning for the downtown and our membership reiterated this goal in our recent organizational revisioning," Gartner said.

The Leadership Council's other concern is that the boundaries of the Improvement District are much smaller than the area it oversees. The Leadership Council's focus extends from MU north to Business Loop 70 and as far east as Old 63, while the Improvement District is restricted to a 43-square-block area downtown.

Both groups said they recognized the need for greater cohesion should the City Council decide to keep them independent.

"I think there's room for both organizations," Gerding said Monday. "I don't see any reason why we can't get along. Both of us do good stuff instead of interfering with each other."

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