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GEORGE KENNEDY: Columbia's EEZ proposal continues to evolve sensibly

Thursday, October 18, 2012 | 6:48 p.m. CDT

The last time I mentioned the excitement surrounding our proposed Enhanced Enterprise Zone, back in May, I ventured three modest predictions:

  • That none of the City Council members would be recalled as a result of their votes then to create a new EEZ advisory board, despite the best efforts of Keep Columbia Free.
  • That the EEZ would be whittled down in size and would wind up having less impact than its supporters hoped or its critics feared.
  • And that the argument would continue.

So far, it’s clear that I was right about the first item. I went Wednesday evening to the advisory board’s meeting for a checkup on the other two. You probably read the Missourian’s useful report on that meeting in Thursday’s paper. I hope you had a chance to visit the website, where you can also find a map showing the areas now under discussion.

The EEZ, as you’ll recall, is intended to be a tool for job creation. It’s a tool that has been adopted widely around the state, but one whose success is yet to be conclusively demonstrated. It offers tax abatements to employers who bring in new jobs or expand existing workforces. It also requires that the zones themselves be declared “blighted.” Both the prospect of lost tax revenue to local government and the schools and the threat of blight generate controversy.

The original proposal from Regional Economic Development Inc., the city’s economic development arm, would have included two-thirds of the city in the “blight zone.” Clearly, that wasn’t going to fly. Public outcry was immediate, fierce and persuasive. The council regrouped and gave the new advisory board the chore of coming up with something more palatable.

As the map shows, the current proposal is for two zones. One stretches south along the east side of U.S. 63 from Broadway down through the LeMone Industrial Park and MU’s slowly developing Discovery Ridge. The much larger north zone is shaped sort of like a U, with the east leg running along Route B and including most of the city’s shrinking manufacturing plants. The west leg extends north along Range Line Street and Missouri 763 to Prathersville. At the base of the U, the zone includes commercial and residential neighborhoods from roughly Business Loop 70 northward.

Together, the two cover about 16 square miles, one-third the size of the original zone, nearly all of it in the city limits.

The south zone has only 629 residents, in two trailer parks and the Lenoir retirement center, the board was told Wednesday.

The north zone, by contrast, encompasses at least nine neighborhood associations. Most of them seem to be up in arms, as evidenced by the presence of a half-hundred concerned citizens at the board meeting. Ten citizens spoke, and none praised the proposal.

Paul Love, president of the Parkade Neighborhood Association, was polite but passionate. His area alone has 1,500 homes, he said. “People are going to take it negatively and take it personally if you blight their homes,” he warned.

The advisory board decided to re-examine the north zone in three parts – the two legs and the heavily populated base of the U.

I was impressed with the board’s evident insistence on research-based decision-making and its equally obvious sensitivity to public opinion under the low-keyed leadership of John Strotbeck.

Based on the comments of board members and the continuing public reaction, I’m going to venture another prediction, perhaps better described as a guess.

This time, I’ll predict that Parkade, Ridgeway and abutting neighborhoods will be cut out of the north zone. The Route B leg will remain, and the 763 leg will be shortened to remove most of the subdivisions in its southern section. The south zone will be kept, though I won’t be surprised if Lenoir is excised from it.

My second prediction from May is looking more likely all the time. The only one I’d be willing to bet on, though, is the certainty that the argument will continue to continue.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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