Shelving Grindstone trail won't affect IBM deal, city leaders say

Friday, October 19, 2012 | 7:29 p.m. CDT; updated 8:21 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 20, 2012

COLUMBIA — City leaders are confident that sidelining the Grindstone trail project and shifting funds to other trails would not infringe on the incentives package developed and approved to attract IBM to Columbia.

While Columbia's existing trail system and future plans were discussed as a part of what made the city appealing to IBM, there was "no explicit promise" made with regard to the Grindstone trail or any other specific project, REDI President Mike Brooks said Thursday.

Brooks said the trails were "not in the official letter of offers," which included tax abatements, a leasing agreement that provided a 10-year lease for $1 a year and a promise the city would provide bus service to the facility, among other provisions. 

In response to a series of questions from an IBM representative in 2010, REDI staff answered that after the passage of an upcoming park sales tax, "the city manager will recommend to City Council (the Grindstone) trail be put on the top of the list for construction," according to a document provided by Brooks.

Mayor Bob McDavid said Friday he was confident the city will fulfill its agreement with IBM. He said he has not yet reached out to the company. 

"Our commitment was to connect IBM to the trail system, and we will do that," McDavid said. "The question is what is the best route that is accepted by the neighbors."

Sixth Ward City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said Thursday the goal of connecting IBM to the trail system could be accomplished by the use of bike lanes that connect Maguire Boulevard to Stadium Boulevard and lead into the Shepard neighborhood along Audubon Drive.

Hoppe supports the plan to defer the Grindstone project and shift funds to help pay for a trail connection from Old 63 to Rollins Avenue the council discussed at its Oct. 1 meeting. She said the Rollins connection would be "a more valuable connection" for the community.

The Grindstone trail was specifically highlighted in the 2010 park sales tax approved by 64 percent of the voters.

"We try as much as possible to carry through on any ideas and projects that we put on a park sales tax," Hoppe said. "We have the general goals and there are acceptable alternatives that do the same thing or a similar thing."

Efforts to reach IBM for comment were unsuccessful.

At the Bike and Pedestrian Commission meeting Wednesday night, the panel of seven citizens voted to keep the funds dedicated to the Grindstone trail.

The Grindstone trail has received neighborhood opposition in recent months and both McDavid and Hoppe cited that opposition as reason to defer the project. The opposition centers around two properties along the proposed route. The city would have to use eminent domain to acquire the right to build the trail through the properties. 

Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Mike Griggs said Thursday the Disabilities Commission voted in favor of the funds transfer last week.

Parks staff and GetAbout Columbia Director Ted Curtis are planning on presenting the plan to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Thursday but have yet to be invited to next week's Environment and Energy commission meeting, Griggs said. 

The last time the City Council approved a similar funds swap was after an earlier plan to connect across the Hinkson Creek was strongly opposed by the Bluffdale Drive neighborhood, Griggs said. Although the plan was a part of the 2005 park sales tax ballot, the money was ultimately shifted to help pay for bridge repairs on the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Mike Martin October 19, 2012 | 9:56 p.m.

REDI and Mike Brooks are at odds with Council and community understanding of this deal -- a not uncommon position for them -- when Brooks says there was "no explicit promise" made to IBM with regard to the Grindstone trail.

That's not what neighbors and City Council members say.

"The city promised IBM that the Grindstone trail would be built. So there's a commitment there," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt emailed representatives of the East Pointe Neighborhood Association Oct. 9. "Promises should not be broken, at least not lightly," Mr. Schmidt continued, highlighting the dilemma city leaders now face.

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