COLUMBIA - Twenty years ago, Mary Wilkerson began working at the Boone County National Bank. From the first month, she took an interest in the project to revitalize Eighth Street, including taking part in a design charrette, in which five teams presented ideas of ways to improve the avenue.
"We always knew it was going to be a long process," she said. "We never fooled ourselves."
The construction around the corner of Broadway and Eighth Street, which was tentatively scheduled to be done at the end of October, is about 90 percent complete and will be finished in the next 30 days, according to Columbia Public Works spokesman Steve Sapp.
"It's kind of like a 'This Old House' project," Sapp said. "You delve into it and find it's a lot more than you think."
Construction workers ran into underground vaults that were built in the early 1900s and caused a delay in the project, though it is still on budget. The vaults extended out under Broadway from the basements of businesses that used them for storage.
The construction has been making the northeast, southeast and southwest corners match the Daniel Boone City Building's corner with tan and red bricks. The silver light standards will be replaced with black ones, which are on back order, to help complete the new look.
As a result of this revitalization, Wilkerson said she doesn't think this will automatically make an office space better.
"I don't know if you can say, 'Oh, this law office will be more great,'" Wilkerson said. "But there is no question that when you create a welcoming and inviting atmosphere, people are more likely to want to be there."
Wilkerson, senior vice president of marketing at Boone County National Bank and the chair of the Avenue of the Columns Committee, has an overarching goal to make Eighth Street into a 24-hour street where people not only work, but live and shop as well.
The master plan the committee developed has the beautification work and economic development complementing each other to achieve this goal on the street, which is framed by the old Boone County Courthouse columns on the north end and the MU Columns on the south.
"One of the things that we realized early on working on Eighth Street is that it's very different from Ninth Street," Wilkerson said. "It's never going to be quite the lively street that Ninth is."
Wilkerson's office overlooks the Daniel Boone City Building and the new plaza, which were the first parts of the project, and she can see kids sitting on the benches outside enjoying the weather and chatting, as well as protests outside city hall. One of her favorite changes — the relocation of war memorials behind the old courthouse columns — came as part of Boone County's reconstruction of the Courthouse Plaza at Walnut and Eighth streets.
"It gives the memorials a really high profile," she said. "I thought it was a really simple decision to be implemented, and it's stunning."
The next phase will be to continue the construction south to Elm Street, but there is no timeline or budget for that.
Beginning Monday, Eighth Street will be closed from Broadway to the mid-block alley. There will still be access to the alley from Cherry Street. The area should be reopened by Friday.
So far, people have seemed receptive to the overall revitalization project.
"From the little bit that we've heard, people generally seem to approve," Sapp said. "It's a lot like public art; the beauty is in the eye of the beholder in all of this."
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