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City Council candidates discuss increasing MU enrollment

Thursday, March 28, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missourian reporters asked candidates for seats on the Columbia City Council nine standardized questions about city government issues. Here are their verbatim answers to a question about MU's increasing enrollment. 

Enrollment at MU has been steadily growing. What are the greatest impacts of that growth, and what can the city do to adapt to and capitalize on it?

Mayoral candidates

Bob McDavid: "Well, we’re a college town, we’ve been a college town since 1839, we’ll always be a college town. And the success – we’re a company town. The company is the University of Missouri and when they’re successful, the city of Columbia is successful, and when city of Columbia is successful, that helps the University of Missouri recruit. So it’s a very synergistic relationship. It, uh, if it’s in the best interest in the University of Missouri to grow their student population – and I believe it is, that’s up to them to decide – then it’s important for us to figure out how to deal with that from an infrastructure standpoint. How do we deal with parking? How do we deal with transit? You know, we’re trying to make it so that it’s much more convenient to ride buses than it is to drive cars. We have policies about where the private sector builds apartments. You know, the university has not kept up with housing. It’s been met by the private sector. I want to see the private sector put student housing adjacent to campus. I really don’t want it five miles out on the periphery. I don’t want students living on Grindstone, driving down Rock Quarry Road. I want them near campus, and we’re going to do everything we can to encourage that."

Sid Sullivan: "Well, I think we probably need to work with developers in that area as they're developing luxury student housing they create a problem in two areas: One is they pick sites that would be used for affordable housing for current residents, and yet when they build the luxury student housing they deprive students of affordable housing. So these are two areas that we need to really focus on is affordable housing not only for our own residents but for students as well. And we need to provide that, and we need to connect that in with a transportation system that would coordinate this so we can get students back and forth to the university."

Third Ward candidates

Karl Skala: "Well, it’s pretty obvious that one of the impacts of that growth is off-campus student housing, and the private sector has picked up, has taken that ball and run with it. Obviously, the university has not spent a lot of time with on-campus student housing. I think they’ve invested, perhaps, in parking garages quite a bit, and that was... So, we are feeling the impact of that, and that’s fine. And I think that we ought to accommodate that impact assuming that we have to accommodate the growth that has already occurred in the past few years, and it’s been substantial. On the other hand, maybe that bubble will burst. We cannot be sure that we’re going to continue that kind of torrid-pace growth in terms of student enrollment for the next 10 years. We ought to carefully evaluate that, and we ought to make plans accordingly in the downtown area and other places so that we accommodate the growth that has occurred but also evaluate what the future may hold."

Gary Kespohl: "The greatest impact is housing. The university doesn't have the land area to put up housing for students on campus, so it's up to private developers to do that. And we're struggling a bit with downtown because some people think that we're over-building downtown. I disagree somewhat. I would rather put apartment buildings downtown and let students live near campus, and be able to ride the bus or walk to campus, than have them out, for instance, Grindstone Parkway and have to drive their cars into campus and not have a place to park. So parking and the housing (are) the two big issues."

Fourth Ward candidates

Daryl Dudley: "The university is the largest employer in the city, it's also the largest money... We get more taxes and everything from the university, mostly through the students that come here. We need to tap into the students, make sure that they are buying things here, that they are living here and staying here as long as they can. And with the growth of the population and the number of students at the university, we need a place for them all to stay and to eat and to work. Many of the students work, and so we need more jobs. That takes us back to employing people without college education, or without the higher degrees of education. And we have to consider where we’re going to put all of those. And obviously, the best way to keep them from driving is to have them living close to the campus. Therein lies the student housing that is coming into the city and in the close areas around the university. Streets need to be taken care of, and parking has to be considered because everybody is coming here in a vehicle, even if we don’t want them using it here. So, parking and infrastructure."

Ian Thomas: "I think it’s great that more and more young people want to come to Columbia and study at the University of Missouri and many of them end up staying and contributing to our economy, starting businesses. Clearly, when there’s a major shift in populations, where people live becomes very important, and to me it makes a tremendous amount of sense that a lot of these students, these additional students, would live downtown. There’s a lot of capacity to build more residential capacity downtown. We have to get ahead of the transportation thing. When we're gonna have, if we’re going to have five, ten thousand people living downtown, not every one of them can have a car. There just is not enough space to store the cars, or on the roads to bring them in and out. So we have to get ahead of that with improved bus service and a lot of the educational programs that I’ve talked about."

Bill Weitkemper: "The greatest impact from the city’s standpoint, I believe, is probably where people are going to live, because the university’s not building any more dormitories, so they’ve got to find someplace to live, which they’ve been doing downtown. If they had better C-2 zoning requirements, I think that would probably be satisfactory, but with no off-street parking and no height requirements, there’s a lot of people that don’t think that’s appropriate. The other advantage to the university’s growth is an increase in sales tax. There ought to be increasing sales tax, ought to be increasing exponentially as the university grows. So the city could capitalize on the students selling things and also as providing good housing for them."

Missourian reporters Hannah Cushman, Elizabeth Pearl, Tony Puricelli, Madeline O'Leary, Chris Jasper, Allison Prang and Nuria Mathog contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

To hear audio clips from the candidates, go to the Missourian's local government blog, The Watchword.


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