Downtown Leadership Council discusses improvement projects

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 10:28 p.m. CDT; updated 10:44 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 28, 2013

COLUMBIA — An empty building off Providence Road, once home to Osco Drug, will soon be full of organic fruits and vegetables, but the Downtown Leadership Council raised questions Tuesday night about how people will use the property and what other development might accompany it.

While many council members are excited about the Lucky's Farmers Market moving into the vacant building at 111 S. Providence Road, they question what will become its main entrance.

"Is it going to be off of Broadway and you go through the Office Depot lot?" said Brian Treece, chairman of Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission. "Is it going to be off of Providence? Do you get rid of the yellow delineators around Walgreens?"

The leadership council suggested using the 2010 Charrette Report, which envisioned development options for areas surrounding the intersection at Providence Road and Broadway, as a guide for developers.

One of the report's goals was to attract a grocery store to the area. The Boulder, Colo.-based Lucky's Farmers Market announced in April that it would open a store in Columbia.

"I think it's kind of interesting that the free market actually made (Lucky's) happen without any government intervention whatsoever," Historic Preservation Commission representative Brent Gardner said. "It kind of 'organically happened,' no pun intended."

The council also discussed ongoing concerns about traffic on Providence Road near the Grasslands neighborhood and its effect on downtown.

"Public Works identified that it's a problem 30 minutes a day and resulted in a five-minute delay in traffic going through nine months a year," Treece said.

Treece cited a Missouri Department of Transportation study that said traffic flow in the area is at its lowest point in 20 years. He said people are finding alternate routes or adjusting their schedules to avoid rush hours.

Another development challenge facing the city is how to deal with students crossing College Avenue who are causing safety and traffic concerns. At its meeting Monday, the Columbia City Council will hear a proposal to build a median down College Avenue from University Avenue to Rollins Street.

Gardner thinks the city needs one major study on the Providence Road and College Avenue traffic problems to find a comprehensive solution.

"It seems that we're kind of operating willy-nilly as opposed to having a big plan and getting everyone's input and make some decisions based on that," Gardner said.

The leadership council voted to suggest the City Council join it on a field trip to other college towns that have faced similar challenges.

In a unanimous decision, the leadership council agreed to write a letter to the City Council suggesting trips to Lawrence, Kan., and Springfield to study how those communities have addressed similar issues.

"I think they are both college towns that are wrestling with how to balance the growth of downtown, the growth of a university, an influx of students, while preserving history and unique sense of place of its downtown areas," Treece said.

On his own visits to these cities, Treece noticed that they have faced many problems that Columbia also faces and would like to talk about the solutions they implemented.

Deb Sheals, Downtown Community Improvement District representative, said she has been reviewing the work of potential designers for a gateway to downtown and has narrowed the field to a handful of favorites. A meeting to choose a designer has not yet been scheduled.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Richard Saunders May 29, 2013 | 5:37 p.m.

Brent Gardner is putting his ignorance on display. Lucky's wouldn't even exist without the federal government creating the "EB-5 Program," which gives a green card to any foreigner who will invest in a US business that creates at least ten jobs for people they aren't related to.

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