Residents divided over downtown Columbia housing, despite business benefits

Monday, June 24, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:52 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 27, 2013
The new student apartments have been a boon to downtown businesses, which are seeing increased foot traffic as a result of more people living so close to their establishments.

COLUMBIA — As Kyle Stuckenschneider relaxed in a chest-deep rooftop swimming pool at Brookside Apartments in downtown Columbia, he gazed over the wrought-iron railing onto Tenth Street.

"I mean look at this," he said, gesturing toward his surroundings as he casually tossed a pingpong ball into a cup on a floating table emblazoned with a Bud Light logo. "This doesn't feel like Columbia. It feels like New York or something."

This fall, Stuckenschneider, a fifth-year MU student, will become a resident of Brookside Downtown, a series of apartment developments that are bringing hundreds of new young residents to downtown. Brookside already has built seven apartment complexes along Tenth Street and at College Avenue and Walnut streets, for a total of 287 apartments or 1,064 bedrooms.

And more are on the way. The Lofts at 308 Ninth St. will have 64 apartments and 120 bedrooms. The Odle brothers, the developers behind the Brookside projects, are building more apartments on Locust and Walnut streets. And Collegiate Housing Partners hopes to begin work soon on a six-story apartment tower on Conley Avenue that will house nearly 350 students.

The student apartments have been a boon to downtown businesses, which are seeing increased foot traffic as a result of more people living so close to their establishments. The complexes, however, are raising concerns among people who believe they compromise the ambiance of downtown, create parking problems and are bringing too many people to the central business district too quickly.

Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said the number of residents in The District has tripled or quadrupled in the past five years and contributed to a livelier atmosphere.

"It's fantastic we have people here around the clock now wanting to shop, dine and going to movies or concerts," Gartner said. "It's a mix of a lot of things, both having a lot of great stuff going on later at night and having more people living down here."

Comfort vs. cost

The new apartments are not hole-in-the-wall college apartments, either. They are marketed as luxury apartments, offering all kinds of amenities including the rooftop pool, fitness centers and premium furnishings in the apartments.

Once students have had enough fun at the pool, they can return to apartments that are fully furnished with couches, bar stools, tables, chairs, flat-screen televisions and queen-size beds. There's a full kitchen, complete with a microwave, stove, stainless steel sink and granite countertops. The apartments still smell of fresh paint, even after residents have lived in them for more than a year.

But location and amenities don't come cheap. Brookside apartments downtown range from $570 per month for one person in a four-bedroom apartment to $1,000 per person in a two-bedroom apartment. The Lofts will run $749 per person in a two-bedroom and $1,499 for a one-bedroom.

The Lofts, across the street from MU on Ninth Street, will feature an elevator, brand new stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and jacuzzi tubs in every apartment, according to the Lofts' website. Tom Mendenhall, who co-owns the complex with Travis McGee, also said they would be the first complex in Columbia with a doorman who will check in people coming and going and make sure the entrance is secure.

While Brookside focuses its attention on luxury housing for undergraduates, Mendenhall said The Lofts will market to young professionals and graduate students.

"This isn't dormitory-style student housing. We're only doing one or two bedrooms," he said. "The price of living downtown is worth it. People like to be right where the action is."

Eight businesses will move into spaces on the ground floor of The Lofts. So far, they include the International Tap House, Blenders smoothie shop and Varsity Nails.

Varsity Nails already has a location around the corner on Elm Street, but owner Paul Rubenstein said he decided on a second location because he can't expand in his current store. He said he has noticed a substantial increase in student traffic since the apartments opened.

Rubenstein said the Ninth Street shop will put him on the busiest pedestrian street in Columbia.

"We'll never run out of customers, and business is going to be good unless they move the university, which they'll never do," he said. "When that building is done, it's going to be the prettiest building in Columbia."

Boon for businesses

The influx of students downtown has had ramifications both good and bad for the city. It gives businesses more customers near their stores and addresses the growing need for housing as the population increases.

Johanna Cox, general manager at Kaldi's Coffee on Ninth Street, sees the benefit of having a lot of students nearby who can walk to the business.

"I think it's great. The more people living downtown, the better," Cox said. "It's a sign that Columbia's growing for the better. More foot traffic means more business."

Students who live downtown also can take a short walk home after a late night out at the bars.

Victor Shipley, managing partner at Harpo's on Tenth Street, said students drive most of his bar's late-night business. He's glad the need for more student housing downtown was filled.

"As a business owner, this can only be a great thing for my business, and we're having a great year again," Shipley said. "I think it's a win for us as one of the larger businesses downtown, but also for The District as a whole."

New businesses also are helped by the closer proximity of more students, as word of mouth can spread quicker.

Josh Markovich, owner of Subzone on Broadway, said that when everyone is in town during the school year, students account for about 75 percent of his business. Subzone has been open since November 2012, and he has noticed the advantage of having students living so close to his shop.

"We knew there were a lot of bars and shopping close to us, so we thought it would be a good melting pot of students and locals," Markovich said. "It brings us a lot more business having people so close since they don't have to walk all around town."

The students also have been good for the Downtown Community Improvement District's bottom line. In April 2012, residents downtown approved an extra half-cent sales tax on all business transactions in the central business district to generate revenue for projects that would benefit the area.

District officials campaigning for the tax estimated the tax would generate $300,000 per year. When it came time to create a budget for the current fiscal year, however, that estimate had grown to $401,000, according to an April Missourian article. Halfway through the year, however, the tax was on track to generate about $500,000.

"I can't say for sure if it's because of the new apartments, but the more people we bring into the district that shop and dine and go to shows, the more sales tax it generates," Gartner said.

The construction of more housing might have played a role in some new businesses opening downtown as well. Helena Shih, owner of U Knead Sweets bakery on Cherry Street, said she noticed the construction when the bakery opened in September, but that was not the main reason she decided on that location.

"It was beneficial, but we also liked having people within walking distance and the downtown atmosphere," Shih said.

Experiences thus far

In addition to the businesses that will open in the Lofts, a Break Time Neighborhood Market opened in Brookside at Tenth and Elm. The market has become popular among students who don't have many grocery options downtown.

Matthew Boraas, an engineering graduate student at MU, said after buying a soda from Break Time that he uses the the market mainly to pick up any odds and ends he might have forgotten at the grocery store. He said he might walk over from his apartment in nearby Manor House on Hitt Street about two times a week.

Business at Break Time largely involves students stopping in and buying a drink or a quick snack. Later in the day, they file in to buy beer, wine and liquor.

The downtown apartments, along with those being built farther from campus in south Columbia, are offering more housing options in a city whose population has grown 28.8 percent since 2000 and for a university whose enrollment has increased by more than 11,000 during the same time period.

The convenient location and the apartments' amenities are what appealed to Brookside residents who spoke to the Missourian. Along with the furnishings, residents get free access to the city's FastCAT buses, a keycard that grants access to a fitness center and the rooftop pool that features a satellite Campus Bar and Grill.

Stuckenschneider will move to Brookside Downtown this fall after living two years in Brookside Townhomes on Old Plank Road about five miles from campus.

"It's becoming cooler to live downtown," he said. "It provides college living at such a higher level it doesn't even feel like you're in college," he said. "You feel taken care of living here. You get so much for what you pay for that it makes the cost worth it."

Even with all of the extras, some Brookside residents have experienced problems.

Joy Heady, an MU junior who lives at Brookside on College, said the experience overall has been a good one, but a few promises have been broken. The apartments on her side of the building were supposed to have balconies with a view of the sunset. Instead, the view is blocked by a parking garage that the Odles are building.

Heady also said residents of her building were supposed to have access not only to that garage but also to a pool on its roof. The garage has been delayed because of the fire that decimated the apartments when they were under construction in May 2012. Heady thinks Brookside rushed people into the apartments following the fire. Because of that and an increase in rent, she said she plans to move out of Brookside next year.

"Everything changed once the fire happened, and it wasn't really what we expected," she said. "They're still nice places ... but they didn't do a lot of what they could've done when they were building it."

Logistics issues

The garage being built at Brookside on College is in response to concerns about parking problems resulting from the proliferation of apartments. There already are five parking garages in The District with a total of 1,882 spaces, according to the city Public Works Department. There also are 535 off-street parking spaces across 10 surface lots, as well as 1,683 metered on-street spaces. The Short Street Garage under construction will add about 400 more.

Still, complaints about overflow parking are abundant. The city is experimenting with permit parking in the North Village Arts District and plans to try similar projects in other neighborhoods close to downtown. Collegiate Housing Partners plans to employ several strategies to reduce the demand for parking at its Conley Avenue building, including numerous spaces for bicycles, rental car arrangements and long-term off-site parking. Like Brookside, it will make some FastCAT passes available to residents and will lease some spaces in city parking garages.

Boraas is among those worried about the lack of parking. He said he likes the idea of the housing downtown, but the lack of adequate parking drives him crazy.

"I'm fine if they build this new housing, but they have to accommodate people and the way vehicles are parked," Boraas said.

More is not always better

The apartments' impact on the culture of downtown is more abstract. Columbia College student Stephanie Piontek, who was enjoying a dip in the Brookside pool, said filling downtown spaces with expensive apartments might become an issue for those who are looking for more affordable options.

"You never know what's going to happen in the future," Piontek said. "Ten years ago no one wanted to live downtown. It seems like the rich people are buying up the poor people's homes."

Columbia resident Sara Current is among those who worry that the new apartments will alter the downtown vibe. The construction, she said, steals from downtown's "earthy, hipster feel," she said.

"It's bittersweet because it brings business, but things get overcrowded, and it takes away from the essence of downtown."

Roger Jones, who lived downtown until the fall of 2011, compared the addition of the complexes to the television show "V," in which aliens come to Earth, offering great benefits but also bringing hidden hazards.

Derrick Fogle, who was playing Hacky Sack with a group outside the Daniel Boone City Building on Broadway on a recent evening, said the students have had a positive impact on downtown culture.

"It's critical we get decent housing close to campus so students can live and function at the university," he said. "It's also vital to the health of downtown. It makes it more of a destination."

Jones believes the apartments will bring higher rental costs not only for students but also for businesses.

"It seems like it would take something away from the college experience if these kids are living like kings," he said while sitting outside of Kaldi's Coffee. "They're gearing towards what markets want now."

Gartner predicted the disparity between expensive and cheap housing downtown will even out as the projects get built. She said there are also affordable housing options not in the heart of downtown but within walking distance.

"Any city needs a mix of housing types and prices," Gartner said. "They're trending more expensive now because the supply is so low and the demand is so high. The more we build, the more that will help us get a broader range of cost."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Jimmy Bearfield June 24, 2013 | 11:06 a.m.

If you're a homeowner who needs a toilet installed or a ceiling fan hung, these developments are major reasons why your calls won't get returned no matter how nay messages you leave or how many ads the electrician or plumber puts in Door Mail and the phone books.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 24, 2013 | 11:40 a.m.

Build now, plan later.

Keep in mind that if enrollment trends continue as they have recently, at some point the Columbia campus will reach "saturation" for student population. Stated differently, saturation at the Columbia campus may occur due to limitations on campus facilities before it happens with student housing (on and off campus). Your chancellor has previously pointed this out.

[On the other hand, everyone involved previously agreed that MS&T couldn't accommodate more than 7,000 students, but last fall they enrolled 7,600+, so maybe we aren't sure what the limits of each of the four campuses truly are. When the saturation points are reached, it won't just be a matter of raising tuition: academic cutoff points will probably have to be raised as well.]

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble June 24, 2013 | 2:40 p.m.

I think it's important to distinguish between Brookside and the other developments. The Brookside buildings stand out due to their (in my opinion, as a recent neighbor to their construction) weak and unsafe construction, their broken promises to students, neighbors, and city government alike, the poor quality of their placement and relation to the surrounding physical spaces, the sheer volume of prime downtown space they're taking up, the load of parking pressure they're dumping onto downtown, and their narrow use (student dorm layout).

Personally, I think all of these developments are overpriced, but at least the other projects are well-built and can be used by different types of people. The Lofts have been built very solidly (steel, as opposed to the all-wood-framed Brookside buildings), they include ground-floor commercial space, and are situated in a location that adjoins downtown, but doesn't dominate it.

In short, you can readily tell what these developments will add to the city by looking at how they came about and how they have been built. There's a difference between a corner-cutting cash-in and an investment.

Though in the end I am very glad to not be paying double my monthly mortgage payment for a one-bedroom apartment. Outrageous to see that in this town.

(Report Comment)
Kyle Brynsvold June 24, 2013 | 4:29 p.m.

Where are they going to build the apartments on Conley Avenue? Doesn't seem like there's a lot of room on that road.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer June 24, 2013 | 4:37 p.m.

Kyle, here's a recent story about the Conley Avenue proposal:

And I'll include the top of the story, for those of you who can't still access the link.

— Joy Mayer, Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA — Plans for a new student apartment complex near MU have been submitted to the city.

Collegiate Housing Partners, based in St. Louis, submitted plans last week to develop a six-story student housing building on 1.25 acres south of Conley Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets.

There are currently six houses on the property, which are mainly rented to students during the year. The proposed building will contain a maximum of 112 units, most of which will have four bedrooms, according to the proposal.

The property is located across the street from Mark Twain Hall and about four blocks from downtown Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice June 24, 2013 | 5:04 p.m.

Because nothing says 'Newark' sophistication quite like chlorinated water, convenience stores, nail jobs, and sports memorabilia.

Oh... not 'Newark', 'New York'.

Let's hope the bro'mancing CoMo ends sooner than later and bro-field remediation is successful.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield June 24, 2013 | 6:50 p.m.

"steel, as opposed to the all-wood-framed Brookside buildings"

Like the Niedermeyer? Or the Taylor? Or all of the countless other local wood-frame homes and commercial buildings that are still standing after a century or longer? And keep in mind that those were built with regular lumber, not the engineered material that's stronger than even old-growth timber.

(Report Comment)

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