COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia celebrated the leasing of all of the retail spaces in the Fifth and Walnut parking garage with a ribbon cutting ceremony and an open house Friday.
"A lot of people said, 'It'd be a cold day in hell if we ever finished this,'" City Manager Mike Matthes said in remarks before the ceremony. "So, today's the day."
More than 40 people, including City Council members and local business owners, turned out for the event, despite the freezing temperatures.
Groups leasing space in the parking garage include the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center, the Downtown Incubator, the city Parking Utility, Callaway Mortgage Group, Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine, and Regional Economic Development Inc., or REDI.
The city initially had difficulty in filling the space after construction was completed in 2011. It tried several options to fill the space, such as advertising to private business, but got no responses.
In 2012, REDI began leasing the first two suites, using its own funds and donations to open the office. According to its website, REDI is a nonprofit public/private partnership that helps small businesses start.
Because the process of filling in the spaces was moving slowly, the city agreed to share the cost of finishing construction with businesses that wanted to move into the retail spaces. The businesses will pay the construction costs back to the city as part of their rent.
Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine moved in October from its home of 11 years on North Fifth Street and has already seen its business double from business at its old location, owner Susheel Gill said.
According to previous Missourian reporting, Gill had wanted for years to move the restaurant. The kitchen in his old location was too small to support the number of diners the restaurant served.
"Almost three years waiting, waiting, waiting," Gill said in a speech Friday, adding that his first name means "patience, calm and sober" in Hindi.
Appetizers from the restaurant were served at the event.
Callaway Mortgage Group, a division of Callaway Bank, moved into the retail space in November, said Jeff Jones, chief communications officer for the bank.
Jones said opening Callaway Mortgage Group allowed the bank to expand the products it offers to first-time homebuyers, which it sees as an important market in Columbia because the community is growing.
The expansion also allowed them to add four positions, and they intend to add more by the end of 2014, he said.
"I think (the retail space) has proven to be a great investment for this block," Matthes said.
He mentioned that The Milken Institute, a nonpartisan analysis group that the city uses to track its economic growth, recently ranked Columbia the best small city in the country based on the city's jobs and economy.