Infrastructure bonds could be risky, Mayor McDavid says

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 10:05 p.m. CDT; updated 1:42 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid worries that putting infrastructure bond issues on November's ballot could endanger the renewal of current bonds, he told members of the Downtown Leadership Council Infrastructure Subcommittee on Thursday.

The city is searching for a way to fund improvements to utilities. The Columbia City Council rejected one solution, a Tax Increment Financing District, at its Feb. 17 meeting, because the measure was too rushed for proper public engagement. Two developers, Collegiate Housing Partners and Opus Development Co., paid the city $600,000 for utility improvements in exchange for building permits by April 1 — but a systemic solution remains elusive.

Developers funding utility improvements

Collegiate Housing Partners: Six-story apartment structure with 351 beds on the south side of Conley Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets.

Opus Development Co.: Six-story building with 256 beds on the north side of Locust Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets.

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McDavid said issuing bonds for $10 million in electric improvements and $7 million in sewer improvements is an option, but it might be "short-sighted."

"I don't want to do anything to compromise the quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax next year," he said. "If we don't have that, we lose that $7 million a year."

"We've got to have public confidence for that," he added.

Downtown Columbia Leadership Council member Pat Fowler said she'd like information shared with residents in a more transparent way. She's also concerned that developers' interests are eclipsing the resident-driven city planning documents, like the Charrette Report and Sasaki Study.

"I heard you say on the record that you had met 6 or 7 times with Opus Development," she said to McDavid. "What bothers us is not only have we had lots of conflicting information about the infrastructure, but we also find that these plans that we've invested our time into didn't get equal footing or we didn't have equal access to you to explain why these plans were so important."

McDavid said the Opus Development Co. project wouldn't have come before the council if not for the infrastructure issues. The mayor said he hoped to clear up any confusion surrounding the infrastructure issues and the way they've been handled.

"I'm just here to make sure you understand there really is a capacity issue," McDavid said. "I appreciate the opportunity to come to this group, because this is a brainstorming session, and I don't have a solution."

Downtown needs about 20 megawatts of additional electric capacity for development to resume, he said. Seven of those 20 megawatts will be in place this fall thanks to a new feeder line from the Rebel Hill substation.

McDavid said that the 13 to 14 megawatts of electricity needed would cost $10 million.

"As a community this is going to be a difficult challenge," McDavid said. "Because fixing this takes money. Where's the money coming from? Can you get it from developers? Can you get it from users? Most repairs, most extensions come from bonding which is paid by user rates."

McDavid said part of the $7 million sewer fix would've been completely funded if the American Campus Communities project had proceeded.

The project was tabled for two months at a special council meeting Wednesday. As part of its development agreement, ACC would have paid $300,000 toward a connecting sewer main downtown. Collegiate Housing Partners, whose project did proceed, will pay $150,000 of the $450,000 cost of the connecting main improvement.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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Mike Martin March 21, 2014 | 11:57 a.m.

Patricia Fowler is right: virtually nothing about this process has been transparent -- or consistent. Typical of the conflicting information and contradictions was Councilman Mike Trapp's 15 minutes of testimony during the Council's Wednesday meeting this week:

"Our ongoing infrastructure problems [vigorously shaking hand] would exist in the absence of all new development. We would have a downtown sewer issue in the absence of all new development. We've heard this over and over again."

"It looks very clear that we can't serve them [Collegiate Housing Partners with infrastructure], with where we're at and what we understand today with the conversation."

"Saying no to downtown infrastructure just moves it. It doesn't make it go away. It's not a magic wand that eliminates demand for student housing."

"I just wanna make sure folks don't have sewer in their basement, that our water's clean, that we have a dense, walkable community."

If you don't understand how adding a much greater load on sewer capacity with 1,000+ new apartments helps assure existing homeowners clean water and no sewer backups, you're not alone!

Here's more of Mr. Trapp -- who supported Blight/EEZ and the TIF District with similar sermonizing:

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 21, 2014 | 1:02 p.m.

Well I suppose those apartments could be built in Rolla instead. There are at least two problems.


2-If new apartments are built off campus in Rolla they are more apt to become occupied by civilian employees of Department of Defense, because those folks can afford to pay higher rents than our students and their families.

Is this a problem? Looks like! It has inhibited growth at MS&T. Some students meeting entrance requirements must go elsewhere due to inadequte housing facilities. Since the campus changed its name (2008) applications have significantly increased.

Send them to MU? Of course, for those engineering majors MU can provide, but MS&T offers almost double the engineering programs MU has*. So a Missouri resident wanting certain engineering majors either goes to MS&T or the student and his/her family face out-of-state and possibly private school tuition, also out-of-state (there are good private technical institutes - some quite expensive).

No doubt University of Missouri System will shortly solve the problem.

*-MS&T has the most in the United States. There may be a tie, but it's still the most.

(Report Comment)
dan elliott March 21, 2014 | 2:33 p.m.

City Manager Mike Matthes and Mayor Bob McDavid need to slow down, you don't build major projects without major input unless you believe you are right and everyone else should shut up. I am afraid that is where these men are.

(Report Comment)
Andrew Reynolds March 21, 2014 | 9:02 p.m.

What does "part of the $7 million sewer fix would've been completely funded if the American Campus Communities project had proceeded" mean?

How does "part" of a fix be "completely" funded?

(Report Comment)

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