*CORRECTION: City staff's proposed upgrades include a $5-million feeder line from the Hinkson Creek electric substation. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the creek.
**CORRECTION: It will cost $49 million to upgrade downtown's utilities. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated this estimate.
COLUMBIA — Answers about downtown infrastructure and financing could emerge during two public input meetings this week.
The first session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the second one is set for 1 p.m. Saturday. Both meetings will be in the Council Chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building.
Both meetings will include overviews from city staff about downtown's electric and sewer issues. The meetings will also provide residents an opportunity to either comment in person or fill out an index card for a member of the downtown leadership team to ask their question.
Downtown Leadership Chairman Brett Gardner said he didn't want the input meetings' question-and-answer sections to become a "witch hunt" of residents against city staff.
The meetings will go over "hard" and "soft" infrastructure. Soft infrastructure is defined as the police and fire services. Hard infrastructure is parking, sanitary and storm sewers, electricity and water utilities.
Both meetings will be televised on the City Channel, which is channel 80 on Mediacom, 992 on Charter Communications and 96 on CenturyLink.
City Manager Mike Matthes put downtown development on hold in February, citing a lack of sewer capacity.
In March, the Columbia City Council approved two high-density apartments after the developers agreed to help pay for utility upgrades. Collegiate Housing Partners agreed to pay $150,000 for a 351-bed building on Conley Avenue. Opus Development Co. agreed to pay $450,000 for utility upgrades in exchange for approval of a 256-bed apartment building on Locust Street, but a revised agreement with Opus is making its way back through the Council process.
Some residents criticized the agreements, which were passed during a special noontime City Council meeting , and they began circulating a petition to repeal the Opus development.
After that, Mayor Bob McDavid and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas asked Downtown Leadership to draft a report outlining downtown's infrastructure needs. They also asked Downtown Leadership to explore financing options that take into account the city's projected growth.
City staff have estimated an update of downtown's sewer and electric utilities to cost $49** million, which would include:
- A $34-million electric substation at Mill Creek.
- A $5-million feeder line from the Hinkson* Creek electric substation.
- $6.75 million to repair the Flat Branch trunk sewer line.
- $3 million to repair roads damaged during the sewer reconstruction.
The Mill Creek substation wouldn't serve downtown, but it would allow the Hinkson Creek substation to divert capacity downtown.
Gardner said Downtown Leadership's input meetings would help restore the public's trust in city government, but he said he doesn't think the problem could be solved with only two meetings.