COLUMBIA — Fixing the city's downtown infrastructure problems and finding ways to prevent infrastructure overload in the future were the main topics of discussion at the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council meeting Tuesday.
The downtown council will soon submit a report to the City Council that will explain infrastructure issues facing downtown, analyze what it will cost to meet future demand and suggest long-term funding options.
The downtown council's infrastructure subcommittee plans to finish the proposal within the next two weeks, downtown council Chairman Brent Gardner said. The city has spent enough time discussing the issue and needs to take action, he said.
"It's time to produce something, get it to City Council and get it out there," he said.
Despite a looming deadline, commission members remain divided about where the money should come from.
Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that there is some money available to pay for sewer improvements but that the necessary amount is "probably not just sitting around." He said he is aware of about $1.6 million that could be allocated toward the estimated $10 million needed for sewer improvements.
The total estimated cost to update downtown sewer and electric utilities is $49 million, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Downtown leadership Commissioner Nick Peckham said the city cannot spend money it does not have. He estimates the city will need to spend $1 billion on infrastructure "by the mid-century."
"It's a lot of money — a lot more money than the current tax system can provide," he said. "I think we're really at a crossroads here. There's only one way to get (the money) — from the people that live here."
The downtown council also heard reports on the results of two town hall meetings held earlier this month that were designed to gather public input on downtown infrastructure needs. The input will be used for the infrastructure subcommittee's report for the City Council.
Gardner said the town hall meetings did what the City Council had asked and addressed public questions on infrastructure and development appropriately.
"The reason there is public confusion is because the mayor and city manager were saying that without the improvements made by (a tax increment financing district), development downtown would fail," downtown leadership Commissioner Randy Gray said.
Although the city is getting bombarded with high-density residential development requests, throwing up a "red flag" on future development does not mean already-approved projects will not get built, St. Romaine said.
"To say downtown is closed off for any development is not true," he said.
The downtown council might hold additional town hall meetings when the city moves forward with how to address the infrastructure problem, Gray said.
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