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Neighbors say Ameren Missouri property would be ideal for a park

Monday, September 1, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:32 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 2, 2014

COLUMBIA — North Village Arts District resident Denise McElroy says she'd love to have a park near her house. She wants the city to create a park on land that Ameren Missouri owns at 210 Orr Street if the city buys the property or Ameren donates it.

“I'm babysitting my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, and a park would be a perfect place to take the kid to,” McElroy, 61, said. She also thought that it would be nice for people who are downtown to be able to walk only one block to enjoy the park and attend events there during lunch hour.

McElroy lives at 115 Hubbell Drive. That's a block away from Ameren's property, where a manufactured gas plant that operated decades ago has been demolished. The land is now being cleaned up.

City Manager Mike Matthes said in remarks on his proposed budget for fiscal 2015 that the city should buy the property if Ameren does not donate it.

"It's not often that land becomes vacant in the Downtown North Village Arts District," Matthes wrote in his budget message, "and the Ameren Missouri site creates a unique opportunity."

However, Ameren Missouri hasn't made a decision regarding the sale of the property.

"We can't begin the appraisal process until the remediation project is complete. We expect the process to be complete by late September, early October," said Ameren Missouri spokesman Bryan Daniels.

The idea of a park is favored by many for various reasons. Van Hawxby, who owns DogMaster Distillery in the North Village Arts District across the street from the Ameren site, thinks a park would open up the district to downtown.

"It would provide more foot traffic to me and more exposure to people who are conducting business here," he said.

Ed Hanson, artistic director at Talking Horse Productions in the district, has similar opinions. "(A park) would connect Orr Street and St. James Street. Now people on Orr Street can't even see St. James Street because it is blocked (by the site)."

Curt Krehbiel, who owns the property at 1207 E. Ash St., believes a park can help the bike boulevard on Ash Street.

The idea of a farmers market also has many fans. Diana Howland, who lives next door to McElroy at 113 Hubbell Drive, would like to see a permanent farmers market "like Soulard Market in St. Louis."

Howland advocates a "farm-to-fork" lifestyle and thinks that people should get rid of the "large-supermarket mentality." Her boyfriend, Nic Berry, said it's not just consumers who could use a farmers market.

"A lot of people grow too much and have nowhere to sell," Berry said while holding a box of tomatoes he picked in a friend's garden.

Howland and Berry often receive produce from friends who grow vegetables, and they use them to make pickles as gifts for friends.

"A farmers market is a good way to combine the community because people get to know each other," Howland said.

Patrick Connor, a bartender of Café Berlin to the west of the Ameren site, also favors a farmers market. "I can shake hands with the person who grew the tomatoes I eat," he said.

The Farmers and Artisans Market has operated behind the Wabash Station for two years and has been growing. It's only there on Sundays, though. John Ott, who owns several properties in the North Village, said he would love to see that market accommodated by a multi-use outdoor space.

"In the (Farmers and Artisans) market, there is not only produce but also art works created by people in the area. Food and soul," Ott said. He envisions music, theatrical performances and art fairs throughout the year at the Ameren site.

Green space, park land and a farmers market were also the choices of 34 residents who attended the annual meeting of North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association on July 23, association board President Dan Cullimore said.

But the Columbia City Council has yet to decide whether to buy the property or how to use it.

"If the City Council decided that it could be a park, or part of it becomes a park, then we will start a process where we take public input to decide how it will be used," Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said in an email to the Missourian. "The first thing that has to happen is that the City Council and Ameren UE both agree on what to do with the property."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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