UM making another bid to lease out acreage

Sunday, November 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:17 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

For the past two years, the UM system has tried to get permission from the state to lease out 25 acres at College Avenue and Stadium Boulevard for a developer to build a hotel and a convention center.

Winning that approval would be music to MU’s ears because it would use the lease money to build a performing arts center.

“We need that, and we want it,” MU Chancellor Richard Wallace said.

After a resolution on the lease failed to make it through the Missouri General Assembly in 2002 and 2003, university staff and a private lobbyist hired by the MU Alumni Association have decided to give it another try in the 2004 legislative session.

Wallace said MU needs both a convention center — which would allow the university and the community to hold seminars, symposiums or conventions — and a performing arts center. He said Jesse Hall is not suitable for all productions because it’s difficult to unload equipment there and it lacks appropriate dressing rooms and a suitable orchestra pit.

The lobbyist, Harry Gallagher of Harness-Gallagher in Jefferson City, has been involved in the project this year. Gallagher, who also lobbied for the bonds that helped pay for a new basketball arena at MU, will be paid $40,000 by the Alumni Association over 10 months. Wallace said the money comes from privately raised funds.

Because the land is technically property of the state, the UM system needs legislative approval before leasing. State Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, the main sponsor of the 2002 resolution, said timing was the major reason the university failed to win approval.

Wallace said he doesn’t really know what prevented the resolution from being passed in the past two sessions.

“We must have done a very poor job of explaining what this is all about,” the chancellor said.

Columbia hotel and business owners have spoken against MU’s plans. Ed Baker, vice president and partner of the Holiday Inn in Columbia, said hotel operators in the area had signed a petition against the resolution and will fight it again next year.

“It is not fair to the city of Columbia,” Baker said. “The only reason to do it is if you would have something personal to gain.”

Baker said he is not opposed to new competition but thinks having the university involved is wrong. Even if MU says it will do nothing but lease the land, this is a business partnership, Baker added.

“They will absolutely come in here and destroy our businesses,” he said.

Wallace said he understands some private hotel interests would not look favorably on the proposal but hopes they would understand that MU is acting in the best interest of the state and the institution.

Wallace said the performing arts center would be built from money generated by the 50-year lease and funds raised by the university. He said no state money would be used and MU will not be involved in the management of the hotel. Although no gifts have been accepted specifically for a performing arts center, MU alums have shown an interest in the project, he added.

“It is our honest intent to raise every nickel for the performing arts center — privately and through our own entrepreneurship, “ Wallace said.

Ideally, Wallace said, the buildings would be built at the same time.

If construction begins, University Terrace, a more than 40-year-old MU apartment complex, would have to be torn down. The complex makes up 45 percent of MU’s apartment spaces. Frankie Minor, MU director of residential life, said nothing has been decided about this facility.

“We have recognized the age of these facilities and have been working on plans for the improvement or relocation of these facilities well before this proposal surfaced,” Minor said.

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