Central area slated for face-lift

Residents have been working on improvement plans since 1993.
Tuesday, May 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:23 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The improvement work on the Columbia Terminal Railroad Corridor between Roger Street and College Avenue will soon begin, as the City Council authorized the city manager to solicit bids at Monday night’s meeting.

The railroad terminal dates back to the Civil War.

“It was built before people were aware of pollution and storm water control,” said Linda Rootes from the North-Central Columbia Neighborhood Association. “There are mosquito problems and storm-water problems. The whole area looks very unattractive.”

The track is in the business area in north-central Columbia. Its current condition has discouraged property owners from improving their own properties. The area has been a problem for Columbia College, business developments and community residents, said John G. Clark, the president of North-Central Columbia Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood association started discussing improvement of the area since it was established in 1993. Ten years later, an engineering proposal was approved by the City Council, followed by the approvals in 2004 and 2005 of the designs of its first and second phases.

In the design of the project’s first phase, a six-foot sidewalk, named the “Wabash Walkway,” will be installed between Roger and Fay streets. Mayor Darwin Hindman suggested increasing that to eight feet wide, including the possibility to develop a trail along the corridor. In addition, a four foot tall fence will be installed between the railroad track and the walkway. Other improvements include the installation of storm drainage facilities, grading and planting the right of way with grass and a cleanup of the corridor.

Community Development Block Grants provided $150,000 for the first phase of the project, which is expected to be finished this summer.

The block grants — funding aimed at helping low-income neighborhoods — started projects in Columbia in 1974. Every year, the city receives about $1 million and allocates the money among projects such as improvements of low-income communities housing programs and construction of substance-abuse treatment centers. The COLT project was one of its major programs in 2004.

Concerns arose when Pres. Bush proposed to transfer Community Development Block Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Commerce. If the proposal is approved by the Congress, chances are the funding would be eliminated and the money going to projects in Columbia would be drained.

“I don’t think that will happen,” said Tom Lata, community development coordinator of the Department of Planning and Development. “But it’s hard to say.”

The largest block-grant-funded project in Columbia in recent years was renovation of Mowell’s grocery store into the Sanford-Kinpton building. The grant supplied more than $1.26 million for the project, which accounted for one-third of the total cost.

Also at Monday’s meeting, city council praised the work of Lowell Patterson, Public Works director, upon his retirement. Patterson had worked for Columbia’s largest department for nearly 20 years.

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