As Columbia grows, so must its downtown.
Sometime soon, the City Council will hear from the public on whether to expand Columbia’s Special Business District. If the council approves the expansion, more than a half dozen businesses, as well as a parking lot, will be added to the district.
Carrie Gartner, director of Columbia’s Special Business District, said the continued growth of Columbia beyond downtown makes the growth of the central district more important.
“It’s something where we think all Special Business District business owners will work better together,” she said.
An expanded district would include a pocket of property south of Elm Street, as well as the new Orr Street Studios north of Walnut Street. The new businesses would pay the Special Business District a tax of $0.4781 per $100 of assessed value. The district would stand to receive an additional $3,681 per year, which would be used to provide services to downtown businesses and property owners.
Pam Reinbold, owner of Shake’s Frozen Custard, said she opted to join the district because she thought it would help both her business and downtown.
“I think it centralizes everything,” she said. “It makes for a cohesive group in downtown.”
Mark Timberlake, managing partner of Habet LLC, which owns Orr Street Studios, said the district has been an important force in preserving downtown Columbia.
“I think the Special Business District does a great job promoting downtown,” he said. “They’re really bringing downtown back.”
Gartner said the way the current Special Business District is laid out makes no sense. She points out that there are still downtown properties, such as the Heidelberg Restaurant, Lion’s Choice, and the Domino’s Pizza on Ninth Street and University Avenue, that should be in the district but are not. Gartner said the businesses included in the proposed expansion have already benefited from the district.
John Ott, chairman of the board for the Special Business District and a downtown property owner, said the expansion is at the request of the property owners. To become part of the Special Business District, property owners must submit a letter of request to the district, which then makes a recommendation to council. After a public hearing, the council then votes on whether an expansion is feasible.
Ott said he joined the district because of the services it provides “at a reasonable cost.” The district provides support and coordination for long-term planning, and it serves as the voice of downtown businesses and property owners.
“If the businesses are in the district, we can all work together,” Gartner said. “It is going to work out better because the more people that come in (the district) make the businesses stronger.”
The district also helps keep downtown clean, helps fund capital improvements, helps businesses with advertising, coordinates and promotes festivals and works with city staff to create downtown-friendly ordinances and legislation.
Lately, Gartner said, the district has been focusing on capital improvements, including removal of the canopies along Broadway.
“We need to make the central city stronger,” she said. “The larger we can be, the stronger we can be.”
Reinbold is looking forward to Shake’s becoming a part of the Special Business District,
“(We) will benefit with the advertising, like when there is a special event,” she said. “The sooner the better!”