City seeks downtown revitalization aid

Columbia applied for state assistance with planning renewal downtown.
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Columbia took another step Monday toward a more lively downtown when it submitted its application for assistance from Gov. Matt Blunt’s Downtown Revitalization Economic Assistance for Missouri Initiative.

The initiative, announced in June by Blunt and Greg Steinhoff, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, will provide six to 10 communities with help planning downtown revitalization.

“I think this is a great opportunity for us to take the next step in improving downtown,” said Carrie Gartner, director of the Columbia Special Business District. “We have a long history of success, but we are clearly in need of help to make these next steps.”

DREAM aims to increase property values and sales tax revenue in central business districts by building in underdeveloped areas and revitalizing existing structures.

DREAM brings together the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the Missouri Development Finance Board and the Missouri Housing Development Commission to help the cities develop their downtowns.

While being selected as a DREAM city does not mean more direct funding by the government to municipalities, it does try to increase the likelihood of private investment.

“They are in a sense adopting these cities,” Gartner said. “They all come together to help you.”

The plan for Columbia included in the DREAM application calls for more downtown apartments and developing parking lots into multi-story buildings.

“Instead of seeing an asphalt lot you will see bustling restaurants and stores,” Gartner said.

“Infill is a pretty good way to keep investment going,” said Debbie Sheals, a historic preservation consultant. “I would rather see them infill parking lots than tear down historic buildings.”

Sheals said Columbia is doing a good job of balancing new development with existing buildings.

“Our downtown is quite lively,” she said.

Columbia’s application also included discussion of a market feasibility study, a Downtown Economic Stimulus Act and a new organizational structure known as a Community Improvement District.

The applications are due today to the Missouri Department of Economic Development office. An Economic Development committee will cull through the applications looking for cities that have a clear and comprehensive plan for downtown revitalization.

“I think if the state really wants the DREAM Initiative to be successful, they will pick Columbia,” Gartner said.

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