Mixed zoning would redefine downtown area

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:48 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The redevelopment of downtown Columbia is now in the hands of the city, Stephens College and MU.

On Tuesday evening, representatives of the architectural firm Sasaki & Associates presented a tentative downtown renovation plan developed over the last four months. Sasaki representatives Fred Merrill and Steve Wilson, who have been working with MU, Stephens College and the city staff since August, presented a Land Use Urban Development plan for the downtown area south of Broadway between Providence Road and College Avenue at the fourth of four meetings on the subject.

“These people don’t do the next step,” said Mayor Darwin Hindman. “It is now up to us, and we need to be productive. Things will start happening surprisingly fast.”

Doug Lange, Stephens College vice president for facilities and operations, agrees.

“If we take the proactive steps we need to, we could see a downtown that is beyond imagination in five years or less,” Lange said. “As our enrollment grows, we have a real interest in adding to the vibrancy of downtown.”

The plan, which Merrill described as “not what you would consider a downtown master plan, but more of a strategy to develop concepts for downtown,” focuses on three main areas of development and the idea of mixed use zoning.

Wilson presented concepts for each of the three areas of development including the Flat Branch Creek District, Avenue of the Columns and Elm Street.

According to the plans, the area around Flat Branch Creek would be developed for residential as well as light commercial use. Flat Branch Park would serve as a focal point for the area and as a gateway from Providence Road into downtown.

“The park could be a place to hang out, watch the water in the creek and have picnics,” Wilson said. “You could imagine that park for outdoor venues.”

The Avenue of the Columns area would be used for business and residential purposes. Plans are being considered for a fountain plaza flanked by a hotel/conference center at Eighth and Locust streets. Merrill called this plaza area the “Rockefeller Center of Columbia” and said the location will be “a great place to link downtown and the university as well as putting you in the middle of things.” The hotel could have up to 300 rooms and add eight to 10 stories to Columbia’s skyline.

The last part of the plan focuses on the extension of Elm Street to College Avenue, a distance of about 950 feet, to set up a new urban residential neighborhood.

The plan relies heavily on mixed use zoning, meaning a certain portion of downtown would be a mixture of residential and commercial property. Merrill and Wilson hope offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, and cultural and ­academic spaces will blend together to blur the lines between zones and create a culturally aware, urban environment.

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