This is my DOWNTOWN

Mixed use of downtown garners mixed reactions from residents
Saturday, April 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:03 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008
Downtown Columbia fills with traffic from pedestrians and automobiles at twilight Feb. 3.

A few trends emerge when Columbia residents discuss their desires for the future of downtown.

At the top of their wish lists: a state-of-the-art museum, a performing arts center and more opportunities to live downtown.

Those goals are in line with a proposed redevelopment of downtown’s southern half that was assembled by Sasaki Associates for the city, MU and Stephens College. The plan calls for more mixed-use developments, including apartments that will entice more people to call downtown home, a museum at Seventh and Elm streets that could house the Missouri State Historical Society and a new MU performing arts center at Hitt Street and University Avenue.

But one component of the proposal — a high-rise hotel and convention center at Eighth and Cherry streets — brings mixed reactions.

David Sallee, 56, a full-time father, backhoe operator and retired Marine, thinks the convention center is a bad idea.

“That would just add to the congestion,” Sallee said, adding that downtown already has “too many people (in) too small a space.” Sallee also believes parking should be spread more evenly across downtown.

Jason Gamet, a 33-year-old machinist, thinks a convention center “could be cool,” but he’s skeptical about how much use it would get.

“I don’t know if there are enough events where it would be needed,” he said.

Gamet, however, said the performing arts center would be an “exciting” addition. And he’s a big fan of the museum idea.

Ron Greene also wants to see more museums downtown, but he likes the notion of a performing arts center, and he supports the renovation of the Missouri Theatre. But the hotel, he said, “doesn’t really do much for me. I tend to be anti-development.”

Greene said the convention center would make downtown even busier than it already is. He’d rather see the city concentrate on bringing a grocery store to the area and increasing the amount of residential space in downtown.

Daniel Everhart, a student at Rock Bridge High School, agreed that more downtown apartments is a good idea, especially given the rising enrollment at MU. He said he’d love to live downtown while attending MU if there were decent apartments. College students, he said, could live downtown and walk to classes, eliminating the need for them to drive to campus from apartments scattered elsewhere around the city.

Another Rock Bridge student, Ceili Cornelison, said it’s good that the city is focused on reviving downtown. She said it could have the added benefit of slowing expansion on the outskirts of the city. But no amount of redevelopment in downtown will do any good, she said, if there aren’t easy ways to get there. Poor traffic flow and a lack of parking are serious obstacles for the area.

Sara Erbschloe described downtown as “one of the most culturally rich areas in Columbia.” She said she understands the importance of a healthy downtown but believes the biggest problem now is a lack of parking. The Rock Bridge student said she’d like to see more parking garages — an idea Sasaki has proposed — because she finds parallel parking difficult to master.

Oliver Clark, 24, said the hassle of finding a parking place causes him to avoid eating at downtown restaurants. Even if he finds a space, he said, leaving it presents another annoyance.

“Then you have to back out, and it’s constricted in the streets,” Clark said. “It’s too much work, and I don’t carry around change all the time.”

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