At night, The Tiger hotel’s lighted sign casts a red glow on the downtown skyline, a reminder of downtown Columbia’s past.
As plans move forward to restore The Tiger into a plush, boutique hotel, owner John Ott wants the old building to also be one of the vanguard projects heralding The District’s future.
Tax Increment Financing Zones:• Receive up to $15 million a year for up to 23 years. • Only for “blighted” areas, places with property value or population decrease for the past 20 years. • At least one building 50 years old. • At least one project specified. • City takes either half of sales tax or half of income tax of new development.
MODESA Zones:• Receive up to $150 million a year for up to 25 years. • Applicable to downtown areas. • At least half of buildings must be at least 35 years old. • Median household income must be less than $62,000. • City takes half of taxes and any combination of income and sales.
Downtown Preservation Act Zones:• Geared toward smaller cities. • Up to $15 million a year for up to 25 years. • Funding comes only from sales tax generated by development. • Requirements similar to MODESA. Source: Sallie Hemenway, director of operations for the Missouri Department of Economic Development
Ott, at a meeting of city leaders May 23, introduced his plan to renovate the hotel and asked for help to fund the project. The meeting, which included Columbia officials, representatives of downtown businesses and the public, was held to discuss state and local financing tools available to help make the vision for revitalizing the southern half of downtown a reality.
“It’s a landmark building,” Ott said of The Tiger. “It should be utilized to its full potential.”
Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the call for financial help was a product of The Tiger owners’ recognition that Sasaki Associates, the Boston-based urban development firm hired by Columbia to help plan downtown growth and expansion, focused heavily on both the Avenue of the Columns and on the need to create more hotel space.
An upscale hotel by the Avenue of the Columns might be just what the city planners ordered.
“One thing that Columbia has needed for a long time is a good downtown hotel,” St. Romaine said. “It would let visitors or even people who live in Columbia to stay, spend some of their money and enjoy a nice weekend actually within the downtown area, versus having to stay on the boundary and bring a car in.”
The Sasaki plan also calls for Columbia to maximize its state and federal funding options to help it get the most bang for its development buck. The city has consequently been exploring a variety of financial tools such as tax increment financing, the Missouri Downtown Economic Stimulus Act and the Downtown Preservation Act. All of these programs fuse public dollars with private investment to expedite and encourage urban development.
Ott said renovating The Tiger would be a perfect pilot project for exploring how those funding programs might work.
“If you’re looking for a starter project, one that would be a public-private partnership, this would be good because many people are familiar with it,” Ott said. “In turn, we anticipate more people spending money in Columbia, period.”
If Columbia uses one of the state programs to help owners renovate The Tiger, people who stay in the hotel during the coming years would slowly foot the bill for the work.
Sallie Hemenway, operations director for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said that TIFs, MODESA and the Downtown Preservation Act all work by freezing taxes in a designated development zone. As developers within the zone generate new income from sales, property and income taxes, part of that income, usually 50 percent, goes back to the developers so they can cover their costs over time. Depending on the program used, this process can continue for as long as 25 years.
Before Columbia and The Tiger would be able to use any of those programs, however, they’d have to meet a “but for” test. Hemenway said that means the city and the developers would have to prove that the project could not be done without the public assistance.
Ott said his vision for an upscale hotel passes the test. Since they bought The Tiger in 2003, Ott and the other owners have already undertaken many hotel improvements, including renovating the entire top floor and most of the common space: the ballroom, lobby, public restrooms and community storefronts. They also redid the roof and replaced most of the building’s heating and air-conditioning units.
The Tiger, which for a while provided homes for senior residents, now functions as a banquet and reception site. But Ott called that business model a mere “stopgap effort.”
In January, owners of The Tiger terminated the leases of tenants in its independent living facility, saying they could no longer balance revenue with costs.
Ott said he’s prepared to take The Tiger in a new direction, with construction starting as early as this summer. But with the floor plans waiting, from Ott’s perspective, the future of The Tiger is in the city’s hands.
“There’s no way we could do this alone, but in the end, we could really have something the community could be proud of,” Ott said.