City’s north lacks grocers

Some say road improvements are key to attracting merchants
Monday, July 30, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the area that could see more interest from businesses after road improvements are made. Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said north Columbia neighborhoods would be affected. This version also corrects the road improvement project Laird said would bring about increased business interest, the widening of Missouri 763.

COLUMBIA ­— When Hy-Vee Inc. confirmed last week that the construction of the first of two new stores in Columbia will begin this fall, most city officials and residents saw the announcement as a reflection of economic growth.

“I’m delighted to have the new stores. It’s a sign of the city’s progress,” said Mayor Darwin Hindman.

But the locations of the proposed supermarkets are leaving some residents of neighborhoods in north Columbia feeling left out. Angela Smith, who lives in the Vanderveen neighborhood, said she is happy that her favorite grocery store is expanding in Columbia, but she would still like to see a supermarket move into her northern neighborhood.

“There wouldn’t be a lot of competition,” she said. “In this area, there isn’t anywhere else to shop at.”

Currently, the Gerbes supermarket at 2900 Paris Road is the only large-scale grocery store north of Interstate 70.

In 2006, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend plans for the construction of a Moser’s Discount Foods grocery store in the Second Ward. But the project lost steam when the City Council told Roger Moser, president of the Fulton-based grocery store, the 30-foot light poles for the proposed store were too tall. Though at that time there was no official ordinance that specified a maximum height, Moser withdrew his proposal when he was told he must comply with a 25-foot limit.

“We’ve moved on,” he said of the project.

Since then, the city has passed an ordinance raising the maximum height of light poles to 38 feet. Moser declined to say if his company has considered building another store in Columbia.

Construction of the first Hy-Vee store is slated to begin this fall where the vacant Wal-Mart still stands at the intersection of Providence Road and Nifong Boulevard. Hy-Vee officials plan to begin construction of the second store in the spring next to the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Conley Avenue.

Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said that north Columbia neighborhoods will probably start seeing more interest from businesses, such as supermarkets, as access to the area becomes easier.

Laird said a key factor will be the widening of Missouri 763 to a four lane road.

“I think there will be a lot more development out there,” Laird said.

A $29.8 million project to widen the section of the road between Big Bear Boulevard and U.S. 63 is slated to begin this fall, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation. The department estimates the project will take two years to complete.

The extension of Providence Road northward also would increase access to the north side. According to the city’s capital improvements plan, that project will begin next year and will cost an estimated $4.1 million.

But some developments, such as the 19-acre commercial and office development in the Blue Ridge Center approved by the City Council earlier this month, have progressed despite the absence of major road construction.

“I’m not sure I agree that everybody is waiting on infrastructure to begin building,” said Third Ward Councilman Carl Skala. He said it has been rumored that Wal-Mart is interested in building a store in the northern part of Columbia, and he thinks that some potential competitors are waiting to see if this is true before they build. Most city officials think it’s only a matter of time before the northern part of town gets a grocery store.

“I think that as the density of the population gets to the point where those people in the grocery business think they can make a go at it, there will be grocery stores in the north,” Hindman said.

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