After debate and comment from the public, the Columbia City Council unanimously approved the original Flat Branch Park expansion master plan, only with stipulations added.
Four options were provided for approval at the council’s regular meeting Monday. Option 1, the option chosen, will eliminate a parking lot located at the corner of Providence Road and Broadway, in front of the Columbia Real Estate building, to provide space for the Gateway Project, an art installation previously approved by the city in 2015.
The Gateway Project is part of the Flat Branch Park expansion. Set for spring 2020, the expansion will be conducted in two phases: First, the existing park will be cleaned up, and then it will be expanded onto more city-owned property.
The council approved Option 1, but with the addition of a motion directing interim City Manager John Glascock to meet with downtown business owners and other interested parties to discuss potential parking solutions that option presents. Glascock will then present his findings to the council at the June 3 meeting.
Options 2, 3 and 4 would keep some existing parking spaces in front of the west lot of the Columbia Real Estate building, which is why they were favored by many business owners and other Columbia residents who made appearances at Monday’s meeting.
Tom Atkinson, owner of Shiloh Bar & Grill, came Monday to express his disapproval for Option 1.
“I adamantly oppose Option 1 simply because of parking,” he said.
Jeff Page, a representative of Columbia Real Estate, said the elimination of parking would hurt downtown businesses.
“They need more of two things: more customers and more parking,” Page said.
Tyler Nielsen from Real Property Group was also worried about Option 1’s elimination of downtown parking.
“I just don’t want to alienate small business owners,” he said.
Mayor Brian Treece said he had difficulties turning down Option 1 because the city followed the proper steps to notify the owner of the Columbia Real Estate building, Mark Stevenson, of the termination of the contract to access to the parking lot.
“It just seems like we did everything right about notifying (him),” Treece said.
The council also said it was leaning toward Option 1 because there are already many parking spaces available downtown and downtown Columbia is small enough to be able to walk through. It also said the park expansion should be a priority for the city.
“I know people want to park in front of wherever it is they are,” Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said. “But I think there are some ideas, and I think this park is one of them, that transcends those practicalities.”
In other action, the council held a reception before Monday night’s meeting to welcome a delegation from Columbia’s sister city of Hakusan, Japan, and to celebrate the 31-year relationship between the cities.
Both cities reaffirmed the sister city agreement, which started in 1988 with Columbia and Matto City, Japan, before Matto City and smaller communities merged to create Hakusan in 2005.
Treece presented the delegation with gifts, including a rural landscape called “Blossom” by a local artist.
“The landscape represents how the relationship between Hakusan and Columbia has grown over the years,” he said.
Noriaki Yamada, mayor of Hakusan, said the delegation had only been in Columbia for a day but already felt the warmth of the city.
Missourian reporter Laura Murgatroyd contributed to this report.