COLUMBIA — Downtown parking requirements, the airport and two tax issues the city intends to put before voters were the big topics of discussion during a two-day Columbia City Council retreat that wrapped up Friday morning.
The annual spring retreat, which brings the council together with city department heads to discuss priorities and major initiatives planned for the coming year, was held at the Daniel Boone City Building. This year, it gave new Mayor Brian Treece a chance to offer his opinions on some of the issues bearing down on city government.
Here's a look at some of the topics the council and city staff discussed.
On Friday morning, talk of growth and development downtown sparked a conversation about parking. Community Development Director Tim Teddy noted that while the C-2 zoning in place downtown didn't use to require parking, it now does. Treece said that's a good thing because the lack of adequate parking now puts the squeeze on business owners and on neighborhoods surrounding downtown.
“We shouldn’t be consuming Lucky’s parking to go to the barber shop,” Treece said, referring to the market on the west side of Providence Road.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas, however, disagreed. He said that an audit last year showed no shortage of parking downtown and that building more parking garages would consume resources and space and undermine efforts to boost the use of public transportation. He said Erin Fields, developer of The Rise apartments, didn’t want to provide parking for his 10-story apartment building at Ninth and Locust streets because he was confident his tenants wouldn't need cars. His building plan, though, does include a parking garage to accommodate some of his residents.
“(Fields) is going to buy 100 bus passes for 100 of his tenants and buy more for a minimum period for several years," Thomas said. "That’s the kind of entrepreneurial innovation we should be encouraging to create the downtown we want in the Columbia Imagined.”
Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said parking problems are caused by people who live on the periphery of downtown, not by those living in the business district. She noted that many employees of downtown businesses park on the streets instead of in nearby parking garages, leaving less space for customers.
Treece found it remarkable that city leaders argue about whether to require parking downtown while at the same time requiring Fr Tolton Catholic High School to create more parking because it plans to add more bleachers for sporting events.
“The irony is we ask for more parking for bleacher seats that are used 14 times a year versus a four-bedroom and -toilet apartment that gets used every day,” Treece said.
Columbia Regional Airport
On Thursday, REDI President Stacey Button told the council and staff about plans to expand Columbia Regional Airport. Plans call for switching oversight of the airport from the Public Works Department to REDI in next year's budget as a means of increasing its economic impact.
“(We want to) put together a more cohesive marketing message ... encouraging visitors to come to Columbia and framing Columbia as a destination,” Button said.
Along with encouraging Columbians to use the airport, REDI also wants to "encourage visitors to come and spend their dollars here.”
Button said that the capacity of the airport terminal doesn’t meet today's demand and that the airport will continue to grow. Projections agreed upon by the Federal Aviation Administration show a need to accommodate 120,000 enplanements and to provide about 1,200 parking spots by 2021. In 2015, there were about 65,000 enplanements and 554 parking spots available.
When Treece asked Button if the airport makes money, her answer was “sort of.” Button said revenue from the airport is invested in capital projects. Part of that comes from a $4.50 fee on individual tickets, but that is split among all the airports the passenger goes through.
The city is applying for a Small Community Air Service Development Program grant, which would give it money to attract additional air service and routes. It will know by fall if the application is successful.
Button also said that Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consultant hired to explore terminal expansion options, will announce its preferred location for a new terminal at the May 2 council meeting. By July, the consultant will present a detailed financial plan and timeline for the terminal project.
“By the end of the year, we should have an approved airport layout plan that addresses all of the aspects of a new airport,” Button said.
The terminal project will cost an estimated $40 million, with funding coming from the FAA, a potential lodging tax increase, a possible parking fee and other undefined local and state sources, Button said.
Button explained that federal rules prohibit the city from using federal money to build a parking lot it plans to charge people to use. City Manager Mike Matthes said the plan is to use local money to create more parking.
The city's tax on hotel and motel rooms stands at 4 percent. Plans call for putting a proposal to raise the tax to 5 percent on the Aug. 2 ballot. The proposal will be introduced at the council's May 2 meeting and is scheduled for a vote May 16.
Treece worried whether it is legal for the city to use lodging tax revenue for economic development such as the terminal expansion. Matthes said the city already uses the existing tax for similar purposes.
There might be public opposition from hoteliers, Matthes said. Treece suggested tweaking the ballot language to include tourism and economic development as a way of showing hoteliers and residents what the possible uses might be.
Button said the situation with the airport is critical. “Regardless (of funding) we have to improve the airport," she said. "We can’t continue to live within the confinements we have right now."
Also slated for the Aug. 2 ballot is a measure that would allow the city to continue collecting sales tax on vehicles, trailers, boats and outboard motors bought outside Missouri. As it stands, a court ruling will make that practice illegal beginning in November, except in cities and counties where voters approve a continuation of the tax. Matthes said that Gov. Jay Nixon has a bill on his desk that would delay implementation of the ruling until 2018 and that the council should consider delaying the sales tax vote until November, if it can, given that the lodging tax will also be on the August ballot.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.