Downtown development and infrastructure improvement were heated topics in Columbia’s April 7 general election, in which voters passed two ballot issues to enhance the city’s infrastructure and elected two new city council members.
Proposition 1, which includes a $63.1 million bond issue to improve the city’s electrical grid, got 68.65 percent of voters’ support. And 59.23 percent of voters said “yes” to Proposition 2, which will lead to a 25 percent rate increase in monthly utility bills to fund upgrades to the city’s storm sewers.
Voters also elected two new council members: First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters. Michael Trapp was re-elected to represent the city’s Second Ward.
Missouri Business Alert caught up with the three elected officials following the election to discuss downtown development and the city’s economic future.
Peters, a neonatologist at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital, was elected to the open seat in Columbia’s Sixth Ward. When it comes to downtown development, she said: “Mixed-use development of our downtown will be much more sustainable than overbuilding for any one segment of our population.”
She said that voters’ passage of Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 will help with old and new infrastructure needs.
Peters said the city needs to work in close partnership with MU, especially with respect to private-sector student housing, to make sure that the city and the university are moving in the same direction and armed with the same planning and demographic information.
Besides downtown, Peters said another important issue is the formation of a community improvement district along Business Loop 70.
“The Business Loop is clearly an area that begs for redevelopment — the question is how,” she said. “Preventing unencumbered and unsightly sprawl into the county is also a challenge we must face.”
Ruffin, a theater professor at the University of Missouri, will replace resigned councilwoman Ginny Chadwick in representing the First Ward.
Ruffin said the priority for downtown is to maintain its historical character. “It’s a part of the city that has the most complete historical buildings,” he said.
Ruffin also is concerned about the neighborhoods near downtown: “We also want to make sure that every development that goes on downtown does not have negative effects to the neighborhoods that are adjacent to the downtown area,” he said.
There are a lot of working class families and other people living in those areas, Ruffin said, and they are afraid their living expenses are going to increase and become unaffordable.
Ruffin said in the future, the city should limit student housing downtown. He said Columbia has sufficient student housing in the area, and residential property around downtown needs to be diversified.
Overall, Ruffin said, with the university in town, Columbia will continue to attract people across the state to take advantage of its health care and education systems. He said it’s important for Columbia to enhance those advantages.
Trapp, an administrator for Phoenix Health Systems, was elected to his second term. He said Columbia’s most potent competitive advantages are its sense of place, natural areas, recreation and cultural activities. To ensure job growth and boost the local economy, Trapp said all of those advantages need to be maintained and enhanced if possible.
In particular, Trapp said the city should recruit and incentivize jobs that pay a living wage but don’t require a college education.
Trapp said downtown development has helped increase residential density where people would like to go, and he highlighted the addition of a grocery store in the downtown area.
However, he said he would like to see diversity of downtown housing. “I believe there is a market of young professionals and retirees who would like an opportunity to experience downtown living that is not yet being addressed,” Trapp said.
In the next five years, Trapp said, he foresees more mixed-use projects downtown. He predicts the area will see more eclectic local businesses serving residents and visitors, more cultural events, more public arts and more participatory experiences.
He said the city’s university population will remain a key driver for the local economy.
“Capitalizing on our strengths in higher education, I see a lot of economic activity in high-tech fields, media in all of its forms, and a resurgence in manufacturing,” Trapp said.