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DUPED OR OUT OF THE LOOP? Neighbors, taxpayers in dark about IBM trail promise

Who knew the parks tax and eminent domain were part of Big Blue's big package?

COLUMBIA, 10/17/12 (Beat Byte) -- Confirmation that the $1.4 million Grindstone Creek Trail, complete with threat of eminent domain, was part of IBM's 2010 corporate incentive package has surprised some residents of the neighborhood along the trail.
 
The trail-as-IBM-promise also seems to have caught some Columbia City Council members off guard, and may have duped area voters, who passed a 2010 city parks tax to build trails with virtually no knowledge of the IBM connection.
 
Until recently, the promise was little more than a rumor, explains East Pointe neighbor James Baker, whose property is in the trail's path.

"We were never notified of any of these so called 'promises'," Baker said. "The IBM 'promise' had been rumored, not as a promise, but as a selling point about general, overall trails in Columbia, and how they were working on connecting McGuire Blvd. to the downtown area," he continued. "There has never been anything presented to us or published that I have seen."
 
What has been published about IBM's "hefty incentive package" includes a $500,000 down payment for a building at 2810 Lemone Industrial Blvd.; $3 million financing to purchase the building from developer Bob Lemone's family; $10 million to refurbish the building; and $30 million in city, state, and county tax abatements.

But outside of comments from former Mayor Darwin Hindman, Baker says he never saw anything about the promised trail. "I was going to pursue the rumor to find out exactly what was said, or if anything was published, by attempting to contact IBM and reviewing some of the city's archives," Baker explains. "But that seemed like a waste of time."

Specifics about the trail-as-IBM-promise have indeed been sparse. "I remembered hearing or reading about it, but when I looked in the Columbia Tribune archives, I had a hard time finding anything," said Dan Harder, who lives on nearby Bluff Pointe Drive and supports the trail. "So I beefed up my search."

On an IBM employment recruitment website, Harder found mostly generalities.

"The city of Columbia and IBM worked together to incorporate the new IBM facility into Columbia's Sustainable City program, which included building bike paths to connect the facility with downtown Columbia," the website explains.

Some specifics emerged in a site study performed by Allied Consultants.

"The need for a bicycle connection...was an important factor in making the Grindstone Trail a priority for the city," the study explains. "The trail was recognized by IBM as an important factor in locating the new IBM Technology Service Center in Columbia."

Until he asked city parks director Mike Hood, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt apparently didn't know much about the IBM trail promise, either.
 
"Mr. Schmidt asked if this was something IBM specifically requested," minutes from a July Council meeting read. "Mr. Hood replied this was the trail project that was discussed as part of the recruitment process to bring IBM to Columbia.
 
"Hood believed a promise was made to IBM that the City would attempt to gain approval of funding for the project, and Council chose to put that specific trail project on the ballot with the understanding it was the trail that would serve the Lemone Industrial area and IBM. He explained it was approved by the voters as part of the 2010 park sales tax."
 
Last but not least, voters were duped, Columbia City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe suggested during the same meeting. The Grindstone Trail "was part of the park sales tax ballot, but many people voted in favor of it without knowing the specifics, and how it would impact them or their neighbors," she said.
 
 
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