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MENACE TO COLUMBIA: Consultant's report trashes central city, but conclusions don't jibe with findings

City Hall's "outrageous" and "offensive" waste of $60,000
 
COLUMBIA, Mo 7/23/14 (Beat Byte)
--  A $60,000 consultant report declares central Columbia a "menace to the health, safety, morals, and welfare of the public," under Missouri law the first legal step toward the use of eminent domain and developer tax incentives such as TIF.  

Filled with inconsistencies, contradictions, and incomplete information, the report was released by Columbia city manager Mike Matthes and his deputy, Tony St. Romaine earlier this month.   Prepared by St. Louis-based Development Strategies, the report renames roughly 577 acres bordered by Interstate 70, College Avenue, parts of Mizzou, and Providence Road the Central Columbia TIF Redevelopment Area.  

Not surprisingly, the incentive area sharply detours from its eastern Providence Road border to include land owned by development giant Stan Kroenke that includes Lucky's Market and a vacant lot slated for a McDonald's restaurant (Report, page 6). 

Citing maintenance, age, and obsolescence factors that could apply in any city, the report draws contradictory conclusions from data it cites.   The consultants urge "the powers of redevelopment under the TIF act," to correct deficiencies they are unable to find.   From the report,

"NO buildings in the Redevelopment Area were found to be dilapidated.
 
"NO buildings in the Redevelopment Area were found to be obsolescent.
 
"The December 2013 and January 2014 surveys of the Redevelopment Area found NO signs of illegal use of individual structures.
 
"NO properties in the Redevelopment Area were found to be abandoned.
 
"NO properties in the Redevelopment Area exhibited overcrowding.
 
"NO properties in the Redevelopment Area were found to lack adequate light, ventilation, or sanitary facilities.
 
Instead, the consultants found platting issues that might ruffle a developer seeking lots large enough to accommodate apartments or strip malls.   
 
"There are 193 parcels (31%) in the Redevelopment Area that are commercially zoned and are less than 7,000 square feet in size.   Due to the insufficient size, it is unlikely that these parcels will be developed in the future."
 
"Seven (7) parcels within the Redevelopment Area are irregularly shaped and inefficient to utilize for modern commercial development."

Among its failings, the report lacks data from onsite visits and interior examinations.  It relies instead on drive-by photos of building exteriors from the street which cannot tell, for instance, how much of a building's plumbing and electrical has been updated; the condition of walls, floors, appliances, ceilings, doors, roof, etc.; or the presence of hazardous materials such as asbestos, which the report claims "might" exist.   
 
Lacking access to the properties, Development Strategies struggles to find significant problems.   "Many of the parking lots have only a gravel surface, and do not comply with present day City standards," the report claims.  "Fences and screening around outdoor storage areas are deterioriated or lacking.  There is poor landscaping."

And, "Creating an even more dangerous situation, is the lack of coordination between the curb cuts on the north side of Business Loop 70 and the curb cuts on the south side of Business Loop 70 within the Area."

Of the few real problems the report addresses, many are city-wide.   "Over half of the City’s storm drainage system has exceeded its lifespan, causing sinkholes in streets and yards," the consultants found.   "On the whole, the stock of buildings in the Redevelopment Area is quite old."   
 
Mathematical and statistical errors mar the report's credibility.    "There are 23 vacant structures in the Redevelopment Area, representing almost a third (29%) of all buildings," the consultants say.   "There are 1,166 structures in the Redevelopment Area."
 
But 23 vacant structures out of 1,166 total structures is 2%, not 29%.

Despite the report's flawed findings, St. Romaine hopes central Columbia will become a TIF district, at least in partThird Ward Councilman Karl Skala thinks otherwise, calling the report "outrageous" in a Missourian interview.   

"The language, to me, is offensive," Skala said.


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