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CoMoTOWN: Where wealth, power, greed, land, and City Hall converge

Are one man's secretive holdings influencing city policy?

COLUMBIA, Mo 4/17/14 (Op Ed) -- It's a few blocks in downtown Columbia I call CoMotown, like Chinatown, the famous movie with Jack Nicholson as detective Jake Gittes, investigating land, power, wealth, greed, and corruption at City Hall. 

CoMotown starts on the NE corner of Providence and Walnut streets, home of Schilb Antiquarian, Sun Loan and Tucker's Fine Jewelry.  
The address:  100 N. Providence Road.  

Down Walnut, CoMotown includes the Columbia Daily Tribune building -- call it Trib One.   It takes up almost half the block, where Walnut intersects N. 4th Street.   The address:  101 N. 4th St.     

Across 4th and to the left is the Tribune Printing Building, aka Trib Two, at 100 N. 4th Street.  It takes up the entire block, just kitty-corner from Garagezilla.   They print something called a "newspaper" there, for the historians on our CoMotown tour. 

To the right, across from Trib Two, is an empty office building.  It's next door to the famous Blind Boone Home, whose renovation -- despite City Council approval and the Mayor's public campaign promise "that it would be fixed" over a year ago -- remains mysteriously stalled in a Chinatown-like netherworld.

The address of this vacant office building next to the Blind Boone Home:  400 E. Walnut St

Left on N. 5th St. now, past the outdoor post office boxes on one side, the forboding, block-long Trib Two on the other, Garagezilla in the rear-view mirror.   Turn left onto Ash Street, where across from Trib Two and next to the public housing project, is a parking lot that takes up over half the block.  

Call it E. Ash St. -- no building numbers cuz it's a parking lot. 

Just ahead, another one-story office building, headquarters of United Mobility, address 313 E. Ash St.

Across the street, another parking lot, part of Trib One:  call it 101 N. 4th lot.   Together, Trib One and the lot take up most of that city block.   

CoMoTown ends at the Avis Car Rental building, 305 E. Ash St., just before the gas station on the corner of Ash and Providence. 

One person -- or more precisely, one family -- owns all this:  100 N. Providence, 100 N. 4th, 101 N. 4th, 400 E. Walnut, 305 E. Ash, 313 E. Ash, and a block's worth of parking lots in between. 

Held in a fictitious name -- Fourth Street Property Management -- the property totals almost four city blocks, making this family one of downtown Columbia's largest private landowners.  

The family patriarch is uniquely situated to shape city policies that make downtown land scarce.  Policies like unchecked student apartment development and tax incentive financing (TIF) to pay for it.   Policies like building giant parking garages to house all the cars these developments bring. 

The patriarch belittles critics of the policies he pushes.   He calls them "a persistent band of conspiracy theorists," and other names that make the little guy and gal feel even smaller. 

The patriarch has the ear of City Hall, and privately meets with its leaders when he wants things, just like Noah Cross in Chinatown, whose plan to steal water from Los Angeles is the driving force behind the film's noirish mystery.  The uber-wealthy Cross -- played by John Huston -- wants to drive up the price of barren, parched desert land he owns by diverting much-needed water from Los Angeles, with help from shady types in city government.   

CoMotown isn't a movie, though, and the uber-wealthy landowner is real.   His name is Henry J. "Hank" Waters and he knows a thing or two about how to promote his interests, as the voice of the local paper.

He's written seven editorials promoting TIF since December alone:   TIF 1 , TIF 2 , TIF 3 , TIF 4 , TIF 5 , TIF 6 , TIF 7

"Why are you doing it?" Jake Gittes asks Noah Cross.  "How much better can you eat?  What could you buy that you can't already afford?"

Mispronouncing Gittes' name to make him feel small, Cross replies, "The future, Mr. Gitts!  The future."  

While the future of newspapers ain't so hot, the future of land in downtown Columbia is on fire. 

-- Mike Martin

FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   100 N FOURTH ST   16-320-00-14-001.00 01
FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   305 E ASH ST   16-320-00-17-021.00 01
FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   313 E ASH ST   16-320-00-17-022.00 01
FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   E ASH ST   16-320-00-17-023.00 01
FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   100 N PROVIDENCE RD   16-320-00-17-061.00 01
FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   101 N FOURTH ST   16-320-00-17-062.00 01
FOURTH STREET PROPERTY   400 E WALNUT ST   16-320-00-17-084.00 01



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