Book baron ran Land Clearance Authority in 1980; debated foes of redevelopment project
COLUMBIA, 3/24/12 (Beat Byte) -- The third time's a charm, they say, and though they were wrong, Columbia's prominent business leaders considered the third attempt to blight downtown property for "redevelopment" a good bet.
With promises of a 700-car parking garage, a hotel/convention center, and an $31 million economic development plan crafted by Zuchelli Hunter & Associates in partnership with the Sasaki Group, the 45-acre Flat Branch Redevelopment Project of 1979-81 brought the same howls of protest that surfaced during the Midtown Redevelopment Project of 1963.
"We saw what the Douglass School Urban Renewal Project (1956-66) did to the black community," voters seemed to be saying, "and we don't want any part of it." After solid and repeated support from Columbia City Council members, opponents forced the Flat Branch Redevelopment Project to a referendum.
Now, a so-called Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) seems like deja vu. Like today's EEZ, the Flat Branch Redevelopment Project involved a Blight Decree. "The council recently designated Flat Branch a 'blighted area,' allowing the city to take control of redevelopment," the Missourian reported in October 1978
On the other side, MBS Books CEO Bob Pugh
, who chaired the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority,
Like the EEZ a creature of Missouri state statute, the LCRA was empowered to condemn and redistribute land. Today, Pugh is also a partner in the St. Charles Road Development group that sold the land for Battle High to Columbia Public Schools.
In March 1980 -- a month before the voter referendum, Pugh debated the project at a meeting of the Lions-Stephens Neighborhood Association at Benton Elementary. Citizens Against Flat Branch and individual opponents such as Karen Lynn, frequently quoted in Missourian articles, took the opposite side. The city's Community Development Commission sent a representative, and then-Third Ward Councilman Rodney Smith -- who voted against the Flat Branch project and went on to become Mayor -- also spoke.
Calling the Flat Branch project "the most significant undertaking ever contemplated in this town," Pugh said he thought proponents could defeat the referendum, but that it "would not be easy." The group opposing Flat Branch, he said, would use such tactics as "misinterpreting the facts."
EEZ supporters including carpet mogul Dave Griggs are using the same rhetoric today. Voters defeated the Flat Branch Redevelopment Project by a 2:1 margin in April 1980.