Changing CoMo: SEC Influences Columbia's Downtown District

4 years 4 months 2 weeks ago Friday, May 09 2014 May 9, 2014 Friday, May 09, 2014 1:22:00 PM CDT May 09, 2014 in News
By: Melissa Helm and Jordan Herr, KOMU 8 Reporters

COLUMBIA - Since the University of Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012, efforts to beautify Columbia have been a topic of discussion.

"We're very keen into the fact that we have a much broader stage in terms of tourism now," said Carrie Garnter, director of the Community Improvement District.

Even before MU joined, Columbia city officials were looking at options to beautify the city. Within the district's five-year plan, Columbia has increased its funding by thousands of dollars in the last year for downtown environmental, cleaning and maintenance enhancements. 

Since the CID plan came about, Gartner said, the new budget has allowed the city to double its cleaning staff. This allows for cleaner sidewalks, kiosks, alleyways and parking garages, especially during the height of MU football seasons. 

KOMU 8 News took a look at other the budgets of SEC cities and how much each allots for city beautification efforts every year.

Athens, Georgia, is the home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, who joined the Southeastern Conference back in 1932. Locals and tourists who travel to Athens for SEC games know they've entered the home of the Bulldogs because of the city's unique landmarks.

"For some it might be the University of Georgia Arch, for others it might be the double-barrelled cannon or the City Hall dome, and yet for others interested in the music scene, it might be where the iconic 40 Watt Club or the steeple of the church where R.E.M. played their first show in 1980," said the City of Athens' Public Information Officer, Jeff Montgomery.

The city of Athens' budget for fiscal year 2014 totals $109.3 million. In an effort to keep Athens aesthetically appealing, the city allots 13 percent, or $14.4 million, of its expenditures to the Public Works Department, 7 percent, or $7.3 million, to the Leisure Services Department and 4 percent, or $4.8 million to its independent agencies - these departments all contribute to the city's visual appeal.

"Public art receives one percent of most capital project funds, Montgomery said. "We have a 'Keep Athens-Clark County Beautiful' program that is part of our Solid Waste Department and receives budget funding from Athens-Clarke County, but is also a non-profit entity that receives other funds as well.

The city also has an entire sales tax program called SPLOST, or Special Persons Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST is allotted $400,000 of the city's 2014 fiscal budget).

Montgomery said, "that has been in place for decades and funds many projects that have a draw for visitors in the area.

In the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the University of Alabama, the general budget is approximately $130 million, while the sewer fund budget is more than $40 million. These numbers include other projects like infrastructure, streetscaping and recreational improvements.

"We already have a vibrant downtown district that is continuing to grow. The city has invested in infrastructure upgrades to accommodate and encourage this growth," said the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Walter Maddox.

The city has seen growth over the years since a catastrophic tornado on April 27, 2011, that killed more than 60 people and destroyed parts off the city. Since then, Tuscaloosa has put forth recovery efforts to restore the city.

"Since the tornado that destroyed 12 percent of our city, what we call, appropriately, the recovery area is experiencing a rebirth. It's hard not to notice," said Maddox.

Some features of the city include campus landmarks, like the Bryan-Denny football stadium, which sees mass amounts of UA fans, as well as opponents, at every home game. The Denny Chimes, named after former president of the university, George G. Denny, serve as another landmark in the heart of campus. The bell tower was constructed in 1929 and has been a talking point at the University of Alabama ever since.

The city of Knoxville, Tennessee, allots money to similar citywide improvements, although no specific money is set aside for "beautification" in particular.

"Streetscapes and infrastructure are two important areas that the city is focusing on to beautify the city and improve its walkability for citizens and tourists," said Knoxville public information specialist Tatia Harris.

When you break down the different aspects that could be considered "beautification" type projects, Harris said the city uses several hundred thousand dollars. Some of these improvements include additions to the city's greenway system, with more than 60 acres of redone trails.

The Sunsphere in Knoxville, from the 1982 World's Fair, attracts tourists to the area. Neyland Stadium is another SEC landmark for traveling teams ready to face off against the University of Tennessee Volunteers.

Columbia's main effort to make the city more appealing is the 'Gateway Project,' which is still in the planning process.

One of the goals is to make the downtown district more of a destination for tourists beyond the Univeristy of Missouri campus. Columbia is already well-known for MU's distinct landmarks, such as Memorial Union, Jesse Hall and the Francis Quadrangle, but the city wants to expand on those sight seeing areas. 

Gartner said the purpose of the project is to, "really demarcate the district and let people know there's something going on and welcome them in an attractive way."

She said the project will help make downtown a special area that truly reflects the personality of Columbia.

Gartner said the city hopes to have a master blueprint for the gateway project to present to the district board within the next few months. 

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