Businesses close downtown

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COLUMBIA - The owner of Casablanca Mediterranean Grill packed up shop Monday afternoon; his restaurant is being replaced by another student-housing complex. 

“It’s sad, but we were treated fairly,” said Aziz El-Tayash, Casablanca’s owner.

Casablanca is the fifth business set to close downtown in the past nine months in order to make way for more student housing. Bengal's Bar and Grill, which is next door to Casablanca, closed last fall. Shakespeare's was demolished and has relocated around the corner. Britches Clothing and Quinton's Bar and Deli are also expected to close this spring.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala was the only council member to vote against a plan last Monday to build rise apartments where Quinton’s Bar and Deli and Britches Clothing are currently located. He said the market for student apartments is saturated, and this shouldn’t be happening.

"We need some serious answers, and we need the cooperation of both the development community and the community in general to sit down and talk about this, not just exploit the downtown area as if it were some sort of an open field that didn't affect anyone else in the surrounding areas," Skala said. 

MU Economics Professor Saku Aura said despite public outcry, more student housing is a good thing. 

“More student housing downtown means room for more students, and in general this is a town that’s economy relies heavily on the student population,” Aura said. 

Aura said the market isn’t saturated, and that these apartments will meet economic demands. 

“It’s not necessarily a market that is saturated… the developer’s will be able to figure out when it’s no longer profitable to build,” he said. 

Skala said these new student-complexes are not only a risk to the city's economy and infrastructure, but they are robbing Columbia of its rich history. Aura said Columbia won't lose anything by adding more housing. 

“Historic Columbia is very far from being replaced with student housing… at the pace we are going right now, it seems to be a mostly positive thing for the city,” Aura said. 

El-Tayash said he hopes to open up another Casablanca location soon, possibly south of town.