Public Says Blight Definition is Worry of Enterprise Zone Plan
COLUMBIA -In Friday's Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board meeting, members were quick to shift the conversation away from the very issue stirring controversy - blight designations.
"This committee isn't responsible for issues concerning blight - this is an issue concerning City Council," Chairman John Strotbeck said at the top of the 10:00 a.m. meeting, the time of which brought up its own point of contention.
"You guys have these meetings at 10 o'clock. You guys have these stealth meetings and the public doesn't know," Columbia resident and rental property owner Amir Ziv said in the meeting.
"The big elephant in the room is blight. They seem to laugh it off, and 'Oh, it will never happen.' But Columbia's got history," Ziv said.
In the meeting, the board reviewed and dicsussed Columbia's Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) map, which the members initially said could be altered in years to come. But one member of the public questioned that statement, saying she read once an area is called "blighted," there's no turning back.
The board said it would look into the issue to clarify.
A copy of the proposed enterprise zone map is not yet available online.
City leaders want to create the EEZ to attract companies, in particular manufacturers, by offering business incentives. If more than 50 percent of business revenue comes from other states, service firms will be considered as well. Express Employment manager Tyree Byndom pushed for the idea to offer incentives to hire people from the very blighted areas businesses would take over.
"A lot of these people, if there is no direct benefit for them, why should you use their statistics, their names, their lives -- and they don't get anything from it," Byndom said.
"When they brought the question up of - can there be some direct incentives? - for minority businesses, and for minorities as far as getting employment, process, I was pretty dismayed by the response from REDI. He (REDI Executive Vice President Bernie Andrews) basically said, 'We're just gonna make sure it's professional, it's there open for all businesses,' but as far as doing anything extra, any extra incentives, anything to make sure that the businesses that come in are culturally aware and relevant of trying to work with this demographic -- I didn't see it," Byndom said.
"Here's the key. We've started a discussion about the future of our city. So if we can open that up and say the EEZ is one option, what are the other options? The visioning project, what do we really want Columbia to be? Because I think that people are interested now," Byndom said.
For those interested, a public forum will be held Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in Parkade Center.