Downtown Columbia to See Improvements from Largest Budget Ever

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COLUMBIA - The Downtown Community Improvement District (CID) last week approved its largest ever budget of $631,000. The District's Executive Director Carrie Gartner said a half cent sales tax increase that went into effect in 2011 is one of the main reasons the budget is so much larger than before. Gartner said the FY 2014 budget will go toward beautification and streetscape improvements, cleaning and maintenance, public safety, marketing, economic development and business recruitment, and more.

Free wireless Internet access is the CID's latest improvement to downtown. It is a pilot project that costs $13,000.

"What we've really tried to do is provide some immediate projects that are really going to help the customers have a better experience whether they're shopping or dining or out at night. One thing that's going on now is free WiFi. We want to provide it in public spaces, so sidewalks, parks, courthouse square, Ninth Street. It's a pilot project for six months. We'll see if people use it, if it works, and then invest more in it from there," Gartner said. 

Gartner said the CID would allocate $60,000 to continue the free WiFi project if it is successful. Columbia resident Randall Quisenberry said he uses the service on his devices and thinks it would also be helpful for people visiting the city.

"I think for people coming from out of town it would be really helpful. They could look up where they're going and get directions," Quisenberry said. 

The CID also plans to install four pieces of art at four major entrances into downtown. These art projects are called the "gateways project." The CID has set aside $70,000 between the FY 2013 and 2014 budgets. 

"We'd like to welcome people and we'd like to have something really spectacular there that represents the city as a whole. Part of the process is working with a consultant to identify what is that unique thing about us that we need to highlight in our entrance," Gartner said. 

The CID also plans on installing 50 recycling bins downtown, and training all maintenance workers to be certified tour guides.