Downtown district begins transformation process

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COLUMBIA - A growing downtown population means a diverse vibrancy between day and nightlife. The downtown district is working with a nonprofit organization to integrate the different economies and improve the safety and liveliness.

The Columbia Improvement District (CID) is working with the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) to enrich the downtown district through six core elements: public safety, venue safety, transportation, quality of life, entertainment, and multi-use sidewalks. RHI consultant Jim Peters said an organization like this one allows for a neutral party to assess the issues in a district from a non-biased point of view.

"What we can bring is an outside perspective," Peters said. "But also, since we've worked with so many cities, we can assure people that their problem is not unsolvable."

The CID board voted on 14 members to act as the transformation team based on their commitment to the downtown area and their leadership, proven through their respective businesses.

The transformation team met with Peters on May 7 to get a better grasp of its responsibilities throughout this five-six month process. The meeting briefly included discussing ways to brand Columbia. Some topics brought up were recycling, food trucks and outdoor dining.

The transformation team members will recruit individuals to help with each core element in the downtown area to help voice challenges in the district. These individuals and the transformation team will work together with RHI through roundtables this July.

"It seems like Columbia is at a point where we say ‘Between no longer and not there'," Peters said. "It is no longer what it was, and it's going to become something that maybe people don't see yet; it's not there yet."

CID Executive Director Katie Essing said this project allows people to stay safe as downtown continues to grow.

"The goal of this project is to see if there are any enhancements or changes that we need to make as a downtown community in order to keep everyone safe," Essing said.

This $40,000 project was included in the 2015 budget due to the expected growth downtown. Essing said the 2016 budget will be completed this June and that the CID board plans to leave aside money for the enhancement projects the RHI will suggest.

Essing said some of the expected topics to be brought up include overall cleanliness of the area, needing more taxis and pedestrians not following the crosswalk rules.
A late-night tour was conducted after the meeting to give Peters and the members a better feel for the nightlife economy.

The orientation meeting between Peters and the transformation team is scheduled for June 3.

The transformation team members include: Amy Schneider, JJ Musgrove, Mike McClung, Mary Wilkerson, Columbia Police Lt. Krista Shouse-Jones, Gary Ward, Heiddi Davis, Mike Matthis, Clyde Ruffin, Barbie Banks, Ben Wade, Millie Lovett, Chris Rigby, and Bryan Sappington.