Mixed Reactions For Columbia's Gateway Project

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COLUMBIA - For local artist Sonya Nicholson, Columbia is her adopted hometown.

Nicholson moved to Columbia when she was a child, she's a graduate of Columbia College, and for the past 12 years she's worked downtown.

She said she has a vast interest in how Columbia looks and how it develops.  Recently the Community Improvement District's Gateway Project proposal caught her attention.

"I have been driving down Broadway so many times, so when I saw the proposal for the Gateway, I know exactly where it was and I know that's something I will be passing again and again," Nicholson said.

The CID hired a St. Louis architectural and planning firm, Arcturis in October as the contractor to plan a design for the Gateway project.

The Executive Director of The District, Carrie Gartner, said the project aims to beautify and restructure the four "gateways" into the downtown district in Columbia to make it safer for pedestrians.

"It's more than just putting a piece of art in the middle of a sidewalk," Gartner said. "We wanted a red carpet into the downtown area. We wanted lighting so it highlights the area at night, we want landscaping so it looks good during the day. We want traffic coming so people don't get accosted by cars when they try to cross Broadway," said Gartner.

The four entries include the intersections of Broadway and Providence Road, Broadway and College Avenue, and the south and north entries to downtown coming from the MU campus and the Columbia College campus.

Gartner said $40,000 used to hire the design team comes from CID's budget.  She said that price includes the whole package of a three-person design team from Arcturis and a local engineer group will work closely with infrastructures.

"The idea of gateway into our downtown area has been something we've been looking at since the 90s, actually," Gartner said. "With the new community improvement district we finally have the wherewithal to really start a project this large. It's not just a public art or a statue, it's a natural gateway so there is wayfinding involved, there's a message involved, there's signage involved, and there are streetscape implements and pedestrian improvements as well."

The CID approved its largest ever budget of $631,000 in June 2013. A half cent increase in sales tax that went into effect in 2011 was one of the main reasons for the large budget. The CID set aside $70,000 between the FY 2013 AND 2014 budgets for the Gateway Project.

"If you ever looked at either in the Broadway, the traffic moves faster, there are four lanes, that's harder for pedestrians to get across, there's no crosswalks at 4th and Broadway for instance. So we thought this was really a good time to do this," Gartner said.

The project plans to add art structures, medians and possible gardening improvements to the four downtown entries.

"This is not an inexpensive project. It's a major project so it's going to be a long term project, but we did have enough funds really to hire a design team to come in and help us look at the issue of pedestrian safety, look at the issue of way finding of signage, how do we really make a statement about what Columbia is," Gartner said.

Gartner said The District put out a nationwide and a local search when looking for potential contractors for the project, and Arcturis rose to the top. Gartner said the CID board made the decision that the project needs someone who not just only have good experience at public space and doing way-finding projects, but also need someone who have really gone out to apply for grants and secure fundings.

"Arcturis, they love Columbia, they had been thinking about Columbia for a while, done some really great designs for other cities, and what they also did was had a very good understanding of how we can apply for grants and get or add funding for this project," Garner said. "We want a great looking street-scape, we want a great looking gateway, but we also need to be able to pay for it."

The CID board held an open house exhibition on January 17 where residents were able to vote on the three themes Arcturis put together. KOMU 8 News got a lot of feedback on its facebook page when people expressed mixed feelings toward the designs.

Nicholson said it's a good idea to frame the downtown and welcome people, but she wasn't in love with the designs.

"They look like something that could be in an amusement park. It's extravagant," Nicholson said.

The three themes are "education," "energy," and "the hub." 

The education design emphasized the city as an education center in mid-Missouri. 

























The energy design focused on Columbia as a creative center of art, music and entrepreneurship.

The hub design means Columbia is the center of culture, commerce and education of the state.

Lisa Bartlett, owner of the Artlandish Gallery, said she noticed there have been a lot of negative comments on the designs.

"I don't see we have any companies do big outdoor projects here, so I'm not sure how we are going to hire someone local to do such a thing," Bartlett said. "We don't have such sort of expertise here."

Bartlett said she is not going to criticize anything, but she thinks the designs could be better.

"Whatever they come up with should be timeless, something that won't be obsolete in twenty, thirty or forty years. I think it need to be classic object of art in some level because I think those are the things that won't go away," Bartlett said.

"I don't think anyone disagrees with the themes, and that's a good foundation for which to build a gateway. Education, energy, the hub are three themes that represented us well. The question is we have to pick one and we wonder which one we want," Gartner said.

"I'm hoping the Gateway will have a place to sit, a place for people to pose pictures, interesting enough that somebody gonna want to pose for a picture," Nicholson said. "There should have some trolley benches where people could meet each other there, and that would be pedestrian friendly."

The District has a Facebook page called "Downtown Columbia Gateway Project" asking residents to provide feedbacks in an online survey.