Written by Mike Martin
How parked cars are running over Columbia taxpayers
COLUMBIA, Mo 1/5/14 (Analysis) -- It's the oldest City Hall trick on the books and it looks like merchants in downtown Columbia fell for it hook, line -- and meter.
Parking meter, that is. Small retailers and restaurant proprietors are fuming about an apparent bait and switch city administrators used to trick them into supporting Columbia's second over-budget downtown parking garage on Short Street, aka Garagezilla, Jr.
The trick is a variation on the old "it's for the children" line. Baby Garagezilla was supposed to be "for the customers." But like so many taxpayer-funded projects, that $11 million baby has morphed into another developer handout.
"We were sold the idea of a garage to make more parking available to downtown shoppers," Gotcha owner Aaro Froese told the Columbia Heart Beat. Of 426 parking spots, all but 26 have gone to "apartments built with no parking -- and the hotel," Froese said, referring to the new Doubletree on Broadway.
Now, Doubletree owner Dave Parmley is asking the City Council to add eight more parking spots -- from 28 to 36 -- for hotel guests. Council members will take up Parmley's proposal at tomorrow's meeting.
Sporting a $3.2 million TIF incentive and guaranteeed, city-owned parking next door to his hotel, Parmley joins Bruce, Jon, and Nathan Odle -- the student apartment kingpins -- and City Hall as the mightiest beneficiaries of the $11 million Garagezilla , Jr. project. In parking rent, city government will receive $141,000 yearly from Parmley alone.
The merchants who generate traffic -- and sales tax dollars, both for the city and the downtown Community Improvement District (CID) -- are out in the cold, said Froese, whose shop has been a downtown fixture for two decades.
"The Short Street garage is open, but how does it help commerce?" Froese asked. "There has been a steady decrease in available parking for downtown shoppers, and they eliminated many spots by building the garage."
Froese's quandary is familiar. But of the many retailers who make Columbia's downtown area thrive, only former Cool Stuff owner Arnie Fagan regularly speaks out about how difficult it has become to operate a business in "The District."
Most other merchants gripe in private -- and keep getting squeezed by outsiders and organizations like the CID bureaucracy who cheerlead projects -- like overpriced parking and higher taxes -- that take a Garagezilla-sized bite out of small business budgets and customer pockets.
"This is a money grab, pure and simple," Froese said. "There is little support for it from my fellow biz owners."