- Written by Phil Harrison
"I have a vision of Columbia’s future..." ; ) ; )
Open letter to members of the Columbia City Council:
Re: Demolition of the Niedermeyer Building
I have a vision of Columbia’s future that I would like to share with you.
Broadway between Eighth and Tenth Streets is lined almost exclusively with one- and two-story buildings, many dating from the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century.
Consider the Dry Goods Store Building at 820 E. Broadway, built in the middle of the nineteenth century; the Hays Hardware Building at 812 E. Broadway, built around 1880; the Miller Building at 800 E. Broadway, built in 1910; the Stephens Building at 1020 E. Broadway, built in 1892; the Miller Boot and Shoe Store Building (formerly Tucker’s Jewelry) at 823 E. Broadway, built in the 1880s; the Victor Barth Building at 827 E. Broadway, built in 1909; and many other buildings on Broadway.
These structures have one thing in common: they are old and obsolete.
These two-story buildings are an inefficient use of space. They need to come down! Ten- to fifteen-story apartment buildings with street-level shops (with an emphasis on student-friendly businesses, such as fast-food restaurants, bars, and tee shirt shops) should be built in their place.
No doubt some council members and some Columbia residents would resist this needed change.
Please. Look at it from the viewpoint of service to students. Look at it from the viewpoint of corporate profits. Think about it and I believe you will admit that this is what needs to happen on Broadway.
The Victor Barth Building at Ninth and Broadway has one of downtown’s best locations. It has long housed only one business: a men’s clothing store. This business occupies prime downtown space and does not serve the student population. It is a two-story building! It should be acquired by eminent domain and used for high-density student housing, with street-level shops, if needed.
Businesses like Bingham’s that serve adult full-time Columbia residents have no reason to be downtown. They should be at the Mall.
Now let’s consider Ninth Street, sometimes quaintly called “The Strollway.” The Virginia Building is at 111 S. Ninth. It was built in 1911 and restored by Tom Atkins in 2001. Why? It is only two stories high. It wastes downtown space.
The City Council should never have permitted this renovation. Are property owners allowed to do anything they want with an old building? This building should have been torn down years ago. Yes, it is an “attractive” building. Yes, for older residents it adds to the “ambience” of downtown. But does it serve MU students? No! A ten to fifteen story apartment building in this space with stores at street level makes much more sense than current use.
The Hall Theatre at 102 S. Ninth, was built in 1916. When movies were no longer shown there, the building should have been torn down. No doubt it will be in the near future. It is wasted space. Two street-level businesses occupy space that could provide lodging for hundreds of students within two blocks of the university.
Consider the Missouri Theatre. If the Council had done the right thing, that building would be gone, and students would have housing in a wonderful location, right next to campus. Too late!
There are two churches, Missouri United Methodist Church and Calvary Episcopal Church, on Ninth Street that should not be there. What do they add to downtown commerce? Members of the congregations of these churches moved to the suburbs decades ago. Downtown parking is inadequate for their needs. These two buildings do not enhance the profits of any corporation! They should be acquired by eminent domain.
The proceeds will be perfectly adequate to allow these two congregations to build sleek new churches, with plenty of parking, in the suburbs. Apartment buildings will rise in their place.
Now, let’s look at the Niedermeyer. It’s the oldest building in downtown Columbia. That in itself is reason to demolish it! Some people call it “historic.” They say Mark Twain stayed there. OK, move it to Hannibal! They say Stephens College started there. So what? Members of the Council, you cannot buy and sell “historic.” There is no profit in it. Tear it down!
Why not have a fifteen-story apartment building in its place? If the bleeding-heart preservationists want only a ten-story building there, I say, all right, make it ten stories. Anything to make them shut up.
In conclusion, I believe it is your job to maximize the college experience for our students and to maximize the profitability of our corporate friends. Ask the Chamber of Commerce. Life is commerce—isn’t that really all that matters?
I believe this vision of Columbia’s future can be achieved by 2040, perhaps even by 2030. Please, give it your most thoughtful consideration.