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Time to tear down dilapidated city hall, build new downtown civic complex

Time to tear down dilapidated city hall, build new downtown civic complex

Al Germond

I predict that in 20 years members of the current Columbia City Council will regret Monday’sdecision to forge ahead with a $20 million project to renovate and expand the Daniel Boone city building, when they realize that more careful consideration, community input and foresight could have helped them avert the problems related maintaining the aging and restrictive structure.

Here’s what the ideal situation for a new Columbia City Hall could have been: Finding a piece of property that’s large enough for an expandable building, with plenty of parking, to house virtually every function of municipal government. This structure would be configured so that interior office walls could be moved at will and offices could accommodate all present and future telecommunications needs. The end result would be a striking, modern structure that shows off the city’s best face and that Columbians would point to with pride.

It’s grand to dream about such a state-of-the-art accommodation for city government, but nothing this practical or sensible is about to happen. Columbia has chosen to follow a pre-determined plan to retool the northwest corner of 8th and Broadway by adding a glistening new office tower to the historically questionable Daniel Boone Hotel, which some contractor will “remodel” for about $6 million.

There’s no question that Columbia’s city governmentneeds more space as well as improved accommodations for its employees and the functions they perform. Although the building project is clearly dysfunctional in many ways, civic necessity dictates that the city keep its offices centrally located downtown while continuing to battle for parking and other conveniences.

I know I’m hardly alone among a silent group of people wishing we could begin anew with a beautiful civic plaza that would truly become the jewel of Downtown Columbia. This would mean a clean sweep of everything that’s on the block.

Being bold would mean finding a temporary structure somewhere and moving everyone out of Daniel Boone Building; the Public Library set the precedent for this type of plan several years ago, and the result was rather satisfactory. Explosive charges would be set, and the old hotel and all of its alleged memories would vaporize into dust early some Sundaymorning. While the demo people were in town, they would bring down the adjacent parking garage as well and a couple of ‘dozers would clear the rest of the block.

Presto!: A clean-swept canvas of high-profile downtown property to work and mold into a grand civic plaza facing the Boone County Courthouse. The whole block would then be excavated to create an enormous underground parking facility. (A trip to the Old Capital Plaza in downtown Springfield, Ill., instructs us in how this was done many years ago.)

On the south edge of this new civic square along Broadway would go what truly could be an all-in-one multi-story City Hall with plenty of room for future expansion. If it needs to be 10 or 15 stories high, well, then let’s rough it out just like Boone County did with the Roger Wilson building.

Since the whole block would be a worksite, there would be less of a disturbance caused by the contractors and all of their trailers and equipment. No one wants to talk about it, but under the city’s plan, the City Hall construction site will really make a mess downtown. If you think I’m kidding, just check out how the Journalism School construction site has torn up the north side of the MU Red Campus.

It’s gets delicious thinking of the absurdity of beginning with a fresh, new canvas, but I think that’s what we need to start doing: thinking outside the box about what we want the downtown civic plaza to look like.

I don’t necessarily think we should have a plebiscite about the city’s building plans, but I sure wish those in charge had gone outside the box of convenience that seems to confine them now.

Forcing a vote on the city’s present plan courts almost certain failure. Most of us who oppose the city’s scheme probably feel that way because we believe the result will be a stop-gap.

What would have made the most sense is organizing a space-needs committee along the lines of the body Boone County constituted to hash out how the city should proceed with its downtown development and expansion plans.

Their consideration and conclusions would have generatedthe confidence about municipalambitions and make us all feel we are part of the process.

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