Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Columbia Heart Beat -- 5/27/08

SCHAUWECKER WACKED: Assessor Loses Three Year 3M Tax Fight
EVOLUTION SOLUTION: MU Researchers Use Darwin to Map Space Flights
JOHN AND VICKI OTT: Named Columbia's First Historic Preservationists of the Year
QUESTIONS FROM KIDS: To County Commission Candidate Sid Sullivan, Part 1
THE CHANGE GANG: The Bad News on Good News; GetAboutColumbia's Iffy Priorities

Code Enforcement Confab Planned

A Botched Demolition
READERS RITE: Reflecting on friends, neighbors, and soldiers past
THIS WEEK'S: Opening Theme Song:

"Roads are important for people who live on them. Roads are really important for emergency vehicles."
-- Presiding commissioner Ken Pearson, on the KFRU Morning Meeting

By Mike Martin
For the Columbia Business Times

Despite a flagging economy, both locally and nationally, Columbia isn’t spending any real money on economic development.

That’s one of many startling conclusions in Fifth Ward councilwoman Laura Nauser’s most excellent plan, A Change in Direction on Family and Youth Issues for the City of Columbia, Missouri. In 10 years, her report details, we’ve spent a paltry $3.2 million on economic development compared to a hefty $106.3 million on parks and recreation. Just whom are we hoping to attract and retain with all those beautiful parks and trails if not prosperous people who are fully employed in high paying jobs or happily creating new businesses?

Linking crime with economic inertia, Nauser reports our community has one of the highest high school dropout rates among Missouri school districts of similar size; some 27% of our workforce is underemployed; approximately 12% of workers haven’t earned a high school diploma; and our median household income is $42K annually, a full $500.00 per month below the $48K national median.

For the city Forbes magazine recently ranked as America’s “11th Smartest,” these statistics aren’t encouraging. They shed light on a booming crime problem Nauser hopes to address and reflect the unfettered growth of a government sector that largely redistributes – rather than creates – wealth.

“The citizens of Columbia must not continually rely upon the top five employers in our city to provide new job growth,” Nauser’s plan explains. “It is important to note that our top five employers are all government agencies.”

New Development: Property vs. Intellectual Property

Two cultural issues help drive our area’s economic ethos: an abiding trust in government; and a conservative investment environment that prefers hard assets like land and buildings to soft assets like intellectual property. For this reason, Columbia is more likely to grow a Wal-Mart Supercenter than a Google, or build a new city-owned parking garage rather than a Microsoft.

Shifting this ethos will take local government action, because it is in local government we’ve vested most of our power – and invested most of our money. From Boone County’s growing downtown building empire to our biggest recent expenditures – tens of millions of dollars on University properties, including stadiums – we’ve gradually sacrificed broad-based growth for narrowly focused stability. Sure, our university, two largest hospitals, city, county, and school district aren’t going anywhere, but economically, neither are we.

To change this environment, private investors who can receive incentives to invest in historic preservation, transportation development districts, and tax increment financing – all real estate enterprises – also need incentives to invest in great ideas. Otherwise, why would they change their portfolios?

Clean and green

As early-stage private investment in our area goes, Centennial Investors stands almost alone, a troubling circumstance given venture capital’s well-documented worldwide track record. Our other new venture enterprises – the Missouri Innovation Center; the life sciences incubator; and Discovery Ridge – have publicly funded, university-oriented missions.

To attract the next Bill Gates, Michael Dell, or keep the next Sergey Brin in Columbia after he or she graduates from one of our universities, we should be building a privately funded knowledge-based economy in addition to our development-based economy. The logic of using great ideas to diversify Columbia is multi-fold, especially in a community perennially divided over the costs and benefits of land use.

Knowledge-based economies are clean and green. They generate high-paying jobs and well-compensated entrepreneurs more likely to use land in a way many Columbia residents consider enlightened: a LEED-certified company headquarters with a large greenbelt, for instance. Knowledge-driven entrepreneurs are also more likely to avail themselves of the assets that have made us one of the nation’s smartest cities – MU, Stephens College, and Columbia College.

But Columbia and Boone County will have to give to get, a philosophy that isn’t practiced much at the local government level. City Hall’s use of the $22 million Federal Pednet grant to install bicycle racks downtown – and add to its parking monopoly – is a perfect example. Instead of removing the parking meters, they’ve left them, charging a “voluntary fee” to park a bike, with the public proviso that this “green” endeavor will end if not enough people pay up.

It’s sadly typical, and no way to incentivize new investment or encourage new ideas.

Private sector booster

For Columbia to stay competitive in a worldwide wealth race, we must seek true private investment without all the government funnels and filters. We need private incubators, private venture capital, private grants, and private loans that don’t rely solely on the Small Business Administration (SBA) or some other government provider or guarantor.

But to get all that, local government is going to have to do what it always preaches to us – give up and give back.

The public sector can be a fine thing when it’s balanced with private enterprise. But too much government can hinder the very ideals it seeks to protect. In Columbia, those ideals include education and environmental sustainability. But without so-called “Green collar” jobs and knowledge-based enterprises, it’s all lip service that doesn’t create sustainable lives.

SCHAUWECKER WACKED: Assessor Loses Three Year 3M Tax Fight

Did anyone tell our county tax man about this:

"Now, with the last batch of 38 employees scheduled for layoff in June, company officials and Columbia's Regional Economic Development Inc. are working to attract production of new 3M products to fill the unused space in the 380,000-square-foot building. And the city has given the company a break on its electric rates."

If we wonder why 3M is gradually saying adios to Columbia and Boone County and why our school district never has any money, the story of Boone County tax assessor Tom Schauwecker vs. 3M couldn't be more timely. Labeling a nearly $40 million property tax hike targeted at 3M Corporation "unlawful, unfair, arbitrary and capricious," the Missouri State Tax Commission handed Schauwecker dual losses in two high profile property tax disputes.

Unreported in the local media, the decisions came late last year, nearly three years after a widely-reported 2004 3M appeal. The ongoing legal tussle -- heard by the county commission's Board of Equalization (BOE); then a state hearing officer; and finally, the full Missouri State Tax commission -- tied up nearly $1.4 million property tax dollars -- mostly for local public schools -- in escrow during the 36 month ordeal.

"On April 12, 2007, Senior Hearing Officer Luann Johnson issued her decision and order SETTING ASIDE the value determined by the Boone County Board of Equalization and adopting the value proposed by the taxpayer, 3M" reads the first order.

Schauwecker nonetheless fought on, taking his appeals to the full State Tax Commission, where he was again denied on October 11, 2007.

The first issue: a county commission decision approving Schauwecker's $56,878,860.00 valuation of 3M's business property. The State Tax Commission slashed that value by nearly two thirds, to $20,289,000.00.

The second issue: the market value of 3M's 371,426 square foot manufacturing property. The county commission affirmed Schauwecker's $12,516,700.00 value. The State Tax Commission SET ASIDE the original $12,516,700.00 value and affirmed a much reduced $7,250,000.00 value.

This latest decision adds to a long string of assessor defeats as Schauwecker has battled companies such as Square D, State Farm, and Columbia Regional Hospital
over the years.




EVOLUTION SOLUTION: MU Researchers Use Darwin to Map Space Flights
By Mike Martin
For the Columbia Business Times

Call it solving by evolving.

University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) engineering professor Craig Kleuver and former MU graduate student Aaron Olds are digitizing Darwin to send space ships on long distance flights that require careful maneuvers. What’s more, their program – a computer algorithm known as “differential evolution” – is open source and available to all.

Using the mathematical equivalents of Darwinian evolution – reproduction, random mutation and natural selection – differential evolution seeks the best – or fittest – space route through an endless maze of interplanetary possibilities.

“It can find the route that takes the least time or the least fuel, or that maximizes the amount of payload a spacecraft can carry,” Kleuver told me.

Highly evolved routes include several well-timed “gravity assists” that use a rotating planet’s gravitational field to change a spaceship’s course or slingshot it farther into space, conserving valuable rocket fuel like a pedal-free bike ride down a hill. Orbiting planets assume myriad positions that create dozens of gravity boost scenarios. Differential evolution rapidly analyzes successive “propulsion maneuvers” to maximize the best boost scenario.

NASA may seem like a natural Kleuver client, but the US space agency uses proprietary software developed in-house “that is arcane and hard to learn,” said Dave Brody, media director and science writer for Space.com and Space News.

Investors in private space tourism such as Richard Branson or Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace are more likely to appreciate the evolution solution, Brody told me.

Using differential evolution to navigate a precision landing on an asteroid intrigues him even more. Asteroids are green, Brody said. One day, they’ll eliminate strip mining. “Precious metals like titanium, platinum, and palladium are hard to come by on Earth, but far easier to mine on an asteroid,” he explained.

Space-bound crews will one day construct and repair space stations using raw materials from asteroids near Earth that would otherwise spell our doom, he added.

“For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” Brody said, citing Isaac Newton’s 3rd law of motion. “For every ton of material you jettison from an asteroid headed toward Earth, you push the asteroid in the opposite direction.”

One wonders what Charles Darwin would say if he knew that his highly-charged, controversial theory may help everyone survive – not only the fittest – by helping Earth survive in more ways than one. “Instead of threatening us, asteroids will become a valuable part of almost every space mission,” Brody said. "Thanks largely to software that uses new algorithms like differential evolution.”

JOHN AND VICKI OTT: Named Columbia's First Historic Preservationists of the Year

To commemorate Preservation Month during the month of May, the City of Columbia Historic Preservation Commission will be bestowing an Outstanding Local Historic Preservationist award to John and Vicki Ott on Thursday, May 29, 2008. The event will take place in one of the
buildings the Otts are refurbishing located at 907 Alley A (located between 9th and 10th Streets and E. Broadway and Cherry Street) from 4-6pm. Light refreshments will be served in honor of the Ott's dedication to local historic preservation efforts in Columbia's downtown
area. The Columbia Channel has put together a short video which will be shown. Then, HPC Chair Brian Treece (and other HPC members) will present the Ott's with the award at approximately 5:15 or 5:30pm. The event is open to the public.

John and Vicki Ott, natives of St. Louis and graduates of the University of Missouri, have resided in the Columbia area for over 25 years. Their passion for downtown revitalization and historic preservation started in Rocheport where they renovated several
structures, notably the historic school building and the Mount Nebo Baptist Church. In the Columbia City Downtown District they have redeveloped and restored the Paramount Building at 9th and Cherry, which houses Bangkok Gardens and Kaldi’s Coffee; and the Dorsey Building,
906-914 Broadway, occupied by Manhattan Closet, Merle Norman Cosmetics, Kayotea Tea Room and Elly’s Couture. They are in the process of restoring four buildings on Walnut near Orr Streets, which is part of the warehouse/art village district. Last but not least, along with
their Tiger partners, Dave Baugher and Al Germond, they have completed Phase I restoration of the historic Tiger Hotel. John and Vicki have been married 22 years and have two teenage children.

CAN YOU TALK STRAIGHT TO A FIFTH GRADER: County Commission Candidate Sid Sullivan, Part 1

Many thanks to Jennifer Wingert's Fifth Grade Class at Grant Elementary for providing these questions to local political candidates. And many thanks to the candidates for answering. This week, we hear from Southern District Commission Candidate Sid Sullivan.

QUESTION: Why is Columbia/Boone County continuing to build apartments/buildings when so many are vacant – like empty shopping centers?

ANSWER: Builders, developers and investors could build new building for many reasons:

1. The older apartments and buildings are deteriorated. They use a lot of energy because of worn out windows and doors. The plumbing and electric may no longer work well for modern appliances. Some places have not been maintained in good condition over the years. Or, people want more room to live or larger closets for their clothes.

2. It could be the neighborhood with the vacant buildings and apartments is either deteriorated or out of date.

3. The State of Missouri provides a subsidy for certain kinds of affordable housing. This is happening with the affordable housing for senior citizens program.

4. The University has built a lot of student housing apartments. They can build more energy efficient apartments than is available in the older rental properties and they can charge less rent because the University does not pay taxes.

5. Some business will move leaving an empty building because they need more space or they want to be closer to their customers.

The county itself does not actually build new buildings unless they are county governmental buildings. The addition to the Boone County Courthouse addition is an example. When the courthouse addition is completed, there may be vacant office space in the center city as most of the court workers will be located in the new building.

Contact Sid Sullivan at sidsullivan@att.net
THE CHANGE GANG: The Bad News on Good News; GetAboutColumbia's Iffy Priorities

"For instance, the teacher and parents delivering informative and passionate accounts of mold spores affecting Benton students followed a starkly contrasting cheerful staff "good news" presentation. Does this imply concerns brought up by parents and teachers are "bad news"? Is the effect, intentional or not, to distract us from taking these issues seriously?" Read Ken Green's Tribune column on school board meetings at: http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2008/may/20080513comm006.asp

TribTalker responds: "I thought the commentary titled ‘School board meetings need new tack’ is absolutely true. As Ken Green indicated, they spent the greater part of the evening patting themselves on the back. People who were there to give some constructive criticism were put on hold and then made to look like asses after being confronted by the teachers and children, just ranting and raving about how great everything was. Our school board really is in total disarray."

"I challenge you to guess the source of the heated discussion. Nope ... not the city council’s “land grab” annexation schemes. Nope ... not the Police Citizen Advisory Board, though I foresee future commentary. It had to do with a single set of parking meters — parking meters for bicycle parking. Really, it’s true."
Read David Rosman's Missourian column at:

VILLAGE VOICEOVER: Code Enforcement Confab Planned

Facing down the central city's biggest problem -- serious, hazardous code violations that contribute to crime and urban decay -- the North Central Neighborhood Association in the Village is planning a public code enforcement meeting for 7 pm Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at the Daniel Boone Regional Library. Confirmed guests include city council members Paul Sturtz and Barbara Hoppe; Columbia Board of Realtors director Carol van Gorp; and Neighborhood Response Team (NRT) director Bill Cantin. Largely responsible for central city code enforcement, the NRT is an official 2008 "Mayoral Priority."

From ABC 17

More and more Mid-Missourians are having trouble paying their mortgages. New numbers released Wednesday show, nationwide, home foreclosures are up 65% from this time last year. Locally, the story doesn't get much better. ABC 17 crunched the numbers in Boone County.

We're seeing a growing number of homes for sale in neighborhoods in Mid-Missouri, some of that is due to people not keeping up with their payments. ABC 17 did the math and found some pretty staggering local numbers. We also found out when homeowners lose their homes, they're not the only ones who suffer.

"Typically, a home is your dream, that's something you dream of, owning a home, having kids," said Mary Wilkerson, of Boone County National Bank.

The American dream is one fewer and fewer Missourians are living. "The thing we tell people, is the minute you have any sense of trouble, contact you lender immediately because there are often ways you can fix it before you even talk about foreclosure," Wilkerson said.

More than 100 Boone County homeowners have lost their homes to foreclosure in the first four months of 2008, that's already almost half of last year's record high 231, but it's not just homeowners suffering. "Banks don't want to foreclose on anybody, we don't want to own your home," Wilkerson said. She said Boone County's numbers are concerning. "Any time you see that in your market, you're going to be concerned about the economy and people's ability to pay and that's maybe an indication of softening we don't like to see."

When banks re-possess a foreclosed home, they also have trouble selling and often spend more in repairs, so they don't make a dime. "It costs us more to take possession of a house than to make it possible for you to keep your house," Wilkerson added.

Despite incentives to buy, our math found home foreclosures in Boone County were up 38% in April compared to 2007. Last month's twenty-six foreclosures are the fourth highest for a single month in at least twenty-years. Wilkerson said foreclosures are a bank's last resort. "Educating yourself about the mortgage loan process, educate yourself how you can calculate how much home you can afford, your lender can really help with that," she said.

ABC 17 crunched some numbers and found that with 103 foreclosures so far this year and an estimated 33,000 single family homes in the county, one in every 315 homeowners are facing foreclosure.


FREECYLE RESCUES: A Botched Demolition

Here's how it went down: crack-addicted homeowner sent to prison for umpteenth time. Home in a shambles. Garage falling down. After numerous complaints, City Hall orders demolition. Garage torn down -- then left. Period. Cinderblocks and other debris mostly land in neighboring yard and sit for weeks. Big pile. Big mess. Lots of hand wringing. Owner still in prison. City Hall uncertain. So who ya gonna call -- or post on?

In Columbia, the answer's simple: Freecyle, by far the city's largest listserv with over 4,400 members. "Whether it's a chair, a fax machine, piano, books or an old door, please post it," group moderators instruct. "One rule: Everything posted must be FREE."

Facilitated by the Center for Sustainable Living, Freecycle has a win-win-win philosophy. "Passing on unneeded items to someone who truly wants them is a great way to reduce your clutter, save money, and help out the environment and the local community."

As for those cinder blocks -- which have tons of uses -- after posting on FreeCycle they were gone in a week and the site -- finally -- cleaned.

READERS RITE: A Soldier Past; Fixing Maupin's Sidewalks; New Air Service

On our story "Wade and Watkins Save Old Southwest Sidewalk," we heard:

Dear Mike, Enjoy your blog. You really do your homework. My husband, now a retired engineer, lived on Thilly and East Parkway growing up many years ago. His father taught mechanical engineering at the university. Maupin Street was an alley then, and he said some Martins lived on Edgewood and wondered if you were related to them. He also mentioned a J.W. (Winston) Martin who lived on Garth and evidently flew 100 missions on photoreconnaisance in a F80R during the Korean War. He was surprised J.W. Martin didn't end up as governor. My husband said he was a really fine fellow.
-- Betsy Phillips, Columbia

[Ed. Note: I'm no relation to any local Martins here. Born and raised in Reno, Nevada. But thanks for asking!]

Mike, While enjoying your news roundup, I noticed a puzzling proposition in the "Wade and Watkins" article. To the best of my knowledge, there are no and never have been any sidewalks on any portion of Maupin Road. It has been paved in recent years after many years as a gravel lane, but it remains a popular walking and biking path for residents. My wife and I've had the pleasure of living along Maupin, and it is a quiet yet bustling pedestrian way, with only an occasional vehicle passing by. Perhaps the notorious crumbling sidewalks along Broadway was intended? Best wishes, always,
-- Brian Pape, AIA, Columbia

[Ed. Note: Indeed, there are some small sections of sidewalk, including two where Maupin meets Glenwood.]

To Jerry Wade and the folks at City Hall: Many thanks for navigating through the "system" to get this sidewalk repair work done. Greatly appreciated by this household. -- Nancy Harter, Columbia

Great job as always on keeping us updated. I saw that they are going to talk tonight at the City Council meeting about what airline they should choose. It's good that they are looking beyond flying to STL of KC, too easy and much cheaper to get to those places through other means. The concern I have with Memphis is that it would probably lose its hub status when Northwest & Delta Airlines merge. Not sure if that'll be a really big deal, but it would make Memphis less desirable and therefore we should pay less for the privilege of flying there. Or so you would think...All the best!
-- Scott Cristal, Columbia

What do I get for this? I said & the angel gave me a catalog filled with toasters & clock radios & a basketball signed by Michael Jordan & I said, But this is just stuff & the angel smiled at me & swallowed me in her arms. I’m so glad you said that, she whispered to me. I knew you still had a chance.
-- Brian Andreas, Story People, Available at Blue Stem Crafts in the District

Mike Martin Blogitor-in-Chief
Member: National Press Club (www.press.org)

The Columbia Heart Beat
Circulation: Roughly 3,470
ARCHIVE: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nccna/messages

No comments:

Post a Comment