This date in Columbia history: Market Square, Flat Branch and 70 years of redevelopment activity
On January 26, 1980, the Columbia, Missouri published a two-page special report on a proposal to convert the area along Flat Branch Creek south of Broadway into a hotel, convention center, retail, residential and business center. The so-called Flat Branch Project has been the focus of intense debates among business leaders, business people and Colombians in general.
The project was sparked when rumors surfaced of a separate project to build a large regional mall. The Flat Branch Project was rejected by voters in April 1980. The rumors were true and in 1985 the Columbia Mall opened near the stadium and I-70. Columbia Mall was the city’s third mall after Parkade Plaza opened in 1965 and Biscayne Mall opened in 1972.
The infamous concrete roofs that are now gone from Broadway were built in 1968 primarily to make downtown more mall-like and to compete with Parkade. They lasted over 40 years and are now widely regarded as an architectural flaw.
The 1985 Columbia Mall was much larger than previous ones and the first truly regional mall in Colombia. It remains the largest mall in central Missouri as of 2023. Its construction continued decades of competition for retail business between downtown and the city’s outskirts — one that has moderated somewhat in the 2020s as Columbia’s population increased and both areas have managed to carve out a niche in the retail ecosystem.
The 1980 Flat Branch project was the largest of several proposals to redevelop the area, spanning from the 1960s to 2023. Flat Branch Creek was the defining geographic feature of early Colombia and the first source of water. In 1821, the town of Smithton was moved from the west side of the creek to the east side and renamed Columbia when natural springs were discovered feeding the creek where downtown now stands.
Columbia’s original plan called for a marketplace on Flat Branch Creek, occupying an entire city block between Cherry, Locust, Third, and Water streets. Third Street was eventually widened and renamed Providence Road. Water Street was renamed Fourth Street. Originally planned as a north-south main street, Water Street was wider and named for its location on the east bank of Flat Branch Creek.
As shown in A History of Columbia and Boone County by John C. Crighton, Original courtesy of the Boone County Abstract Company, from the private collection of Matthew Fetterly
The marketplace and banks on both sides of Flat Branch Creek were filled with homes and businesses throughout most of Columbia’s history. After the construction of the MKT Railroad, which ended in the neighborhood, industry developed, including warehouses, timber and oil storage.
In the 1950s many of the buildings were old, cheaply built and referred to as “slum housing”. Many still used outbuildings, and much of the neighborhood was owned by wealthy landlords who rented cheap housing to students and marginalized groups. Much of the area belonged to what is known as Cemetery Hill, a black neighborhood primarily on the hill between the creek and Columbia Cemetery (Eat Well and Raising Cane’s in 2023). Flat Branch Creek has been polluted by industry and used as an open sewer.
In 1962, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority proposed clearing and redevelopment of the area, which included several businesses and over 1,000 private homes. The plan met immediate and intense opposition. Many landowners felt that they were not being offered enough money in return for their property; others opposed it on ideological grounds, saying the government had nothing to do with what should be the business of private companies.
Speaking at a city council meeting, Ralph Alexander, an attorney, said: “I own some substandard properties, I’ll admit it…I’m willing to tear down any substandard housing I own if people have a place to go.” be able. I tore off some of them. I just want to develop my own property my own way and I don’t want these men telling me how to do it.”
AJ McRoberts was an opposition leader. They ran a half-page ad in 1962 Columbia, Missouri with the caption ‘Your right to property is at risk. The bulldozers are coming!” The 1963 proposal was presented to the electorate and defeated by a vote of 4,579 to 3,183.
Redevelopment plans were put on hold until 1979, when the area drew renewed attention and a plan was drawn up. The 1980 plan focused on Fourth and Locust Streets, the old marketplace, and covered a vast area from Providence Road to Sixth Street and from Broadway to Elm. The redevelopment plan included a nearly 300-bed hotel, a convention center, apartments, retirement homes, and a shopping mall designed to compete with malls being built on the outskirts.
AJ McRoberts again led opposition to the development, which he framed as a struggle between private property rights and big governments. Mark Landrum of what later became Landmark Bank, who was an outspoken supporter of downtown, represented supporters of the effort. Proponents of the redevelopment argued that McRoberts was spreading misinformation among concerned citizens and that the development was a public-private partnership. Once again the proposed redevelopment was sent to voters and again failed.
It was not until the early 2000s that efforts to restore and clean up Flat Branch Creek and convert the area immediately along its banks into a park were successful. Business and redevelopment eventually came to the area through separate public and private efforts. The area of the 1963 and 1980 redevelopment attempts today includes the Flat Branch Brewery, Flat Branch Center, Broadway Diner, Shiloh’s Bar and Grill, the Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia Islamic Center.
Some of these buildings have stood for many decades, such as the former Katy Station, which houses Shiloh’s. Others such as the Flat Branch Center (originally Market Square Center) and the Walton Building were built beginning in the 1980s. The struggle to balance private property rights and public space will continue until 2023. The expansion of Flat Branch Park and CVS’ failed attempts to build a new dispensary on the Ice House site (see previous blog post) are just the latest chapter in a 60+ year history.
Encouraged by the preservation of buildings around Flat Branch Park, our group, CoMo Preservation, hopes to help homeowners, landlords and institutions prevent the destruction of historic architecture. Original period styles can be replicated, but will forever lack the social history of authentic structures. Preserving historic buildings is necessary for Colombian residents, students and visitors to develop a sense of place and, consequently, to the continued economic prosperity of our city.
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This CoMo 365 blog post was created by Matt Fetterly using these sources:
Stephens, EW (1875) “History of Boone County.” An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Boone County, Missouri. Philadelphia: Edwards Brothers
Switzler, William F. (1882). History of Boone County. St Louis, Missouri: Western Historical Company. OCLC 2881554.
Elwang, William (1904). The Negroes of Columbia, Missouri: A Concrete Study of the Racial Problem. Columbia, Missouri: Department of Sociology, University of Missouri.
Balthrop, Shawn (January 26, 1980). Flat Branch: A Special Report. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia Missourian. Archived at Missouri Digital Heritage. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
Havig, Alan R. (1984). From Southern Village to Midwestern City: An Illustrated History of Colombia. Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publications. ISBN 9780897811385.
Crighton, John C. (1987). A history of Columbia and Boone County. Columbia, Missouri: Color computer graphics. OCLC 16960014.
Cady, Chris (2006). Find a flat branch. from www.como.gov. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
CoMo Magazine Staff (2007). Flat Branch: Creek of Dreams. Columbia, Missouri: CoMo Magazine. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
Denny Valerie (July 3, 2008). Downtown canopies can be removed. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia, Missouri. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
Aton, Adam (18 August 2013). Downtown Columbia Leadership Council Unfazed by Latest CVS Proposal. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia, Missouri. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
Germond, Al (26 May 2015). Historical… or nostalgic? Columbia, Missouri: COMO Magazine. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
Tibbitts, Tracee (28 May 2015). Ice House, about to be demolished, houses more than 100 years of history. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia, Missouri. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
Jackson, Dylan (September 30, 2016). Columbia City Council wants to purchase historic property and expand Flat Branch Park. Columbia, Missouri: Columbia, Missouri. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
Castle Paul; Bönitz, Joel (June 24, 2021). Excavating History: The Flat Branch Park project will uncover a long-covered section of the river. Columbia, Missouri: Colombia Missourian. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
Decker, Sean (July 2, 2021). The ribbon cutting celebrates the first phase of Gateway Plaza. Columbia, Missouri: KOMU 8 over the Columbia, Missouri. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
Columbia City website (2023). Flat branch park. www.como.gov. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
COMO 365 was written by Matt Fetterly for comopreservation.org. COMO Preservation’s mission is to preserve the historic architecture of Columbia, Missouri. You can contact Matt at [email protected]