Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
Newcomers to Columbia may be unaware that Stadium Boulevard was once called Conley Road, a gravel country road managed by the Missouri Highway Department.
Through the foresight and efforts of pioneers such as former Highway Commissioner A.D. Sappington, former Mayor Howard Lang, and former City Manager Lee Hill, Conley Road became Stadium Boulevard, a state highway now extending from north of Interstate 70 on the west side, down to Providence Road and across to U.S. Highway 63 in the east.
Now, plans call for extending Stadium eastward to I-70, providing a major thoroughfare for our city and an alternate route to I-70 across Columbia during times of emergency.
Over the years, proposed development along Stadium Boulevard’s western section have sparked lengthy land-use disputes. One plan caused a voting flip in the city council and ended up in court, where I was called to the witness stand, while another incited a great debate between lawyers in the council chambers. And, after years of debate, the Columbia Mall was located along Stadium Boulevard rather than at Cosmo Park or downtown.
Stadium Boulevard’s development came after the city decided, on Dec. 15, 1955, to annex the area between I-70 and Broadway.
When I began to work for the city five years later, I recall that the development on the west side of Stadium included an open dump, an aged motel, a state highway department maintenance shed, the Marshall and Helen Gordon Farm where Columbia Mall sits now, a large open space that later became Biscayne Mall, and the Brady Brothers’ 15-acre tract at the northwest corner of Broadway and Stadium, which was another open field with a pond.
On the east side was State Farm’s Regional Office, constructed in 1955, which is now Columbia Plaza; Our Lady of Lourdes Church; a large open tract that later held K-Mart and which is now Stadium Plaza; a service station; and more wide open spaces.
Conley Road between I-70 and Broadway was graded, paved and given culverts in 1959 under a $100,000 contract and later improved under a beautification contract in 1967 and a $1.1 million contract in 1979 for widening and signal work.
Designated “limited access,” Conley Road had two field entrances, about 28 feet wide, provided for a farm owned by Marshall and Helen Gordon and the Biscayne Mall tract even though they connected wider paved Ash and Worley streets that the city and developer had constructed to the new mall.
In accord with state policies, these entrances were later widened and better signals added when the city implemented its five-year plan to provide a system of streets to the west, connecting Ash and Worley with Fairview Road.
As part of the redevelopment of the Biscayne Mall by The Kroenke Group, a right-in-right-out entrance was recently approved. Today, more improvements are being planned and financed by MODOT, the city and a Transportation Development District supported by special sales taxes.
The development of the Stadium corridor between I-70 and Broadway brought some firsts for our city, including the first major apartment complexes.
In 1963 and 1964, Holiday House Apartments was built on the west side of Stadium north of Broadway. Holiday House was developed on four acres of land purchased from the Brady Brothers, part of a 15-acre tract they bought in 1956, which had been rezoned from R-1 (single family) to R-3 (multi-family) in 1963.
Shortly after Holiday House, Tiger Village was built on the east side of Stadium. These apartments were unusual because the zoning ordinance was changed so that each structure was no longer required to be on an individual lot fronting a public street, which meant private driveways could serve the apartment complex. Pat Barnes, who later served on the city council for seven years, helped develop the apartments and later the Holiday Inn Executive Center.
In 1965, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the city rezone the remaining 9.2 acres of the Brady property at the northwest corner of Broadway and Stadium as a Planned Business District. The commission’s 4-to-3 vote of approval was opposed primarily by the neighborhoods south of Broadway, led by Frank Fristoe, the developer of the Leawood subdivision, and was denied by the city council on a 4-to-1 vote.
In 1966, the same acreage again came before the commission to rezone from R-3 to C-1 Intermediate Business District. Oddly enough, positions were reversed, and after a 4-to-3 vote of the commission for denial, the council voted 4-to-1 for approval in January 1967, with Mayor Longwell voting against it.
The reason for the voting shift, cited by some council members, was a report issued between the two votes by planning consultant Hare and Hare that determined the site was logical for commercial development, preferably planned commercial. However, the owners requested C-1 zoning instead of C-P. Another request for C-P zoning might have added months to a process that had already taken several months. Challenged in circuit court and the court of appeals, the C-1 zoning was upheld, and the Crossroads Shopping Center now sits on this property.
At that time, I was Public Works director, acting planning director and, by city charter, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. I supported and voted for the planned district, but against C-1 zoning, which was in line with Hare and Hare’s recommendation.
I spent a number of hours in circuit court on the witness stand being questioned by attorneys Carl Sapp, for the applicant, and Terrace Porter, for the plaintiff. In addition, Judge L.F. Cotty from Lancaster, Mo., questioned me about the benefits of planned commercial versus open commercial zoning. C-P provides for more assurance that developments occur as presented and approved by the council, can alleviate some concerns of neighbors and provides for off-site improvements to be paid for by the developer.
Fred Grove proposed to develop a large open tract of land on the west side of Stadium between what is now Ash and Worley streets. He planned to put houses on it; I remember him submitting to the city for review a large plat with more than 100 small lots, along with a new sewer line whose sewage would be treated by a lagoon to the west.
A great debate ensued between lawyers Dave Bear Sr. and Carl Sapp in the council chambers over the sewers, with downstream landowners lining up against the developers. I recall reviewing the plat with Grove and pointing out that he would be driving nails for five years just to pay for a sewer system to serve his subdivision. The city’s master plan called for a larger trunk sewer and larger lagoon to be built farther westward that would serve the overall drainage area. Soon Grove dropped the plat, making way for another “first” in 1972, when Biscayne Mall was constructed on the site, the first large shopping area termed a “mall” in Columbia.
North of Worley and west of Stadium lay the Gordon farm. The Gordons had a brick home, a newer duplex and a herd of cattle that grazed along the road. A large ravine ran across their property, carrying storm water from east of Stadium along with effluent from a sewage lagoon that served State Farm’s Regional Office, the Holiday Inn West and Our Lady of Lourdes Church. I recall getting easements to construct a trunk sewer that would eliminate the lagoon and serve the entire drainage area along Stadium. One such easement was along the Gordon’s ravine.
When meeting with the Gordons over their dining room table, Helen questioned whether the sewer line would prevent the construction of houses. She thought a developer might want to build homes on the property, and a sewer line might reduce the number of available lots. I jokingly explained that if she lived long enough she might see a regional mall built on their farm, and their houses would be bulldozed to fill the ravine. She looked at Marshall and asked if they really could just doze their houses away. I said that when the time came they would not have to sell but that they probably would choose to do so. They signed the easement.
Years later, after Helen had passed away, Marshall called regarding a proposal from General Growth Company to build the Columbia Regional Mall. General Growth wound up purchasing most of his land. He and I laughed about the fact that my earlier prediction had come true and wondered how I had known.
I told him that I had heard about the factors that companies considered in choosing a site and that his land and Cosmo Park best fit those conditions. However, I had suspected that the Cosmo site would not be available.
Before the mall would be built, however, there were several years of debate and various proposals for a regional mall location, including one to place it in downtown Columbia and another for Cosmo Park.
The Columbia Mall tract was zoned planned commercial, a relatively new zoning classification in our city that allowed for more flexibility and control. The developer constructed the first storm water detention system and made off-site infrastructure improvements including the purchase and removal of the highway maintenance building, where Bernadette Drive is now. The developer also paid for intersection costs on Stadium, on Worley west of Stadium, and one half the costs of the signals at Worley and Bernadette.
In return, the city assured the completion of the entire street system of Ash, Worley, Fairview and Bernadette in accordance with its street standards and financial policies, which also required General Growth to pay a major portion of these street costs.
The mall might have been built closer to I-70, but the southwest quadrant of the I-70 and Stadium interchange was already occupied by the Hilton Inn, the first major hotel and convention center in recent times, built in 1972. It later became the Holiday Inn Executive Center in 1985, followed by the construction of the Exposition Center, managed by Ed and Kathy Baker.
The area surrounding the former gravel Conley Road between Broadway and I-70 has changed much over the years, but this part of Stadium remains one of the most important commercial corridors in our city.