City eyes land for museum
Eminent domain could play role in new Historical Society home.
When Julie Rader thinks of eminent domain, the example that comes to mind is the state or federal government taking a farmer’s land for a highway.
Unfortunately for Rader, the city of Columbia is considering acquiring downtown property that includes her family’s business, Bengals Bar & Grill, managed by two of her children and owned by Rader and her husband, Jack Rader.
The proposed government use of the land would be done to clear space for a new building to house the State Historical Society of Missouri.
“This is so crazy, I can hardly believe it,” she said. “This is two of my children’s livelihood.”
An ordinance declaring “the need to acquire land for the construction and operation of a historical museum” and “authorizing acquisition by negotiation or, if necessary, by condemnation” is on the Columbia City Council agenda for a Monday night meeting, and a public hearing is proposed for Jan. 5.
The proposed ordinance states the property needed includes the bar and grill, U.S. Cleaners – also owned by the Raders – and a private residence. According to a staff memo, the historical society has asked for city assistance if the society is unable to negotiate the purchase.
Rader said Friday she had not been in contact with the city but about a month ago received a phone call from a representative of the historical society. The caller asked whether the family is interested in selling, but that person did not suggest any dollar amounts.
Rader and her husband recently gutted the entire facility housing Bengals. They remodeled it, expanded the patio and did exterior work. They have no intention of selling the property at 227 S. Sixth St., which is near the heart of the University of Missouri campus.
There have been rumors that the historical society and city were considering using the government’s power to take over private land for public good, Rader said, but she didn’t think it was likely. “I thought this whole thing would go away,” she said. “There are so many other things that need to be done, and I don’t see how the city would come up with the money.”
Rader said she was perplexed by several aspects of the situation, including how their land was chosen for the project instead of other nearby vacant properties. She also wondered why the option of moving the society to Jefferson City, where the Missouri State Archives are located, isn’t moving forward.
Historical Society Director Gary Kremer said the society wants to keep the facility in Columbia, and he said city officials also have expressed that desire. The society’s existing quarters in the Ellis Library at MU are too small and hard to access, he said.
“We want to be close enough to the campus to be able to teach classes – for example, Missouri history and culture – in the facility where historical documents are located,” Kremer said. “We want to be close enough to campus to allow professors and students to move back and forth from the core campus.”
Another attractive aspect of the site is that MU representatives have orally indicated they would be agreeable to leasing a parking lot on the north half of the block to the society for a low cost, Kremer said.
Columbia’s “City-Campus Opportunity Study,” also known as the Sasaki plan, identifies a “reimagined” Elm Street extending to College Avenue that would be lined with green space, museums and other projects.
Kremer said other sites were considered, declining to elaborate. He called the site off Elm Street the society’s “No. 1 location.”
But Rader said the Sasaki plan “doesn’t say, ‘Let’s take private property to make a museum,’ ” adding that her property is in a prime location.
“We can’t replace the property,” she said. “The location is valuable, and it’s impossible to provide an alternate location. It can’t be done.”
Rader said she is having the property reappraised to get a better picture of its value.
“Beyond that, we’ll still take steps to fight it by getting public support and get people talking to the council against it,” she said. “The main line of defense is to try to get public support on your side.”
While I am a history buff and firmly believe in perserving history, I can’t see any justification for destroying a local small business, especially in our current economic climate. There are other places where the Missouri State Historical Society can be located–it’s not as if there is no land available anywhere.