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Longtime Business Loop resident shares vision for area’s future

Franky Karmen remembers the days she tried selling her drawings at the Parkade Center. The large Columbia shopping center had several stores and shoppers, and Karmen, who lived across the Business Loop on Jefferson Street at the time, was trying to channel an entrepreneurial spirit she said she always felt.

That spirit often came in the form of drawing, Karmen said, and evolved into a desire to make and design clothing.

“No matter what I did, I always ended up still drawing clothes,” Karmen said.

Now with two children, Karmen lives just a few blocks away from where she grew up. She can still see Business Loop 70 from her front porch on Garth Avenue, but she’s in a different position to effect change there than when she tried selling drawings at the Parkade Center.

Karmen, co-creator of her fledgling clothing line Elizabeth Rae, is the newest member of the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District’s Board of Directors. She told ABC 17 News she first heard about the district on the news, when the CID was soliciting input on what they wanted to see done, as the CID began collecting money from property and sales taxes levied by the special district. Karmen said she shared some of her ideas with the district’s executive director, Carrie Gartner, which then led to her applying for a vacancy on the CID’s Board of Directors left by property owner Dan Rader.

While Karmen hopes to own a storefront one day for her clothing line, she becomes the first member of the Board of Directors who does not own a business or property within the district’s boundaries.

“This would be my way of having my voice and being heard,” she said.

A graduate of Hickman High School, and a lifelong resident of the neighborhoods near the Business Loop, Karmen said she’s familiar with the area, and people’s perceptions of it. She sees the CID as a chance for people to invest into an area that hasn’t seen much change in her 27 years in Columbia. A stronger retail market would help diversify the businesses and attractions, which she said primarily consist of restaurants.

“We’re tired of going to Kansas City and St. Louis to go shopping,” Karmen said. “We need stuff here so that we don’t have to travel. That kind of makes more sense, that if we have more things that we like here, then we won’t go out of town to get it, and we’ll still have money back in Columbia.”

As the CID begins to collect money from the half-cent sales tax, Gartner said the board plans to hire a consultant to organize projects, and what those might looks like. Gartner said the group is still coming up with a scope of work for that firm, but suggested beautification and pedestrian safety would play big parts, based on the responses the CID got back in its community survey.

The half-cent sales tax brings the Business Loop’s tax rate to 8.475 percent, according to the state’s Department of Revenue. That puts it on par with downtown Columbia’s special tax rate, also a CID, and the Columbia Mall transportation development district.

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