City hopes CiCi's will salvage North Main loss

Customers walk into the new CiCi's Pizza on North Main Street in Columbia.

COLUMBIA (WACH) - City of Columbia officials are hoping a new pizzeria will spark development at the Shops at North Main Plaza and help the city recover a portion of the more than $2 million it has lost developing the shopping center where the restaurant is opening.

CiCi's Pizza opened Monday morning on the site of a former deli now out of business. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin attended the grand opening.

City Council loaned the Eau Claire Development Corporation more than $1 million in an effort to revitalize the North Main corridor and encourage other businesses to relocate to the area. That effort has thus far not succeeded -- and city taxpayers were forced to write off a $700,000 loss on the project in February.

Nearly $500,000 of the loss came from the city's general fund to repay a loan to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. The city also wrote off $200,000 loaned from the city's water and sewer fund. The city is now proposing a two percent increase in rates for water and sewer customers.

The write-off is the second major bill sent to Columbia taxpayers; who previously picked up a $1.5 million tab to cover another city-backed developer who defaulted on the loan used to finance construction of the shopping center.

City officials blame the recession for the string of failures and say the new pizza shop is a sign businesses are willing to give North Main a chance, and if CiCi's succeeds others will follow in an area of Columbia that has struggled for years to foster redevelopment.

The city's public relations department sent a press release Friday promoting a string of promotions set for CiCi's first week in business. On Monday the first 100 people to eat at CiCi's will get one free buffet every month for a year.

Should the city of Columbia use tax dollars to invest in economic development projects? Vote in our daily web poll and tell us more.