COLUMBIA — Through their work restoring and renovating some of Columbia’s oldest buildings, John and Vicki Ott have helped shape Columbia’s downtown district. On Thursday, the Otts were named the first-ever Outstanding Local Historic Preservationists by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission.
The Otts bought and restored properties including the Dorsey Building on Broadway and the Paramount Building at the corner of Ninth and Cherry streets. They also completed one phase of renovation at The Tiger Hotel building, which they own with several partners.
The Otts have been involved in historic preservation for about 20 years, John Ott said. They started their preservation work in Rocheport, where they turned a schoolhouse into a bed and breakfast. They also restored the town’s Mount Nebo Baptist Church and some homes in the town.
“From a really early age, we had an appreciation for historic buildings,” Vicki Ott said.
She said they restored the schoolhouse because they wanted to live in a restored historical building of some kind. John Ott said he thinks the schoolhouse project and the improvement of other historic buildings were important to Rocheport.
“It’s an investment in the community,” he said. “It’s not just a personal investment.”
He said the Columbia community has been supportive of their restoration work. He said interest in historic restoration is growing and members of the community have expressed appreciation for their work.
And the work also brings personal satisfaction, John Ott said.
“It involves construction, it involves history and ultimately, it involves business,” he said. “There’s a lot of facets to it, but when you combine those different things, it’s something we really get a lot of enjoyment from.”
Vicki Ott said she and her husband take on different roles in their projects. John Ott does a lot of the day-to-day meeting with contractors, overseeing construction and working with tenants. She plays the role of the projects’ accountant by keeping track of invoices and expenses and filing for tax credits after every project.
“It’s a very time consuming and detailed part of it that John doesn’t have to deal with,” she said. “We make a good team.”
John Ott said the projects cost a minimum of several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the project.
The Historic Preservation Commission presented the award at one of the Otts’ most recent projects at 907 Alley A, which faces an alley between Ninth and Tenth streets just south of Broadway. John Ott said he hopes to find a tenant to open a restaurant at the location, which is the back of the Dorsey building. He said he thinks the location has the potential for a successful business or shop.
“A lot of it will depend on the atmosphere and the environment of the stores,” John Ott said. “If they’re a destination, people will come, and that it’s in an alley might actually help.”
Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Brian Treece said the Otts’ work is especially important because it is so public. Many of their restored properties have become home to businesses and streetside shops.
Treece said the award, which has been in the works for about two years, would not be awarded annually but whenever the commission recognizes preservationists who have done outstanding work. He said this was in part because there are only a handful of people in Columbia who would be eligible for such recognition.
“As notable preservationists are identified in town and meet the standards set by John Ott, we hope there will be many others,” he said.
But for this first award, he said, John and Vicki Ott were a natural choice.
“It was a very quick decision in terms of someone who’s committed to historic preservation,” he said. “Columbia’s very lucky to have them.”
At the ceremony, City Council members Jerry Wade and Barbara Hoppe both spoke in appreciation of the Otts’ work in downtown Columbia.
Hoppe said that when she moved to Columbia in 1979, the city’s downtown was “shabby and fading.”
“Columbia could have gone either way,” she said. “I think the Otts have, along with other people, helped turn us around.”