COLUMBIA — Now anyone with a quarter of a million dollars and determination can step in to save a piece of Columbia's history.
Next week, the city will issue a request for proposals for the renovation of the Heibel-March building, an old drugstore and grocery tucked between Eugene Field Elementary and Columbia College.
Those interested in the building, which has been listed among the city's most notable properties since 2005, must prepare themselves for a major project. The city's estimates for a full renovation begin at $250,000. There's no doubt the building needs extensive work. Its walls are crumbling and water-damaged, spiderwebs of cracks run across its windows and plywood covers the building's front door, which was shot in last September.
If someone is willing to undertake the project, there is an opportunity to rejuvenate a link to Columbia's past.
The 2,600-square-foot building, also known as “The Corner," has housed several businesses at Range Line Street and Wilkes Boulevard and is best-remembered as a neighborhood grocery store and gathering place. There is affection for the building among those dedicated to ensuring it has a bright future. With its one-story brick facade, the vacant storefront echoes a time when small, locally-owned businesses outnumbered chain stores and multinational corporations.
Any concrete plans for the space evaporated this past September, when financial difficulties ended Central Missouri Community Action's eight year effort to renovate the building for use as a community center. The neighborhood coalition is now returning ownership of the store to the city, which will issue a request for proposals from those who might have new ideas for the 94-year-old building.
On Nov. 3, the Columbia City Council approved a suggestion to solicit proposals for the property from the general public.
As in the contract with Central Missouri Community Action, the city is offering the building for sale but will negotiate a lease for the land on which it sits. The city will also have to review any restoration plans, specifically for any alterations to the building's exterior.
Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Brian Treece said it was important to preserve the spirit of the building.
"We'd like to see the exterior of the building preserved as close to the original as possible," he said. "An interior adaptive reuse that encourages modern function would be acceptable, but it's important to keep the historic exterior."
Treece said while the commission can only advise the city on how to handle historic buildings, the group would be happy to work with any interested applicants.
City purchasing agent Marilyn Starke said responses to the request for proposals are due in mid-December and a review committee will examine them. The process usually takes about two weeks.
Any proposal should include a description of the project and a proposed floor plan. If the city finds any of the submissions acceptable, the committee could award a contract sometime in January.