Council to mull acquiring property for historical museum

Sunday, December 14, 2008 | 5:45 p.m. CST; updated 5:51 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 14, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia City Council members are scheduled to give a proposal to acquire property for a new historical museum its first official look Monday night.

Contained in Council Bill 377-08 is an ordinance “declaring the need to acquire land for construction and operation of an historical museum and research facility."

The museum, as proposed between Fifth and Sixth streets just north of Elm Street, could eventually provide a new home for the State Historical Society of Missouri, which currently resides on the ground floor of MU’s Ellis Library. With hundreds of pieces of art — including works by John James Audubon and Thomas Hart Benton — more than 200 years' worth of newspaper microfilms and the repository for the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine called the society “one of the gems we have in this city.”

It is a resource that is greatly overcrowded, though, officials with the State Historical Society say.

“We have enough space that we can continue to acquire art for a few more years,” Joan Stack, the historical society’s art curator, said in a previous Missourian article, “but it’s time to move on to a facility where we could have room to continue to grow.”

St. Romaine, in detailing efforts to find a location for the society during an Oct. 27 council work session, said there have been “more than rumblings” of an available site in Jefferson City where the Missouri State Penitentiary used to stand.

For him, losing the historical society to Jefferson City would be a "tremendous loss for the city of Columbia, to the university, to the faculty, to the researchers that come to this community to do research.

"And so to that end,” St. Romaine said, “It’s really critical that we get a plan together to at least acquire the property and to get the state to really buy into this particular project."

But for Jack Rader, the commercial real estate developer who owns two of the properties that would need to be acquired, the project is not as attractive.

“I do not bemoan (the State Historical Society) for wanting a new and larger place,” said Rader, who owns the buildings that house Bengals Bar & Grill (formerly Shiloh Bar & Grill) at 227 S. Sixth St. and US Cleaners at 501 Elm St.

Rader added, “There’s plenty of sites around that would be available without having to take an existing business.

“I have no interest in selling my property,” he said.

Owners of a third rental residence just west of Bengals that would need to be acquired to build the historical site were not contacted.

According to St. Romaine, plans to relocate the historical society have been a long time coming. He said the project was one of seven catalytic recommendations to come out of a 2006 study by the Boston-based urban planning firm Sasaki Associates Inc., which was hired to outline suggestions for Columbia's future development.

When, in 2007, the Missouri legislature allocated $600,000 for planning and development of a new building for the society, St. Romaine said an architect was hired to determine where a 177,000-square-foot building not to exceed five stories might best be placed.

That architect and the Sasaki study both recommended the block bounded by Fifth, Sixth, Elm and Locust streets as the “best proposed location for that particular project,” St. Romaine said in the Oct. 27 work session.

The land acquisition would likely be more expensive than the allocated $600,000. St. Romaine told council members that the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau agreed, in principal, to allocate $250,000 out of city reserve funds to the project and that a funding request would also be made to the state of Missouri to the tune of $500,000 for land acquisition costs.

St. Romaine added that, with an estimated $2 million price tag for the three properties, "That’s still going to require a huge amount of fundraising by the State Historical Society for the balance of that land.”

Rader contends that he has not been kept abreast of the dealings, though. Other than brief contact with a couple of city staff members and members of the historical society’s board of directors, “there’s been no communication with the city whatsoever,” he said.

He argued that until the state makes a determination whether to allocate additional funding for the project, the city has no business initiating the land acquisition process.

In October, City Manager Bill Watkins did acknowledge that “even best case, you wouldn’t be able to turn the first spade of dirt for five years” on a new museum.
But, like St. Romaine, he emphasized that with the possibility of additional state funding and the threat of an available site in Jefferson City looming, “it would be important, I think, before anyone would add real dollars into this project, that you did have ultimate site control.”

Mayor Darwin Hindman said that, naturally, all affected property owners would be reimbursed at a “fair market value.”

If a resolution passes at Monday night's council meeting, a public hearing would be held Jan. 5, according to a memorandum from the city manager’s office.

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Charles Dudley Jr December 14, 2008 | 6:06 p.m.

Why don't they just go after that eye sore of a building that used to hold the Osco Store?

That vacant building is nothing but a eye sore on the community.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 14, 2008 | 7:14 p.m.

There's a lot of empty "Krankie" properties which are eyesores to this town. Osco, Megamarket, Nowles on Nifong and more. Would they donate one of them to the city and take it as a tax write-off or are they just going to keep building while these properties remain vacant?
If the YouZeum is having difficulty remaining open, maybe they can merge these two museums.
How much new land and new construction do we need when we're not even maxamizing what we currently have?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 14, 2008 | 8:36 p.m.

Ray, you need to take a visit around town - the Rock Bridge Wal-Mart came down just before or after Thanksgiving in preparation for the new Hyvee. The old MegaMarket will soon suffer the same fate.

I would be curious if anyone knows if the State Historical Society is a government entity or just one that looks the part. On its About page, it says "Founded in 1898 by the Missouri Press Association and a trustee of the state since 1899." One can also purchase a membership to the Society.

If the University is so eager to get it out of the basement of Ellis Library, maybe they should give the society the block with the Heinkel Building and its massive parking lot and move those employees to a different location.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 14, 2008 | 8:38 p.m.

Whoops! I misread Ray's post and thought he was talking about the old Wally World and not the Nowell's. That building doesn't actually look "bad" unlike the Osco or old Wal-Mart, but would be nice to get a tenant in there sometime soon.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 14, 2008 | 9:51 p.m.

Charles, they should go after the old Osco building but they won't because they know that Kroenke won't bend over and take it. So they're going after landowners whom they have a better chance at buffaloing.

(Report Comment)
Mike Zweifel December 15, 2008 | 12:16 a.m.

Instead of taking people's land and livelihood, the SHS could go at the corner of Maryland and Rollins (across from Cornell Hall). It is the site of the old MU Natatorium. This space is currently a metered parking lot.

This would leave the SHS on the Mizzou campus, and be much more visible to the general public.

Is adding onto Ellis Library out of the question? Once the new Student Center is completed in 2 to 3 years, there will be room for construction in that open grassy area to the south of Ellis. Just expand Ellis southward. Plus this will give the SHS time to raise funds.

There are several retail sites in Columbia not being used currently that would work for the SHS. I hope they are explored as options prior to people's land taken away from them.

Why not get rid of Shakespeare's Pizza at 9th and Elm? After all, that block has just Shake's, the MO Press Association parking lot, and a recently opened restaurant. Plus it would make more sense to have the SHS next to the Missouri Theatre, IMO. Just throwing it out there in jest - don't write me angry e-mails about getting rid of Shake's! I don't want to see Shake's, Bengal's, or anyone else's land taken from them for the purpose of a museum. To me, a museum does not qualify for eminent domain.

John, the SHS is listed under the Academic Affairs Division of the UM System on their web page (, so I would say that this is a governmental body.

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III December 15, 2008 | 11:12 a.m.

Once again, the City Council is flexing their muscle, and attemping to bully a hard working, TAX PAYING private citizen and force him to relocate, or go out of business. In reporting this story on Fridays news from KMIZ TV, it was stated that if the deal went through, Mr. Rader would only be compensated for the value of the bare land, and nothing for the expense of remodeling the bar and grill, which I would imagine is very considerable.

The City is crying the blues because tax revenues are down, yet in their wisdom, they would elect to elimate a source of tax revenue, and replace it with a tax-exempt one. If they are not carefull, they are going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. The YouZeum is not living up to expectations, what makes the city think that having the SHS located close by would be a big traffic draw to downtown Columbia?

If Mr. Rader did want to sell, and could be compensated for the land plus the value of the established business, then I see no problem with the deal. He doesn't want to sell, so the SHS, and the City should look elsewhere . After all, in real estate, it's location, location, location, and Mr. Rader has a premium location for his businesses.

The SHS is a State resource, so making it more accesible to people from all over the state of MO. would make sense. Why not find a property closer to the interstate, or put it in Jefferson City next to the State Archives? After all, it will be State tax dollars paying for it. I suspect that part of the reasoning for the SHS wanting to take Mr. Rader's property is that the employees don't want to relocate to Jefferson City, or make the drive everyday. I would be intersested to know how many visitors per day they have verses the number of employees that make the daily trip to work. I suspect that parking is not an issue except for the employees of the SHS. The SHS said that they wanted to keep the new building close to campus for teaching and research for students and faculty. If they developed the Osco property, then everyone could use the opportunity to ride their bycycles in the many bike paths painted on the streets, or just walk to get even more excercise. I'm sure that Mayor Hindman would support that idea.

When you look at the types of businesses downtown, there are restaurants, legal offices, tattoo parlors, coffee shops, and only a handfull of stores that draw people downtown to shop. If a business was looking to locate in the City of Columbia, and reading our local newspapers online, they would come to the conclusion that Columbia is not very business-friendly. Just ask the owners of Quintons about the "cooperation" or encouragment the City has given them to run a profitable busness, and pay taxes to keep the City operating. In many aspects of life, and in government, "Less is More". Good luck to Mr. Rader and his family!

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 15, 2008 | 11:59 a.m.

Very well presented post John M. Nowell, III.

(Report Comment)

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