Two local organizations express interest in restoring historic Heibel-March building

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 | 8:00 p.m. CDT; updated 7:09 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The historic, city-owned Heibel-March Building has been vacant for about 15 years. Officials are hoping that a local organization will submit proposals to develop the building.

COLUMBIA — The exterior of the historic Heibel-March building is unkempt, but it retains some charm. Its slanted entrance at the corner of Range Line Street and Wilkes Boulevard hints at its past as a drug store and community landmark.

Inside, broken glass, old blankets, bent nails, crumbled concrete and fast food wrappers are strewn about. Clusters of graffiti mar the walls.

In May, the Parks and Recreation Commission recommended tearing down the city-owned building, but the Columbia City Council passed a motion to seek proposals from developers to restore it. The city's Purchasing Office set an Aug. 31 deadline for proposals, which passed without any submissions.

The city choose to extend the deadline to Sept. 21 because two local organizations say they are interested in the building but "messed up" and missed the deadline, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood told the council at its meeting Monday.

Grove Construction General Contracting Co. and another group of individuals are interested in submitting proposals, Hood said in a phone interview.

Despite extending the proposal deadline, council members are not optimistic about the building's future.

"At some point in time, we're going to have to pull the plug on this and say that's it," said Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt agreed, but he also emphasized its historical value.

"Once the past is gone, it's G.O.N.E.," Schmidt said.

The Heibel-March building was constructed in the 1930s as a drugstore and later became a grocery store. Its last tenant, an auto parts store, left the building about 15 years ago.

The city purchased the building in 1998 for $150,000, planning to make it part of the adjacent Field Park, according to a previous Missourian report.

In 2000, the city sold the building to Central Missouri Community Action for $10 under the condition that the organization would restore it within five years. In 2008, after three one-year extensions to the agreement, the organization gave the property back to the city after deciding it couldn't complete the project, Hood said.

The Historic Preservation Commission listed the building as a notable historic property in 2005.

Over the years, some local organizations, such as the Legacy Group and First Chance for Children, have discussed renovating the building, but nothing came of their plans.

Hood believes that the high costs associated with renovating the building are keeping developers away.

A buyer would have to pay to bring the building up to code and to restore and maintain the historical exterior. There would also be costs for upgrading utilities and fees for reconnecting the building to the city's electrical, water and sewer grids, Hood said. A 2008 study estimated that restoring the building would cost $200,000-$250,000, according to a previous Missourian report.

Hood hopes that developers will accept these costs if the city offers a low price for the building, as it did with Central Missouri Community Action.

Cedar Albert, who has lived down the street from the building for 10 years, does not like the building's presence in her neighborhood.

"It's nasty, it's ugly, it's hideous, it's an obscenity," Albert said as she tended her garden. "That place keeps going downhill and there's been promise after promise."

Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.

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Mike Martin September 18, 2012 | 9:49 p.m.

This building BELONGS TO THE CITY. It is part of a city park and has been since the city bought it from the Hinshaws under threat of eminent domain.

So why all the talk about the need for private developers to take it over?

Because that's all it is -- talk, talk that sets up one no-win situation after another, with the eventual goal -- albeit dragged out for years -- the building's demolition.

Columbia College wants it down. Always has. Always will. The naivete citizens continue to apply to this loser project is simply astonishing. "Oh, I'll save it! I can save it!"

No you can't -- because it doesn't belong to you and never will! No one will lend against a building you don't own. And the city calls all the shots. Just wait until you, Mr. Naive Contractor or Non-Profit, go for permits and they start raising a fuss about lack of parking, and roof drainage onto the park, and so on. Been there, done that.

(I foolishly paid $1,700 to repair the back roof on the thing, and lent CMCA $500 for a building permit they let expire).

Same sorry situation goes for the Blind Boone Home. City owns it, but is letting it rot, rumor has it because a certain powerful newspaper publisher who was unable to buy it from the city wants it torn down.

They painted the outside, but only after folks (including my publication) started raising a fuss in roughly 2008. Since then, the inside has been left to decay, just like Heibel-March.

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