City Council considers proposals for abandoned Heibel-March Building

Monday, December 3, 2012 | 9:17 p.m. CST; updated 10:34 p.m. CST, Monday, December 3, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Heibel-March Building has the handsome brick facade of a respectable business, but inside there is only graffiti, debris and a giant withered weed.

The historic building at Range Line Street and Wilkes Boulevard might be cleaned up soon, however. At its Monday meeting, members of the Columbia City Council passed a motion for city staff to draft an agreement with Grove Construction LLC to transfer ownership to the company.

The agreement will be subject to the approval of the council.

In passing the motion, the council followed separate evaluations by City Manager Mike Matthes, the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission that each recommended offering the building to Grove. Recovery Through Discovery, a local nonprofit that helps recovering addicts, also submitted a proposal.

After Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe expressed concern about the energy efficiency of the building, Parks and Recreation Department Director Mike Hood said the contract could specify energy requirements. Hoppe also asked whether the contract could contain a clause barring the company from tearing down the building.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp seemed wary of a burdensome contract. "There are so many good things with this project, I don't want to clutter it up with well-intentioned things," he said.

Before the meeting, Hood said that the request for proposal indicated that the building would be sold at minimal cost, and that the organization would control the building and the city would own the land.

"That would give us some control of the situation," Hood said. "We want to ensure that whatever goes into the building is compatible with the adjacent ground." The building is next door to Field Park.

The recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission cited Grove's experience and its "financial depth." It also noted that the company's plan to use the building for commercial purposes could contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood.

Hood also recommended Grove in his report to the City Council, citing not only its experience but also its more realistic cost estimate for the project. Grove's estimate of $160,000 was nearer the $200,000 to $300,000 estimate devised by city staff, while Recovery Through Discovery submitted an estimate of $89,000 to $125,000.

"We thought they had more resources to make the achievement of the project a reality," Hood said.

Grove's proposal to lease part of the building and use the rest as office space is also more sustainable than Recovery Through Discovery's plan to maintain it through continued fundraising, Hood said in his report.

Built in the 1930s, the Heibel-March Building has functioned as a drugstore, a grocery store and, most recently, an auto parts store. The city bought the building shortly after it became vacant about 15 years ago.

In 2000, Central Missouri Community Action bought the building for $10 and agreed to renovate it within five years, but in 2008 the organization said it could not complete the project and transferred ownership back to the city.

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

In May, the Parks and Recreation Commission recommended tearing down the building, but the City Council passed a motion to request proposals for its restoration.

Rhonda Perry, who has operated the nonprofit Patchwork Family Farms on Range Line Street since 1985, remembers when the building housed an auto parts store. She said she is glad the city is approaching a solution that would preserve the building.

"It's been empty so long it's become an eyesore," Perry said. "But we like the building, and the more people in the community, the better."

Perry, however, objected to Hood's argument that a nonprofit dependent on fundraising would be less capable of sustaining the building.

"As a nonprofit, I don't think it's an appropriate generalization to say nonprofits can't support their buildings and their community. Certainly, lots of for-profits have gone out of business in recent years," Perry said. Her organization, which advocates for independent farmers and rural communities, relies on donations and the sale of pork to local stores.

Antenaile Blocker, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years, is also a fan of the building. "I think it's good they're selling it to a business instead of tearing it down, so it won't be abandoned anymore. It'll be a good addition to Range Line."

Blocker said she would prefer the city sell it to a business rather than a nonprofit. "Maybe a nonprofit wouldn't take off as fast as a business," she said.

Ray Radtke, the founder of Recovery Through Discovery, said he was surprised by Matthes' recommendation.

"It's gonna take a lot of money, and I'm sure they awarded it (to Grove Construction) because there's more cash at hand," Radtke said. He said his organization would consider leasing half of the building from the company.

Recovery Through Discovery encourages overcoming drug and alcohol addiction with "alternative methods" such as the 12-step program, instead of pharmaceutical drugs.

Radtke is a recovering addict. According to his organization's website, he spent time in a treatment center that insisted that medication was his "only hope."

"They were wrong," he wrote. "I have never felt more free and motivated. I discovered an alternative way by getting the gift of paying attention back."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Mike Martin December 4, 2012 | 8:49 a.m.

That neighborhood has a few too many halfway houses, addiction recovery centers, homeless shelters, and the like and so I hope Grove goes ahead with plans to make this little historic building -- which has never been abandoned, as the title implies, only grossly neglected -- into some kind of self-sustaining office/commercial space.

Nothing against shelters and recovery centers, but anytime a community concentrates socially-intensive operations into one area, that concentration can stress the area in ways that are not fair to surrounding neighbors.

North Central Columbia needs some serious breathing room in this regard, and if Grove follows through, it will be doing as much of a philanthropic service to the community as any non-profit in that building would have done.

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