COLUMBIA — The oldest building in Columbia is in danger of being demolished.
A request for a permit to raze the Niedermeyer apartment house at 920 Cherry St. has been filed with the city, development services manager Patrick Zenner said.
Built in 1837, the building has functioned as an all-girls private school, a prominent hotel, a university classroom and — since 1921 — a residential complex of mostly studio apartments, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri.
The property is under contract to be sold in March, according to a letter tenants received in November from Callahan & Galloway Inc., who manage the apartment.
Zenner said Collegiate Housing Partners, a St. Louis-based development firm, is in line to buy the property and has expressed a desire to build a student apartment complex on the site, which is at the corner of Tenth and Cherry streets.
Although no official construction application has been submitted to the city, Zenner said the developers asked the city technical questions about the feasibility of constructing an apartment building from six to 15 stories tall on the site. The Tiger Hotel, by comparison, is nine stories.
Brent Gardner of Columbia's Historic Preservation Commission met with the firm last week. He said the developers discussed constructing one floor of retail and two to three floors of parking in addition to the apartments.
Brian Treece, chairman of the commission, said he thinks C-2 zoning — the type that covers the Niedermeyer lot — was designed for retail and not student residential development.
"That's why there's no parking requirements or maximum height restrictions," he said.
As a result, he said the influx of student apartments downtown has resulted in parking shortages and buildings "out of scale with our historic property downtown," including Jesse Hall and the Tiger Hotel.
Representatives of the development firm could not be reached for comment.
The demolition permit is on a 10-day hold while the preservation commission reviews it, Zenner said.
A recent change in city ordinances allows the commission 10 days to review demolition permits submitted for structures more than 50 years old before the city issues a permit. The commission can then make a recommendation to the city based on its findings.
On Monday night, the City Council is scheduled to introduce an ordinance that would extend the commission's opportunity to review demolition permits to not more than 30 calendar days and cause such permits to expire if they're unused after six months.
Despite the preservation commission's opportunity for input, Gardner said, "there's no mechanism for the city to stop demolitions, even if they wanted to."
The city's demolition permit application requires that property owners shut off utilities, pay a $2,ooo bond and provide notice to adjoining properties of intent to demolish a building at least one week before work begins.
Amy Hotchkiss, a senior at MU majoring in architectural design, has lived in the apartments for three semesters.
Hotchkiss has a particular connection with the residence. For a class last spring, she researched the Niedermeyer's history and drafted a document petitioning for the Niedermeyer to be considered for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
"You go inside, and you realize Mark Twain gave a speech in the building," Hotchkiss said, referring to the belief that the famous Missouri author visited the building in 1902, when it was the Gordon Hotel. Twain was in Columbia to receive his honorary doctorate of law from MU.
Hotchkiss and the other tenants' leases will be honored until they expire in June or July, Zenner said. After that, it's unclear if or when demolition would begin, he said.
"At this juncture we are unaware of any immediate removal of the building," he said.
As a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, Gardner conceded that he's upset by the possible demolition. He's said the developers have been very cooperative, though, in considering commission suggestions that historical artifacts be removed from the building and salvaged. Those would include the mantel over the fireplace in the lobby and decorative molding above doorways.
"It's a shame," he said. "There's not a whole lot we can do but take pictures, preserve historical items and bring it to the light of day."
Nassim Benchaabane contributed to this report.
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