UPDATE: Tentative deal in place to save Niedermeyer Building

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | 5:45 p.m. CDT; updated 9:35 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 20, 2013
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Brian Treece of the Historic Preservation Commission said the Niedermeyer building, located at 920 Cherry St., will remain a viable and affordable apartment option. An MU professor has stepped forward to buy the property from Collegiate Housing Partners, which planned to demolish the building and build a new apartment building on the land.

*An earlier version of this misstated Brent Gardner's name.

COLUMBIA — When the Historic Preservation Commission recognized the Niedermeyer Building as a Notable Historic Property in February, Sabra Tull Meyer was unsure what to do with the plaque. The building her family had overseen for more than 100 years was slated for demolition.


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Meyer can now look forward to seeing the plaque adorn what has become Columbia's most iconic wraparound porch. At a media briefing Tuesday, Mayor Bob McDavid announced that a private buyer, MU Department of Mathematics professor Nakhle Asmar, has reached a tentative agreement with Collegiate Housing Partners to buy and restore the Niedermeyer Building.

"There will not be any noticeable changes," Asmar's attorney, Skip Walther, said. "It is going to be a very gradual renovation more than a complete overhaul."

Throughout the process, though, Asmar hopes to maintain affordable housing downtown while preserving the building's character and history. Although he said the Niedermeyer's proximity to campus makes it ideal for students, Asmar isn't opposed to a mix of tenants. 

Since plans to replace the 176-year-old building with a student apartment building up to 15 stories tall were revealed in December, the community has shown exceptional support for the preservation of the Niedermeyer. An online petition urging the Columbia City Council to stop the demolition of the Niedermeyer house gathered 1,600 signatures. A Facebook group called "Save the Niedermeyer Building" grew to nearly 200 members.

The building also garnered media attention: Its residents became the subjects of a Missourian piece, while its history earned several hundred words in the Columbia Daily Tribune

Meanwhile, McDavid took an active stance on the building's fate, issuing directives to both Collegiate Housing Partners, which holds a contract to buy the building from the Fred Hinshaw Trust, and the Historic Preservation Committee to work toward saving it.

"(Collegiate Housing Partners) started seeing that this whole project was going to be very cumbersome," *Brent Gardner of Columbia Historic Preservation Commission said. 

Thus, a concerted effort began. Gardner said McDavid acted as mediator between Asmar and Collegiate Housing Partners.

"He did a great job of keeping a very delicate situation under control and keeping both parties at the table," Gardner said.

Still, the deal remains tentative, with negotiations taking place as recently as Monday night.

"This is a complex agreement that relies on conventional financing and equity in the short-term," Gardner said in a news release. 

Walther confirmed that a sale price has been set, but he declined to name an exact figure. Details will be unavailable until the sale is final in early April, and even then, whether they're made public will be left to Walther's discretion.

To offset the cost of renovation, Asmar might call upon the city and state for help. Gardner listed historic preservation, affordable housing and energy efficiency tax credits as possible tools the government could offer.

McDavid said in January that he would also be "amenable" to a tax-increment financing project at the Niedermeyer site. First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said Tuesday he would support that strategy.

Despite the discomfort some Columbia residents have expressed toward the use of tax incentives, Schmidt remains optimistic. "This (project) may change their minds," he said.

The financial details were not so important Tuesday with the almost palpable excitement at Daniel Boone City Building.

Elizabeth Gentry Sayad lives in St. Louis but has been an active part of the local effort to save what her ancestor Gen. Richard Gentry built as a schoolhouse for his daughters in 1837.

"Besides my family history, (the Niedermeyer) is also a part of Columbia's history. It is a part of the fabric of our state," Sayad said.

Amy Hotchkiss, an MU senior and two-year resident of the Niedermeyer, was moved to tears by Tuesday's announcement.

"I was shaking with excitement and relief," Hotchkiss told the Missourian through a Facebook message. She said she's pleased that future residents will be able to share the "honor" of walking the same halls as Mark Twain, among other historic figures. 

"The character of the building is really neat," Hotchkiss said in appreciation of the Niedermeyer's hodgepodge interior. "You can see the many additions that have been made over the last 175 years. There is ornamental character in the door hardware, radiator heating and light fixtures."

But Hotchkiss' two-year tenure there hasn't left her without complaints. Among new flooring and fully realized potential, Hotchkiss said she is most excited about seeing some good, old-fashioned upkeep.

"I look forward to seeing cracks and holes patched — and patched well."

What historic places in Columbia are special to you? Tell us here.

Missourian reporter Ethan Colbert contributed to this story.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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Richard Saunders March 12, 2013 | 1:27 p.m.

Mediator? Or public purse wheel-greaser?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 12, 2013 | 3:49 p.m.

Bet they found a better place, and bet I know where it is.

My guess is the "tall building argument" ain't over yet.

(Report Comment)
Hannah Cushman March 12, 2013 | 7:47 p.m.

@Michael Williams:

I'm Hannah, the lead reporter on this story. A representative of CHP said this morning that the firm is considering a couple of options here in Columbia, although he didn't specify further. What he did say (rather emphatically, might I add) is that if CHP does build here, the structure will not be 15 stories tall. I suppose the possibility of a 14-story building remains, and at five stories taller than the Tiger, that building could just as easily be fodder for the "tall building argument," but you can have some peace of mind knowing that the downtown skyline won't go from two to 20 stories in one fell swoop — at least, not on CHP's behalf.

In the meantime, I'll keep an eye out for more info about an alternative CHP development. Thanks for the comment!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 13, 2013 | 8:42 a.m.

Hannah: "...but you can have some peace of mind knowing that the downtown skyline won't go from two to 20 stories in one fell swoop."

Actually, I'm on record in this place as stating that when I stand at Ash and Garth and look east, I can easily envision 4-5 rather tall, beautiful buildings in downtown Columbia. I WANT such a thing to happen, so I'm disappointed in these latest developments on the Niedermeyer. Columbia is no longer a small town and it's time we started acting like it. I do not agree with all the criticisms of Hoppe et al and I still believe that sometimes liberals out-conservative conservatives in the most unreasonable and unusual of ways.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 13, 2013 | 10:08 a.m.

"To offset the cost of renovation, Asmar might call upon the city and state for help."

You buy it, you preserve it. You can either pay out-of-pocket or get private donors. Public dollars?

This is the kind of event sequence that causes politicians to lose their jobs....

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm March 13, 2013 | 11:34 a.m.

"when I stand at Ash and Garth and look east, I can easily envision 4-5 rather tall, beautiful buildings in downtown Columbia. I WANT such a thing to happen, so I'm disappointed in these latest developments on the Niedermeyer."

Gotta say I'm with Mike on this one. We are delaying progress to keep a handful of loud mouths happy. Private funds were going to develop this land; the Dr. either needs to do it with private funds also or step out of the way so public money is not wasted needlessly.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 13, 2013 | 11:53 a.m.

Jack: I think the earth just moved.


PS: This whole thing seems strange to me. CHP holds a contract to purchase the property and will apparently exercise that purchase. Then, they turn around and sell it to a professor, presumably for some kind of profit. What does CHP get out of this besides a small profit and a costly "do over"? By all media accounts, efforts to stop the skyscraper were on legally shaky grounds with the C-2 zoning, so why did CHP back out? Were there unsolvable parking problems? Did they find a better property (yes, there are some) and saw a quick way out? Is there some sort of quid pro quo where the professor owns some better property that we'll hear about later?

Even worse, I'm betting a request to change that C-2 zoning for the Niedermeyer will come up in a real hurry, perhaps forever removing that property from a healthy downtown development. Even worse worse, taxes on that property will remain low. Even worse worse worse, tax money for "renovation and preservation" will probably be sought.

Very odd. I'm thinking there is much more than meets the eye, and I'm normally NOT a conspiracy theorist.

I DID miss the police dog conspiracy, tho. I'm still laffin' at that..........

(Report Comment)

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