GEORGE KENNEDY: Praise the saving of the Niedermeyer building

Friday, March 15, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

From Washington to Jefferson City, we’ve been subjected lately to a steady flow of bad — sometimes horrifying — news. This week’s decisions by committees in the General Assembly to ignore both economics and humanity by refusing to expand Medicaid coverage are just the latest blow.

So it was a rare pleasure to stand in the crowd in the city hall lobby Tuesday and learn that a piece of Columbia history is being preserved from destruction. The “Save the Niedermeyer” campaign seems to have paid off. The feeling of good will was so pervasive that Brian Treece, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, even had kind words for “the media.”

How this came to be is a nice example of leadership and of public-private collaboration. As far as I can tell, it’s a story with no villains and the promise of a happy ending.

Article 2, Section 10 of the Columbia City Charter describes the role of the mayor cryptically. The “council member-at-large,” as the job is called, “shall have no regular administrative duties” and shall be recognized as “head of the city government for all legal and ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law.” The position carries no veto power.

There’s nothing about serving as a real estate agent, mediator or cheerleader. But as I understand it, Mayor Bob McDavid played all those roles, mostly behind the scenes, in this melodrama.

Brent Gardner, a real Realtor who also played a key role and is a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, summed up those roles: “He did what a mayor is supposed to do.” By that, he meant that Dr. McDavid worked on and worked with the St. Louis developer that proposed to replace the Niedermeyer with a high-rise full of students, encouraged the commission to get involved and then had the pleasure of announcing success.

He was “greasing the wheels,” Mr. Gardner said. The grease included a continuing effort to help Collegiate Housing Partners, the would-be developer, find another suitable location for its entry into Columbia’s booming student-housing market.

Mr. Gardner brought to the table the local buyer who promises to renovate and preserve the 1837 structure. He told me he had worked previously with MU mathematics professor Nakhle Asmar in locating rental property to buy. This time, Prof. Asmar came to him.

As the Columbia Daily Tribune has reported, Prof. Asmar is no rookie in the property management game. His holding company, Ginger C LLC, owns 37 rental properties already.

I reached Prof. Asmar on his cellphone as he was driving to St. Louis. He told me he was attracted to the Niedermeyer both because of its historic significance and because he saw its prime location.

"Why buy it?" I asked. He replied, “Why not? It’s a very nice building and, hopefully, a good investment.”

His visual inspection shows, he said, that “a lot of deferred maintenance” will be required. So will some upgrades to electrical and plumbing systems. Then he hopes to keep it as a source of “affordable housing” for students and others who want to live downtown.

We don’t quite have a done deal yet. Collegiate Housing Partners still has to buy the building from Fred Hinshaw then sell it to Prof. Asmar. No doubt, tax credits and maybe tax-increment financing will be involved. Still, all concerned seem confident.

It’s a time-tested axiom of journalism that it’s usually not news when things go as they’re supposed to. Planes that don’t crash, politicians who don’t misbehave, deals that don’t collapse usually go unremarked.

Sometimes, though, malfeasance and misfortune become the routine. Then a successful outcome is worth not only reporting but celebrating.

This success deserves applause.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Mark Foecking March 15, 2013 | 6:55 a.m.

I'd say the big reason why these apartments will primarily cater to students is that professionals with families don't want to live and raise kids across from Harpo's. If we wonder why more professionals don't live downtown, we have only to stand at 9th and Cherry on a Friday night and listen. You'd need an awful lot of soundproofing to shut that out.


(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield March 15, 2013 | 7:12 a.m.

"No doubt, tax credits and maybe tax-increment financing will be involved."

Of course. That's why, in the end, taxpayers will be on the hook for yet another old building. (See also: Blind Boone and Heibel-March.) Once again, a vocal minority stomped its tiny collective foot until it got its way. (See also: University of Missouri Press.)

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks March 15, 2013 | 8:28 a.m.

At what point in time did local govt stop following rules and start over stepping the boundaries set upon them?

I am just glad to hear it was not like the parking lot fiasco. I was half expecting to hear that the City purchased the house to be renovated with tax payer money and the recoup the cost they were going to rent out 1-3rd the rooms while the other 2-3 were going to be giving to city employees so they could say closer to downtown.

(Report Comment)
Ken Geringer March 15, 2013 | 3:59 p.m.

Whoopie. Saved that building for now. I don't care, as it is not beautiful. or of any engineering or architectural interest. He wants it, he may get it. It'still a teardown. Just not now. Prime location. Hopefully we haven't run Collegiate Housing Partners out of town. Tax revenue, maybe an exciting building off Broadway. Later.

(Report Comment)

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