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.