For the first time in 42 years, the historic Tiger Hotel’s neon sign will put red light back into downtown. The three-month, $20,000 restoration of the five-letter sign was completed early Monday morning in what can only be described as the town’s most precarious spelling bee. All five of the 8-foot tall, 7-foot wide letters had to be raised 150 feet by crane and bolted down before the word “TIGER” could be framed back atop downtown Columbia’s tallest building.
John Ott, one of the hotel’s four owners, said a re-lighting ceremony will be held Thursday at 7:30 p.m. along Eighth Street to celebrate the restoration.
“It really is a landmark within the community,” Ott said. “You could count these sort of things on one hand.”
John Chouinard, an employee of Bee Seen Signs who rebuilt all five letters, looked on with pride.
He said the new-and-improved letters are made of a rust-resistant aluminum and powered by 3 transformers, giving them plenty of wattage to keep the Columbia skyline a symbol of MU spirit for years to come.
“It was a great view,” said Jim George of W & L Steel Erectors, the man who bolted the letters to the frame 150 feet above Eighth Street. “Just don’t look down.”
Jim Paneck, senior building inspector with the Protective Inspection Division of Boone County Public Works, said the sign is classified as an existing non-conforming sign, which, at 248 square feet, means it’s bigger than anything you could put up inside the downtown area today. Because the hotel sign existed prior to the city’s ordinance, the facelift was approved. But had the owners removed the sign before receiving a permit, the city would not have allowed it to be replaced, Paneck said.
Thursday’s ceremony will begin at the Columns on Francis Quadrangle and proceed down Eighth Street, dubbed the Historic Avenue of the Columns. Marching Mizzou will stop at the building and perform; from there, Truman the Tiger will join the procession toward Courthouse Square, where he will then flip the switch to turn on the sign.
Stephen Weise, executive director of Tiger Columns, a senior housing community for active adults and one of several businesses operating inside the hotel, said the sign is a part of the original structure, built in 1928.