Down and out on Morgan Oak

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Travis Gibson already lost his health. Now he's about to lose his auto repair business on Morgan Oak Street, one of two side-by-side car repair shops that the Southeast Missouri University Foundation wants closed by June 1 so they can be razed for parking for the River Campus arts school in Cape Girardeau.

A restaurant operator and satellite dish dealer across the street, also on land the foundation purchased, await word on what will happen to their businesses as the River Campus progresses.

Gibson, who underwent surgery last month to remove a tumor in his neck, is still on a feeding tube and recuperating at his Benton, Mo., home. He said he'll be hard pressed to relocate his business within a month.

"I think it's kind of crazy," said Gibson, 29, who was in Barnes Hospital in St. Louis from March 31 to April 11. "They are shutting me down."

But the head of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation, which has acquired the property, said the fund-raising entity will try to work with Gibson to make the closing as smooth as possible and might allow him more time to relocate.

Alan Zacharias, executive director of the foundation, said the area will benefit from the closing of the businesses to make room for River Campus parking, but acknowledged it could be hard on the owners of the two displaced businesses -- Gibson's Towing and Eudy's Wheel Alignment. He said the university wants to tear down the two auto repair shops this summer.

The foundation isn't providing any relocation money, a sore point with Gibson and George Eudy, the owner of Eudy's Wheel Alignment.

"We knew it was going to happen. We just thought we would get compensated for moving. Now they're talking like they don't want to do anything," Gibson said.

Rented land

Gibson Towing and Eudy's Wheel Alignment are on rented ground on the south side of Morgan Oak just west of the former Catholic seminary that Southeast Missouri State University wants to turn into its arts school.

The university foundation acquired the land from Ann Ritter of Cape Girardeau, along with another Ritter-owned tract of land on the north side of Morgan Oak that houses Bettie's Restaurant and the Dish Doctor satellite dealer. The restaurant and satellite television store are in a former service station.

The board of directors of the foundation approved the deal on Saturday, but the rental agent had already mailed letters a few days earlier informing the business owners of the transaction.

Southeast's Zacharias said it was a "bargain sale" in which Ritter sold the land on both sides of the street at a discounted price. In exchange, Ritter gets to count part of the property as a charitable donation. Monetary terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

The foundation raises private dollars for university projects and scholarships. "It's not costing the taxpayers or the students any money," Zacharias said.

Gibson, who has operated the business for six years, said he doesn't know when the doctor will let him go back to work. His wife, Angel, doesn't work. The couple have three daughters, ages 2, 3 and 7.

The Gibsons stopped by their shuttered repair shop late Tuesday afternoon. Travis Gibson said he has about $70,000 worth of equipment inside the shop to move, assuming he can secure another building to rent. Behind the shop are about 50 cars that must be moved, he said.

Gibson said many of the vehicles were abandoned by customers who said they couldn't afford the repair bills.

Gibson said he currently pays $350 a month in rent and probably would have to pay at least $800 a month anywhere else in Cape Girardeau.

Rather retire

Eudy, 65, who has operated his wheel alignment shop at 301 Morgan Oak for over 22 years, said he plans to retire rather than spend money to open a new repair shop.

"I'm not going to borrow money at 65 years of age and go back into debt," he said, standing in his shop Wednesday morning.

Eudy said the closing not only will hurry his retirement but also put his one employee out of work.

The two businesses on the north side of Morgan Oak won't be torn down for now. Zacharias said the foundation plans to continue to lease the building to the owners of Bettie's Restaurant and the Dish Doctor and charge the current rent.

Zacharias said the foundation obtained that tract of land only because Ritter wanted to sell the property she owned on both sides of the street. He said he doesn't know what the foundation ultimately will do with the property on the north side of Morgan Oak, but development of the River Campus would make the land more valuable.

Betty Poe has operated Bettie's Restaurant for nearly seven years. The restaurant, which is open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, serves breakfast and lunch.

Poe said she likes her location and doesn't want to move. "We are just waiting to see what is going to happen," said Poe, whose rent is $600 a month.

Poe said she hasn't heard anything directly from the university foundation. The only notice she has received is from Wunderlich Real Estate Co., which manages Ritter's properties.

Roy Joyce, who operates Dish Doctor, moved into the building on Morgan Oak earlier this year. Joyce said his lease runs through December. He said he isn't too concerned about the change in landlords because little of his business comes from walk-in traffic.

He said he'll rent elsewhere, if necessary.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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