Selective destruction remakes Marquette

Friday, May 23, 2003

Plywood sheets protect the original tile flooring of the 74-year-old Marquette Hotel's lobby. Floors in other parts of the downtown Cape Girardeau building lie under heaps of rubble created by demolished walls and torn-open ceilings.

It's part of the pick-and-choose demolition that workers are doing to turn the 1920s-era hotel into state offices while trying to preserve the historic building's character.

Since the asbestos removal ended two weeks ago, Great Plains Asbestos Control, a Nebraska-based environmental contractor, has begun removing unnecessary walls and entire sections of the building to open up floor space.

Project manager Bill Whitlow of Prost Builders said Jan. 1 is the date set for occupancy in the future Marquette Tower, the hotel's new name. The Marquette Plaza will include the tower on Broadway, the Marquette Centre, which is the building at 221 N. Fountain St., and any future buildings.

The plaza will bring retail shops, private businesses and about 100 government employees to downtown.

"With this, we're going to see a ripple effect of private interest for the downtown area," said Thomas M. Meyer, the real estate agent handling the leasing. No leases have been finalized, but he said he plans to push hard in the next month.

Downtown merchants already are preparing for the added traffic inside and outside their stores.

Terrie Hellman, owner of Sun & Tan, has added two 10-minute, lunch-hour tanning beds.

"I get a lot of tanners from government offices, and I'm close," she said.

TaJuan Parish, owner of Umpkin's Beauty Supply, said she is stocking up on a larger variety of products in preparation for the diversity of anticipated customers, and she feels that downtown will benefit most during lunch time.

"Everything is within walking distance," she said. "You can get your exercise. It's all within a five- to 10-minute circle."

The tower's first floor will be retail space. Government offices will occupy the second, the third and half of the fourth floors, Meyer said, and the other half of the fourth, the fifth and the penthouse will be leased to private, professional or corporate businesses. Two to four private businesses will be able to occupy the building, and Meyer hopes to secure a main tenant on each floor. Tenants will not be able to lease space less than 1,000 square feet.

Up on the rooftop

The rooftop will officially be a penthouse office complex with an open terrace that will feature the existing garden towers. A small restaurant will be either on the rooftop or on the first floor.

The Spanish-style hotel was opened in 1928 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. After being vacant since 1981, the city condemned it in 2000. Prost Builders bought the hotel last summer from previous owner Ruby Bullock and began a $6 million restoration project in February with asbestos removal.

Prost Builders is under state and federal obligation to preserve the building's historical components both visually and structurally, Whitlow said.

The original windows along Broadway and Fountain Street will remain intact, while a second layer of modern windows will be installed just inside to conserve energy. Replicas will replace the northside and eastside windows. Original floor tiles and the stucco walls will be restored in the lobby, and the hallways will keep as much of their original appearance as possible.

"I'm glad that somebody is restoring it," said Gerri Graves, owner of the Rose of Broadway Restaurant. "It's a shame to see a landmark just be demolished, a piece of history disappear."

The hotel still needs brick and mortar repair, installation of two exterior stairwells and an exterior elevator, installation of heating and piping, and construction of the office and retail spaces.

Acquisition of the building at 221 N. Fountain St., currently occupied by Southeast Missouri State University, has been extended to Oct. 20 to allow the university more time to relocate its printing and duplicating center. The building will be renovated to create additional office space, which will not occur until after the acquisition. Its occupancy date is not set. Meyer said a sign for leasing office space there will be posted within a month.

Once the plaza is opened, parking is a concern for some business owners along Broadway.

"Anytime you have increased business, parking is always a premium," said Keith Middleton, a pharmacist of the 75-year-old Broadway Prescription Shop.

But Whitlow said he doesn't expect a problem. In addition to the hotel's parking lots, Prost Builders will convert the parallel parking on the east side of North Fountain Street to angled parking, and another parking lot will be constructed in place of an apartment building at 231 N. Fountain St. If parking still remains a problem, Whitlow said, the company has auction rights to lease some space from the existing parking lots of surrounding businesses. All the plaza's employees will have assigned parking.

335-6611, extension 226

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