Downtown merchants rehabilitate facades

Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Dave Meyer tossed the efis layer of the facade of the old Montgomery Ward building on Main Street in Cape Girardeau into a Dumpster Tuesday. (Diane L. Wilson)

Facade work on a building can be like opening a present, except instead of wrapping paper, there is drywall and metal to contend with.

Professor Steve Hoffman of Old Town Cape said removing excess layers can be a nail-biting experience. "It's tremendously exciting and it's often terrifying," he said. "I knew of one example in another city where they took off the layers and it was just the studs back there. Nobody planned on that."

But Hoffman cites the recent removal of a sign over 808 Broadway at the new location of Grace CafZ as a pleasant surprise coming from a facade rehab. The sign had been hiding intricate stone work.

With the benefits of historic restoration in mind, Old Town Cape sought last year to secure funds from MoDOT to create a facade grant fund. The request was rejected, but OTC board members still hold out hope that a reserve of $12,000 to $15,000 could be created to give matching funds to building owners seeking to improve facades.

"There are a lot of property owners that are very much interested in a program that would help cover some of the work they do to windows, doors, and masonry to improve their storefronts," said Teri Foley of Old Town Cape. "We hope some would choose to remove the modern exteriors and return facades to their original condition."

Hoffman said small amounts of money can go a long way toward rehabilitating the outside of a property. "It's a strategy that has been used in cities all across the country," he said. "It's amazing what a little bit of money can do in a situation like this. Major facade work might be expensive, but $1,000 or $2,000 can really make a big difference most of the time."

One building that would benefit from the grants would be the old Montgomery Ward Building at 20 Main St.

Rene and Guy Tomasino of Poplar Bluff recently purchased the property and hope to restore it to its original condition. "It seems like everybody who has ever owned the building has added a layer. Well, we're going to take it all off," said Rene.

The Tomasinos are using their own money for the project.

The strata go seven layers deep, including a three-layered yellow exterior insulation and finish, two levels of orange metal and plywood sitting on top of the original brick. The new owners will also remove the metal awning that hangs over the sidewalk.

The Tomasinos purchased the property as the future headquarters of Posi-Products. The business makes and sells plastic connectors for wiring that are currently carried in 2500 Wal-Mart locations nationwide. The connectors are manufactured and packaged in China.

Tomasino said the newly acquired building will be the family's home as well as a research and development center, advertising center and office. The family hopes to move in in August, but business operations won't begin until much later, she said.

Tomasino said she will also lease out the two retail storefronts. One has already been tagged for a martial arts studio.

The two-story building with ten-foot windows overlooking Main Street was built in 1933 on the site of the Ben Miller Ice Cream Factory. Montgomery Ward closed its offices there in 1981, and since then it has seen several tenants, including Cheatham's Furniture.

335-6611, extension 245

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