Plenty of space

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The following was sent as a letter to the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce and Old Town Cape.

By Vaughn X Prost

Several chamber members, including myself at the Marquette Tower, lease space to the state of Missouri via the Office of Administration-Division of Facilities Management. The state leases space all over Cape Girardeau as evidenced by the enclosed list of leased buildings. All these leases are endangered with the leased buildings "going dark" if the state decides to design and build its own state office building in Cape. The Office of Administration is requesting design funds from the House of Representatives to build in Cape Girardeau a new office building. The size is yet to be determined, but it would likely be in excess of 100,000 square feet given the state presently leases approximately 100,000 square feet of office space in the county.

At first glance, a big, new office building built in Cape by the state of Missouri may seem like positive news until you understand what will happen. The state will not renew any current leases or put out any new requests to lease space. The state needs no additional office space in Cape, so to fill the new building it will pull out of existing space it leases. Therefore, chamber members presently leasing to the state of Missouri that built facilities primarily for the state of Missouri leases will "go dark." The buildings being empty will create a severe financial hardship and possibly bankruptcies for chamber developers. There is already an excess of quality office space to lease in Cape. Therefore, it will take many years to lease up 100,000 square feet of office space the state of Missouri would "dump" on the market when current leases expire. The Marquette Tower and Center, which I own, has 40,000 square feet of vacant quality office space. A recent survey I did of available office space for sale or lease came up with another 100,000 square feet of space. There are very few tenants in the market looking to lease office space. Taking a large tenant user like the state offices off the market will be devastating to chamber landlords/developers.

Legislators should be supporting the Dream Initiative to revitalize downtowns by leasing downtown or at least support local chamber members who own buildings in Cape Girardeau and would want to lease to or continue to lease to the state of Missouri. How much effort did the chamber, Southeast Missouri State University and citizens put into saving the Marquette? The Marquette only became an economic reality by the state of Missouri agreeing to lease 30,000 square feet of space in the Marquette. The state pulling out of the Marquette at the end or before the end of its lease will cause it to once again "go dark" (subject to annual appropriations).

Chamber member-owned buildings pay property taxes and employ local business to maintain, clean and upgrade their buildings. Any new state of Missouri-owned building does not pay property taxes and uses many non-local businesses via statewide contracts to maintain, clean and upgrade its buildings.

The private sector can design and build office building in a much more cost-effective manner than the state of Missouri and save the citizens money. The government trend should be toward more privatization, not bigger government. A look at the office building "monuments" that the state of Missouri has built in Jefferson City easily shows the state has difficulty designing and constructing in a cost-efficient manner when spending taxpayer money. As a builder, I have seen this time and time again how more efficient the private sector is with the dollars than state government is in building projects.

What the big-box retail stores have done to close down smaller retail stores in Cape Girardeau is what a big- box state office building will do to the chamber members owning smaller office space in Cape Girardeau. There will be bankruptcies and many "dark" office buildings. Don't we already have enough "dark" office and retail buildings in Cape Girardeau? Why create more empty space and further depress the leasing market?

If legislators want to really help their community, preference should be given to existing office space. We need to use the community's underutilized resources in downtown Cape or any place in the city. Legislators should allow state offices to go in two existing buildings when one large enough existing building cannot be found. From a Smart Growth, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or green initiatives point of view, reusing existing buildings and infrastructure is the smartest and most economical way to conserve resources instead of building big-box office buildings on green fields at the edge of town. Haven't we learned something after 60 years of sprawl? Legislators should be supporting the local chamber members who are developers, builders and landlords of existing buildings. Let's lease up our empty existing buildings and support our chamber members first before building monuments to state government paid for by our tax dollars which do not support our property-tax base and thus schools and other public services.

The chamber, business leaders and civic leaders need to communicate to our representatives and senators what the business community sees as the best way to meet the office-space needs of the state of Missouri and support the citizens' desires in Cape Girardeau. I would be happy to discuss this subject with any and all concerned.

Vaughn X. Prost of Jefferson City, Mo., is the owner of Marquette Office Building L.L.C., which owns the Marquette Tower and Marquette Center in downtown Cape Girardeau.

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