State gives $70k for Common Pleas Courthouse work

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gov. Matt Blunt swept into the second-floor courtroom at 1:11 p.m. and was introduced by Cape Girardeau's somewhat breathless mayor.

Jay Knudtson opened the ceremony by joking that Blunt's delay -- he was 40 minutes late -- was clearly the fault of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"I won't deny that," Blunt agreed.

He'd flown to Cape Girardeau Thursday after announcing, with Blagojevich, a deal to build a four-lane, $640 million bridge between St. Louis and its Illinois suburbs. Blunt arrived at the Common Pleas Courthouse to announce a $70,000 preservation grant. The city of Cape Girardeau, which owns the 154-year-old courthouse, will use the money to update the heating and cooling system, a $100,000 project.

City Manager Doug Leslie said getting the funding for the "badly needed improvements" to the courthouse could be the start of future city-county partnerships. He said a separate agreement will be negotiated between the city and the county to define how each will pay the remaining $30,000 needed for the repairs.

"Should the county not need this facility, there will probably be some provision that this go back to the city or the community for use," he said. Getting the grant is important because the upgrades will be less costly than an unexpected repair, he said.

Scott and Patti House, who serve on the city's historic preservation commission, came to see Blunt speak.

"We're fans, friends of this building. Anything that helps preserve the building is good," Scott House said.

The governor credited DREAM Initiative programs for spurring economic development in the hearts of small and midsized cities across the state.

Terri Foley, historic preservation consultant and immediate past president of Old Town Cape, said the grant process pulled together Old Town Cape, the city, the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce and Cape Girardeau County.

"It shows this community is really invested in preserving our cultural resources," she said.

Chris Hutson, Old Town Cape's new president, had to leave before Blunt arrived, as did David Hutson and Charlie Herbst III, Cape Girardeau councilman.

Chris Hutson said Old Town Cape "opened the door to making Cape Girardeau a DREAM Initiative city," which in turn has helped secure grant money.

Missouri has 103 courthouses 50 years old or older; 52 are more than 100 years old. Foley said the Common Pleas Courthouse, built in 1854, is one of four in the state still being used as a courthouse. The courthouse is eligible for a National Register of Historic Places designation.

Blunt went on to similar ceremonies, announcing at $53,900 grant to preserve the Pemiscot County Courthouse in Caruthersville and $34,564 for the Dunklin County Courthouse in Kennett.

The Missouri Heritage Properties program is administered through Missouri's Historic Preservation office. Grants are paid by the Missouri Historic Preservation Revolving Fund, which in turn is funded by the state's non-resident athletes and entertainers tax.

Blunt's administration has issued more than $185 million in state historic preservation tax credits. He championed the DREAM Initiative, which supports downtown revitalization and historic preservation. Cape Girardeau was the largest of the first 10 DREAM cities.

Blunt is on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation board; he has a bachelor of science degree in history from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

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