Application filed to use old federal building for homeless

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The old federal building at 339 Broadway (Fred Lynch)

A prominent Missouri preacher with an extensive network of homeless shelters, free stores and broadcast stations wants to use the the old federal building in Cape Girardeau as a shelter.

The Rev. Larry Rice, who has his headquarters in St. Louis, said Monday he had made a formal application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to get the building at 339 Broadway.

Most federal agencies have moved out of the building, which was replaced last year by the Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. Federal Courthouse at 555 Independence St. Under federal law, an application to use a surplus federal building as a homeless shelter has priority over other potential uses.

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice rejected a request from Cape Girardeau County to sponsor transfer of the building to the county for use as a courthouse.

In an interview Monday, Rice said he plans a homeless shelter open to people seeking long-term help and transients in need of overnight help. He also said he plans to open a free store and work with other community organizations to provide training and other financial assistance. He said he intends to focus in part on veterans, both those who served long ago and those returning today from overseas.

"There is a tremendous need in that general area, and we plan to address that," Rice said. "It is an extensive application, demonstrating the need and how we plan to respond to that need."

During a Cape Girardeau City Council meeting Monday evening, Mayor Jay Knudtson disputed how great the need for

homeless help is in Cape Girardeau. He noted that several not-for-profit organizations, led by the Community Caring Council, are working on programs to help those who do find themselves homeless.

"We just do not believe that at this time there is an outcry that requires a 44,000 square-foot facility to meet the needs of the homeless," he said.

Knudtson said the city should work with the not-for-profit groups to show how any existing need is being met.

Specifically, Rice said he would accommodate up to 125 people annually in the long-term transition program. Rice said his organization would offer job training and financial support to those accepted. In addition, he hopes to provide up to 1,100 overnight stays a year to transients.

Under federal law, the department will review Rice's application and determine if the building is suitable for use as a shelter and whether the need exists, said Charlie Cook, spokesman for the General Services Administration in Kansas City.

If the New Life Evangelistic Center application is approved, Cook said, that will be the final word. If it is not, the government will attempt to sell the building to a state or local government entity at a price that is close to the market value of the property.

Cape Girardeau County had hoped to obtain the building at little or no cost to replace the Common Pleas Courthouse, a pre-Civil War structure that has been plagued by a lack of space and a balky heating and cooling system. Owned by the city and leased by the county, it is the location for civil court cases in Cape

Girardeau County.

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones on Monday said he had no comment on Rice's application for the federal building. But he said the county is still interested in using the federal building, if a reasonable price can be

negotiated.

The Common Pleas building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and should probably be retired from intense use, Jones said.

"Perhaps our only option is to purchase it at a reasonable fee we could afford," Jones said. "We think it is going to take us nearly $1 million to remodel it to suit our needs. I don't know if they consider that or not" in setting a price.

With Rice's application, those considerations must be put on hold, Jones said. "We'll have to wait and see how that plays out before we can do anything," he said.

If approved to take over the federal building, it would be Rice's second attempt to create a shelter and free store in Cape Girardeau.

In the early 1990s, Rice operated a shelter for men at 713 Morgan Oak St. and a free store at 625 Broadway. Local officials opposed to his programs made life difficult, Rice said.

"What we encountered is what every homeless provider has encountered in the history of Cape Girardeau and that is a very difficult time," Rice said. "The reason it has been difficult doing it in Cape, and the reason it would work, is the city of Cape Girardeau has a history of making it difficult and they would not be able to bully or be pushy or intimidate a program out of Cape Girardeau" that was in the federal building.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

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On the web:

New Life Evangelistic Center: www.newlifeevangelisticcenter.org

Pertinent addresses:

339 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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