Fate of partially collapsed Broadway building could be determined by next week

Thursday, June 18, 2009
The backside of 621-623 Broadway collapsed late Tuesday in Cape Girardeau. Residents were allowed back in to retrieve small personal items, but large furniture and appliances that could shift the building's weight and weaken the structure were not moved. (Kit Doyle)

The fate of the building at 621-623 Broadway that had a wall partially collapse Tuesday evening could be determined by the end of the week.

If the owner determines the damages are too great or costly to repair, the structure could possibly face demolition, a step Cape Girardeau interim city manager Ken Eftink hopes does not have to be taken.

"We're giving the owners a few days to hear back from their insurance company and evaluate their options," Eftink said Wednesday. "They'll have a professional look at it to see if it can be saved or needs to be demolished. Only about 20 percent of the building was damaged, so we're talking about a small part of it."

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department received word around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday that the outer wall of the building had collapsed, taking out part of an apartment in the rear of the structure. The building, owned by Ed Dodd of Scott City, houses apartments. Appraised at $66,917, the structure was built around 1940, according to the Cape Girardeau County mapping and appraisal office.

Tuesday night's situation, and one that happened three years ago, calls into question the safety and security of other old and deteriorating buildings in downtown Cape Girardeau, particularly along Broadway.

A brick apartment building constructed in 1911 at the corner of Ellis and Themis streets partially collapsed on May 9, 2006. The front parapet of the building fell to the ground, taking out a bay window and a porch with it. The city immediately condemned the structure. While no reason was determined at the time, beams supporting the roof exposed by the collapse appeared to be decaying.

That year downtown building owners and city officials met to talk about structural safety. Building owners surveyed their buildings for things like cracks in the walls, sagging roofs or water in the basement in efforts of preventing another incident.

"While nothing is planned, it may be time to have another talk," Eftink said.

Eftink's office receives a few calls each month regarding complaints about buildings that residents feel are unattractive in appearance, but he said the city cannot condemn buildings unless they are structurally unsound. Eftink said most buildings on Broadway are deemed safe. Owners Guy and Rene Tomasino have been given notice to repair their buildings at 633-637 Broadway.

"We regulate structural problems but it's hard to regulate ugly," Eftink said. "My office doesn't have the resources to keep an eye on every single problem. We don't go inside vacant buildings much unless the building owner is doing some repair or remodeling."

Tim Morgan, inspections services coordinator for the City of Cape Girardeau, said the city's property maintenance code requires a building such as 621-623 Broadway must be maintained and in good repair. When a property is in disrepair, Morgan said the city is notified and a letter is sent to the owner outlining which sections of the code have been violated and a time line of when the violations should be fixed. The owner normally has 30 days to fix it or respond with a plan. Such violations include cracks, broken windows, doors that do not close and stairways without handrails.

If it's a structural problem, a structural engineer may visit the property and give a recommendation to fix it. The owner then may submit a plan, which could range between weeks and years.

Morgan said the recession may be a reason for some storefronts condemned or left vacant throughout the city.

"People have good intentions to revitalize the property when the acquire it from another owner, but they sometimes aren't able to carry through with what they hoped to do," Morgan said. "We try to work with them and iron things out. Sometimes that takes a couple of months or years."

Eftink said a Cape Girardeau Police officer remains at the property damaged Tuesday to prevent anyone from re-entering the building, which also houses The Comix Strip in front of the structure. The Southeast Missourian was unable to contact the owner of The Comix Strip, but a message on the shop's answering machine said the business hoped to open in the next few days. Nearby buildings that were inspected Wednesday morning remained out of danger.

The inspection determined the building had failed at the foundation and that additional parts near the wall had fallen since Tuesday. Eftink said Dodd had planned before the collapse to have the structure repaired, and problems were not noticeable from outside the building before the collapse.

The incident may cause some concern for area residents, Eftink said, and business owners and consumers should report any noticeable problems to the city.

"A person should be observant," Eftink said. "We want people to look out for the obvious such as large cracks in a structure."

Dr. Steven Hoffman, a history professor at Southeast Missouri State University and treasurer of the executive committee of the Old Town Cape board, fears the incident may cause some people to believe tearing down the building is the best option. He said those people aren't thinking about the long-term effects of that option.

"I think people may say this building should be torn down before something else bad happens," Hoffman said. "But we need to save it.

"Which is more valuable, a gravel parking lot or something with retail?" he asked. "We need to take careful examination of what to do with the building that will best serve the citizens."

The partial collapse comes at a time when community leaders are focusing their efforts on the DREAM Initiative downtown strategic plan. The plan could transform areas of the city, including the downtown area, and includes proposals to create such features as an aquarium, riverside amphitheater, university village for shopping, residences near the River Campus and a 100-room hotel.

Hoffman said tearing down buildings such as the one at 621-623 Broadway would hamper efforts to effectively carry out the downtown strategic plan.

"If that and other buildings come down, the likelihood that some other dynamic building that takes its place is small," Hoffman said. "So we have a gap in the streetscape.

"The cumulative effect of those gaps destroys the sense of the place and viability of the remaining buildings and district as a whole," he said.

"Maintaining the buildings won't be easy but if we're successful we'll be able to create something really nice. And these historic buildings on Broadway are a key and maintaining them is key to future success as a commercial district."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Pertinent addresses:

621 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

623 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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