Making way on Main Street: Seven buildings already demolished at Cape Girardeau casino site

Friday, December 3, 2010
Jerry Pledger stands in front of his home on Mill Street in Cape Girardeau, where he has lived since 1989. The residents of his neighborhood will soon be moving to make way for the casino. (Kristin Eberts)

The new North Main Street to be built for the Isle of Capri casino will run right through what is now Jim Pledger's house at 217 Mason St.

The 74-year-old, who has signed a purchase agreement with the casino, said he doesn't like the idea of moving away from the house he's lived in the past 25 years, but he knows it has to be done.

"I was happy to stay here. I said, 'Let it come.' I'll stay. I like to sit on the porch and watch the cars go by," Pledger said.

Now he sits on his porch and watches as contractors tear down the homes around him to make way for Isle's new $125 million casino.

"Yesterday, I seen death," Pledger said. "Death was in the form of a huge track hoe. It tore down a house, and you have to wonder how many dreams were made in that house. How many people raised their children in that house from the time they could walk until they learned to drive."

Seven buildings have already been demolished, said Bob Herbst of Prudential Bridgeport Realty, who represented Isle of Capri in its property acquisitions.

Putting together more than 60 parcels that make up the development site is like working a giant jigsaw puzzle for Herbst. No two properties or offers were the same, he said. Some properties were owned by landlords with tenants living in them, some were home to families who are second- and third-generation Red Star District residents, some were vacant lots. One property was even foreclosed on by a bank that isn't in existence anymore, Herbst said. One man traded a van for his lot nearly 20 years ago but never had a new deed recorded so he couldn't initially sell it. After much title research and paperwork, Isle now has the deed.

Isle of Capri declined to comment specifically on properties in its development area; however, communications director Jill Haynes said all the property needed for the project Isle either owns or has an option to buy.

She said they expect to close on all properties within 90 days. According to county property records, Isle of Capri owns 13 parcels inside the proposed site area, which stretches along North Main Street from Mill Street to Mason Street.

The area where the casino will be erected has been called blighted by many, but it was at one time a thriving community with a shoe factory employing more than 1,000 people, Washington Elementary School, two grocery stores, a cafe, a bar, churches and service stations.

Many of the homes built there were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. Most are two-bedroom clapboard houses once painted in bright pink, blue and green.

Today, though, they're not so bright. The shoe factory moved in the 1960s and was later torn down. One by one, other businesses closed, although the Cape Mart convenience store remains open. It, too, is under contract by Isle. The paint is peeling off homes whose porch steps are sagging and tin roofs are rusty. Residents, many of whom rent, say several homes have been vacant for years.

David Knight and partner Jim Riley have been acquiring property in the Red Star District for some time in hopes of bringing a casino to Cape Girardeau.

"The problem with that area is that there has been so much dilapidation and blight, banks are reluctant to make loans in that area," Knight said. "If people wanted to get out, they just couldn't."

'Word spreads fast'

Despite the neighborhood's decline, the people who live there stuck together.

"If you're a stranger, they all know it," said Herbst, who began approaching homeowners by knocking on their front doors back in mid-May. "Word spreads fast whether you're trustworthy or not."

Pledger didn't want to work with Herbst at first, but once he realized his property sat in what would become a city street, giving the city the authority to invoke eminent domain, he realized he had to cooperate.

He said he doesn't know where he will move to, but he wants to stay close by. He grew up in the Red Star District and as a teenager worked on cars at his father's service station around the corner from his home.

His son, Jerry Pledger, settled just a couple blocks away, on the corner of Main and Mill streets. He, too, will sell his home, where he's lived since 1989, to the casino.

Jerry Pledger said his move will be a "definite upgrade" and that Isle of Capri offered him a good price for his property. He said he doesn't want to go far.

"We're going to stay on the north end," he said. The neighborhood holds a lifetime of memories for him.

"Our girls used to walk up the hill to school. My dad, me and my girls, we all went to that school," he said.

His neighbor up the street, Paul Hicks, is anxious to close on the sale of his home to the casino.

"I already have another house," Hicks said. "I've been moving little by little. It's a pain moving 25 years of junk sitting around."

Isle of Capri would not comment on what it has paid for the property it needs for the new casino.

"The people who lived there were offered way above market value," Knight said.

Four more buildings in the area are scheduled to be demolished before the end of the year. Work to reroute Main Street will be the first step toward casino construction, which will start in the summer.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent addresses:

North Main Street, Mason Street and Mill Street, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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