County purchase of federal building could affect several Cape government buildings

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com

The Cape Girardeau County Commission isn't the only government agency anxious to see what the future holds for the former federal building -- some city officials are keeping a close eye out, too.

A county purchase of the building on Broadway would free up the Common Pleas Courthouse after county offices are relocated from one building to the other. Cape Girardeau officials have held early talks about the future of the courthouse and nearby annex building.

"We're anxious to see what happens to the federal building," said Loretta Schneider, a Cape Girardeau City Council member and mayor pro tem. "We've thought that if the county gets it, the old courthouse would come back to our possession."

Several city officials cautioned that the talks are very preliminary, but some suggestions have been that the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau could relocate from the H&H Building on Broadway into the annex. Some city offices could move from the cramped city hall to the old courthouse.

"Relocating city hall there altogether -- I think that's been a thought," said Schneider, who is serving as mayor while Harry Rediger is out of town.

Currently, the city and county each have a one-half ownership in the Common Pleas Courthouse building at 44 N. Lorimier St. Both agencies share a 240-by-280-foot tract of land that surrounds the building, but the city owns the rest of the property, according to a copy of the agreement.

Per a 1979 agreement, the city granted the county the right to use all of the courthouse building and the annex for a 50-year period that doesn't expire until 2029. But the agreement can be terminated with a one-year notice if the city wants to use half the building, the agreement says.

The annex, according to the agreement, can only be used for circuit court and county administrative offices. Under the agreement, the county maintains the entire courthouse grounds.

City manager Scott Meyer said that there hasn't been much discussion about the future of the Common Pleas. But if the county does vacate the courthouse, Meyer said, the city would approach the county about altering the existing lease.

"We could look at what we could do with those buildings," Meyer said. "It would be a smart move for us to do that. At this point, though, it's a lot of conjecture. There's still a lot of dominoes that have to fall."

The main idea that has been circulating is the relocation of the CVB to the annex building, Meyer said. Using proceeds from the city's hotel tax, the city pays the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce to manage the CVB.

"We are indeed playing the what-if game," said CVB executive director Chuck Martin. "There are a whole lot of things that have to happen. This is all utter speculation at this time."

Still, Martin said, those at the CVB -- which has moved from 100 Broadway to the H&H Building at the corner of Broadway and Fountain Street in recent years -- would welcome the permanency of a building that solely served as a CVB.

It makes sense to be in their own building, Martin said. Also, the annex is near the scenic and historic Common Pleas Courthouse, he said.

"It's a recognized historic landmark," Martin said. "I certainly think it's a viable property and definitely worth exploring if and when the county gets the federal building. And it would be a crying shame if that building sat empty."

Jay Purcell, who represents the 2nd District on the Cape Girardeau County Commission, said he doesn't see why such a deal wouldn't work if the county gets the building it wants.

In fact, he said, he would welcome getting out from under the cost of maintaining the courthouse grounds.

"Generally, I don't give away negotiating points," Purcell said. "But anything that the county government can do to lower our overhead is smart. I'd think that a deal could be reached with the city relatively quickly."

While it's early, Schneider said it's prudent for the Cape Girardeau City Council to at least be discussing the ideas.

"We don't want to have to make any quick decisions," she said. "Who knows how quickly that old federal building will sell? We want to be ready."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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