Top 11 stories of 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
---- Water fills an area of farmland in Mississippi County that sustained severe erosion from the intentional breach of Birds Point Levee in May (MELISSA MILLER)

No. 1: Flooding hits farmers hardest

In Mississippi County, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the levee holding back the Mississippi River at Birds Point to relieve pressure downstream, the economic toll is still being tallied.

Under the command of Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, in May the corps blew three holes in the earthen levee, unleashing floodwaters on 130,000 acres of farmland. Though some adamantly disagree, the corps said the action was necessary to alleviate flooding in communities in Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois. Walsh said the corps was following its Birds Point New Madrid Floodway plan, which calls for activation at 61 feet. On May 1, the Cairo gauge topped 60 feet and on May 2, the first of the three holes was blown.

Early estimates put the potential crop value lost at $85.2 million, according to a report by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. Dealers of seed, fertilizer, chemicals and fuel all felt the impact as acres of farmland sat under water for months.

With commodity prices at all-time highs this spring, it appeared this growing season would produce a profitable crop. Corn prices hovered near a record-breaking $8 a bushel. After the levee breach, farmers saw what had looked like a hearty wheat crop become a matted, muddy mess, then struggled to clean it up in time to get soybeans planted. This was welcome work, however, since just after the breach it was doubtful they'd get a crop in at all. By the time the waters receded, it was too late to plant corn. The agricultural land affected by flooding in Mississippi County is valued at more than $300 million, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. It was some of the most productive soil in the state, with Mississippi County farmers harvesting 6.2 million bushels of soybeans and 9.4 million bushels of corn in 2010. Crops grown in Missouri's Bootheel make up about 40 percent of the state's agriculture production. In addition to the damage floodwaters brought on farmland in the floodway, several bridges washed away and many roads were left divided by deep crevices cut into them by the rushing waters. It will cost about $75 million to restore Mississippi County's wrecked roads, according to Mississippi County Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett. It's unclear where these funds will come from. The floodway area was designated a federal disaster area, making its residents and government entities eligible for federal cleanup funds.

Traffic passes in front of the Esquire Theater at 824 Broadway in Cape Girardeau Tuesday afternoon, October 11, 2011. Plans for the future of the Esquire will be announced today at 10a.m. at the theater. (Laura Simon)

No. 2: Hospitals complete major additions

Both Cape Girardeau hospitals completed major projects this year. SoutheastHEALTH opened its new Cancer Center in February, while Saint Francis Medical Center opened its Heart Hospital and Cancer Institute in July. As heart disease and cancer continue to be the leading causes of death in the United States, these new facilities will provide much-needed care to patients in Southeast Missouri and surrounding areas for years to come.

Southeast's $33 million Cancer Center on South Mount Auburn Road has 54,000 square feet designed for patient comfort and housing the latest medical technology, including 33 infusion bays, two linear accelerators for precise radiation treatments and a PET/CT medical imaging device.

Saint Francis' 208,000-square-foot Heart Hospital and Cancer Institute, connected to the original hospital facility, cost $84 million and nearly three years to build. The Heart Hospital has six ultrasound rooms, 60 private acute care rooms, a 10-bed cardiac intensive care unit, five cardiac catheterization labs, an electrodiagnostic lab and easy access from the emergency department. The Cancer Institute includes 35 chemotherapy treatment stations and four private rooms, the offices of Cape Medical Oncology, a CyberKnife robotic radio surgery system, a PET/CT imaging scanner, two linear accelerators and even a boutique where patients can get free wigs and turbans through the American Cancer Society.

No. 3: Menards building Cape Girardeau store

Crews with Synergy Group erect the steel for the structure of the Menards building Monday, October 17, 2011 at the corner of Bloomfield Road and Siemers Drive in Cape Girardeau. Menards is slated to open in the spring of 2012 (Laura Simon)

Cape Girardeau will have another home improvement retailer this spring with the opening of Menards on the corner of Siemers Drive and Bloomfield Road. The announcement was made in February, work on the steel structure was finished in mid-November, and the building was expected to be under-roof by December. The site will include 162,340 feet of retail store, garden center and lumber warehouse and will employ about 160 people, with about half of those being full-time employees.

Synergy Group of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which has built a dozen other Menards stores, is the general contractor for the $8 million facility. Dutch Enterprises of Jackson has been hired to do plumbing for the building. The Cape Girardeau store will be the southernmost location for the Wisconsin-based retailer, which has about 250 stores nationwide. The closest to Cape Girardeau is in Marion, Ill. Menards is also Cape Girardeau's first large retail development since 2005, when both Sears Grand and Kohl's opened off Siemers Drive.

No. 4: Broadway corridor to see improvements

Cape Girardeau's downtown Broadway will see several improvements in coming years thanks to $2.84 million from voter-approved Transportation Trust Fund money. Proposed changes include resurfacing the roadway; replacing sidewalks, curbs and gutters; and relocating overhead utility lines. The second portion of the project will include landscape design, intersection improvements, parking possibilities and different designs for alleyways. The $1 million to fund those improvements came from the city's land sale to Isle of Capri Casinos. According to Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape, the Broadway corridor project is in its final design stages and work will begin shortly after the first of the year. Casey Brunke, city engineer with the City of Cape Girardeau, said hard elements including pavement, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, should be in place by October with plants to be added in November.

Plans are also underway for a $2.4 million revival of the Esquire Theater, once a thriving business at 824 Broadway. John Buckner, the building's new owner, announced Oct. 12 his plan to turn the 67-year-old building into a 500-seat theater that will show independent films, student theater and cabaret. It will also allow patrons to buy food and drinks from a wait staff.

Lt. Jerry Bledsoe, left, and Capt. Gregg Ourth with the Scott County Sheriff's Department watch as Dan from Dan's Key and Lock Shop changes the locks on the main entrance of an airport hanger during the eviction of Commander Premier Wednesday morning, October 12, 2011 at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. (Laura Simon)

The theater first opened its doors in 1947 and closed in 1984. Another company tried to revive the Esquire as a discount theater for second-run films, but it lasted only nine months and closed for good in 1985. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 but has remained empty -- and continued to deteriorate -- for more than 25 years.

Buckner, who bought the building from local restaurant owner Phil Brinson, said renovations will use state and federal tax credits and will take 16 to 18 months to complete; he hopes to finish by early 2013. Mills says the theater has already been cleaned out and is just beginning the design phase. Buckner has hired Kiku Obata & Co., a design firm from St. Louis, and Penzel Construction of Jackson to complete the overhaul of the building.

No. 5: Nordenia embarks on $20 million expansion

Flexible packaging manufacturer Nordenia USA will invest more than $20 million over the next three to four years in construction and equipment for a new facility in Jackson's Industrial Park off U.S. 61 and for an expansion at its existing plant near Cape Girardeau on Highway 177.

The company is expected to spend $4 million in 2012 alone as it expands to help meet growing demands for pet food, agricultural and lawn and garden product packaging.

Work continues at the Isle of Capri Casino site on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Steel beams are being erected as construction of the main structure progresses (Kristin Eberts)

Nordenia is helping a number of companies convert from rigid plastic pails to flexible plastic bags, said plant manager Bill Burke.

Construction on its new 186,000-square-foot warehouse is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011. About 50 new employees will be added as part of the project. Nordenia's current facility opened in 1989 with five employees and now employs about 400. Its biggest customers include Procter & Gamble, Tyson Foods and Nestle.

No. 6: Blair Box moves into former Thorngate Ltd. location

A building that was an empty eyesore in the center of town for two years is now home to a booming new box business.

Blair Best Box is creating custom paper packaging for a number of national clients at the former Thorngate Ltd. facility on Independence Street, where it's made a $2.5 million investment.

Boxes for video games and DVDs, three-ring binders and folders -- all individually designed and recyclable -- are now being produced at a rate of up to 10,000 sets a day.

The push to "go green" is creating a desire for paper-based packaging from both consumers and companies, said Blair Packaging and Blair Best Box president Ron Unterreiner. Blair Best Box did not receive any state economic development incentives, but the City of Cape Girardeau did grant the company a Chapter 353 10-year property tax abatement totaling $369,398 and it obtained a $165,000 low-interest loan from the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission's revolving loan fund. The Bank of Missouri also provided financing.

No. 7: Quarry fallout continues; annexation fight ensues

For more than a year, the residents of Fruitland and representatives of Saxony Lutheran High School have fought to keep two limestone quarry operations from mining adjacent to the school off County Road 601.

When the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclaimation Commission's permit appeal process failed to stop the commission from issuing mining permits to both Heartland Materials and Strack Excavating, opponents took their case to circuit court. Filing two separate cases, Saxony and Save Our Children's Health Inc., asked for judicial review of the Land Reclaimation's decisions. Litigation continues in both cases.

In the meantime, both companies continue in their efforts to establish mining operations at their permitted sites. Heartland Materials and Strack Excavating have asked the City of Jackson to annex their properties into the city limits at the same time a group of Fruitland residents works to incorporate the community as its own city. Jackson voters will decide Feb. 7 whether 240 acres, including the mine sites and several residential properties, will be annexed.

No. 8: Casino construction begins in Cape Girardeau

After nearly a year of planning and a vote of the people, construction began in April on the $125 million Isle of Capri casino complex just north of downtown Cape Girardeau.

Work began with the relocation of North Main Street around the casino site, coordinated by Fronabarger Concreters of Oak Ridge. Roy Anderson Corp. of Gulfport, Miss., and S.M. Wilson & Co. of St. Louis were selected as general contractors on the project and by summer, the foundation was poured for the basin to hold the floating casino floor. This fall, crews began erecting 1469 tons of steel to frame the facility. This work is expected to be finished in February 2012.

The new facility is designed to include 1,000 slot machines, 28 table games, several restaurants and a 750-seat multipurpose entertainment/conference room. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2012.

No. 9: Commander, Cape Girardeau haggle over hangar

Kicking them out may have been just the beginning. The legal fight between Commander Premier Aircraft Corp. and the City of Cape Girardeau is approaching the 12-month mark, but the end doesn't seem to be any closer.

On Oct. 12, after nine months of legal wrangling, the city was successful in having the company evicted from a municipally owned hangar at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. The company hadn't made a lease payment since December 2007 and the tab now totaled more than $800,000.

Then Commander filed an appeal to the eviction and the city countered with a filing of its own. The city is now asking a bankruptcy judge in Texas, where the company is now based, to convert the company's bankruptcy status from Chapter 11 to Chapter 6. If a judge agrees -- a hearing was set for Dec. 14 -- it would allow the sale of Commander's assets that are still loaded at the hangar to repay the company's more than $2 million in overall debt. City officials continue to be frustrated and baffled. "I've stopped trying to think about what their motivation is," city manager Scott Meyer said. "They're just too hard to figure out. I can't spend my time thinking about it." While company executives have stopped returning calls, some members of the Cape Girardeau City Council are fed up. "I just see it as stall tactics and lack of integrity," Councilwoman Kathy Swan said.

No. 10: Sabreliner opens new painting hangar

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- Sabreliner opened its new $7 million, 32,000-square-foot aircraft painting hangar Sept. 16, but without the jobs company executives hoped it would provide. Some of the military aircraft refurbishment work Sabreliner was doing at the time the new facility was planned is now being done internally instead of being contracted out, said Jim Meier, senior vice president of government and corporate aviation services at Sabreliner during a September interview with the Southeast Missourian.

Sabreliner employs 441 people at its Perryville facility, but plans to add hundreds of jobs are on hold for now.

In September 2010, Gov. Jay Nixon announced nearly $5 million in state economic development incentives to assist Sabreliner with the new striping and painting facility. Of that, $3.7 million was in Missouri Quality Jobs program tax credits, which aren't granted until after new employees are hired. Robinson Construction of Perryville built the hangar to eliminate a bottleneck in Sabreliner's refurbishing process and increase efficiency. About 25 people work at the new hangar, which has a large bay for stripping and sanding and another for aircraft painting.

With this addition, Sabreliner can handle larger aircraft than it previously had the capacity to hold. The hangar is also climate controlled and has a three-stage air filtration system. All equipment is housed on the hangar's second floor in case of a major flood, like the 1993 flood that inundated the Sabreliner facility.

No. 11: City Centre opens, attracts four businesses

The former Rust & Martin furniture store at 2502 Tanner Drive in Cape Girardeau was converted into a new shopping center this year. The building, which underwent a French-inspired renovation and was renamed City Centre, now houses four retail businesses: Belladona Salon & Spa, Cafe Soupe, The Source Yoga and More, and LeBounce. Rep. JoAnn Emerson, R-Mo., recently moved her offices to the City Centre, and the law offices of Caroline Austin and Rick Kuntze have moved into the south side of the building. According to Jeff Maurer of Mayson Investments, the City Centre has one more suite open and finished, and another 3,500 square feet ready to build out. As of Dec. 9, he expected to finalize two more leases within the week.

"I think the style of the building inside is unique for Cape, and the mix of businesses is what's causing people to jump to make a decision to move there so quickly," said Maurer. "We're signing leases faster than we can get the space built out."

Mike Rust of Rust & Martin handled the interior design work at City Centre, while his own furniture store moved to the Regent's Parc building on North Kingshighway.

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