The Marquette Hotel may gain a place on the National Register of Historic Places, but the designation would prove largely symbolic to those who want to hang a do-not-disturb sign on the 73-year-old building.
Federal and state historical officials say the building is sure to make the register, but it would provide little protection from city officials, who want to make sure the area around the building is safe, even if it means demolition.
One benefit of being on the register is rehabilitation tax credits of 20 percent from the state and 25 percent from the federal government. Steve Maserang, a historian with the Missouri historic preservation office in Jefferson City, Mo., said for tax credits to become available to the owner the building must be rehabilitated and become income-producing property.
The Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation gave preliminary approval to a historic-places nomination prepared and presented by Southeast Missouri State University historic-preservation students on Nov. 9. The request will be sent to the national register within the next few weeks, and an answer is expected in the next couple of months.
Edson Beall, a historian with the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, said once a building makes it past the state level, it is almost certain to make the register.
"About 99 percent of the nominations make it," Beall said of the 1,500 they receive each year. "We're not a rubber stamp by any means, but to some extent we have to trust the states to send us quality applications."
It doesn't matter that the Marquette has fallen into disrepair and has been condemned by the city since summer 2000. The city says falling debris makes the building unsafe for pedestrians and motorists.
"That it's condemned isn't really a factor," Maserang said. "It's subjective, but we just look at the architectural integrity and the appearance of the building. It's a very historic-looking building."
Beall and Maserang said condemned buildings have been added to the register, but neither could name any from memory.
The designation is not expected to impede plans by the Cape Girardeau City Council, which is in the process of "mothballing" the building. That includes boarding up windows and making sure the roof is secure and that no brickwork is loose.
City awaits plan
The council has been waiting for a plan from owner Ruby Bullock since the building was condemned. After several missed deadlines, Bullock, who is represented by her daughter, Carol, has been given a final 60-day extension. The council wants to know what the Bullocks plan to do with the building.
Beall said the city is within its rights to continue its plans.
"Being on the register would not protect any building from a municipality," Beall said. "If a city were to deem it unsafe, it would still have to adhere to whatever the city or the owner wanted to do with it."
The only protection being on the register would provide would be if federal funds were used, Beall said. All that means is the state's preservation office is allowed to comment on work done to a building, he said.
"The office there may try to talk about alternatives to doing anything that would take away from the building's historic integrity, but that's really all the teeth that it has," Beall said.
Jeremy Wells, one of the students who presented the plan, said the tax credits hopefully will encourage someone to invest in the building.
"It could be a real benefit to the community," he said. "I understand this would not protect the building from demolition, but I don't think we need to be talking about tearing it down."
Mayor Albert Spradling III said the city cannot afford to tear the building down, but that could change. Spradling said the city could issue bonds to tear the building down or use money from general revenue. Estimates place the cost of demolition at $1 million.
"This is just a designation," he said. "It does not make the property more valuable in my mind. The only thing that can be done is to improve it and maintain it. But I think that eventually tearing it down is the best option until I see any significant change of heart from the owner."
The Bullocks want to sell it. They say they have two interested buyers, although some think their $700,000 asking price is too high.
Carol Bullock said she doesn't fear the city tearing the building down. "They have no money and I have too much support," she said. "They can't do anything. They really can't."
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