State lease could save Marquette

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

The dilapidated and vacant Marquette Hotel would be remodeled and house Missouri offices under a proposal being pushed by a Jefferson City, Mo., builder. The deal could be helped by a state preference for downtown locations but hinges on the builder reaching an agreement on the sale price with the hotel's owner.

State leasing officials could make their decision this week.

Prost Builders submitted a bid to the state in August. Under the proposal, the state would lease office space on the upper floors of the 73-year-old former hotel in downtown Cape Girardeau for 10 years at a cost of $2.39 million. Missouri's facilities management division is considering the bid, one of nine received for office space in Cape Girardeau.

City officials, who have long called for the building on the northeast corner of Broadway and Fountain streets to be demolished or fixed up, say they welcome the latest proposal. Mayor Al Spradling III said he hopes the project proceeds.

The state is looking at leasing 22,834 square feet of space for the Department of Social Services and other agencies. The department currently leases a building at 130 S. Frederick owned by Cape Girardeau businessman Jerry Lipps.

The six-story Marquette Hotel has about 46,000 square feet of space. Under the plan, the developer wants to lease the first and second floors for retail shops and restaurants and one of the upper floors for a law firm or other professional business.

Carl Greeson, assistant director of Missouri's facilities management division, said the state wants to move into any leased space in Cape Girardeau within nine months of the awarding of a contract.

Prost Builders submitted the second-lowest bid. The lowest was from a Poplar Bluff, Mo., firm that has proposed constructing a state office building on Southern Expressway and leasing it to the state for 10 years at a cost of $2.27 million.

But Greeson said the state wants to lease space in old buildings in downtown business districts as part of historic preservation efforts. It's part of a policy change on state office leases that began during the last part of the administration of the late governor Mel Carnahan.

His successor, Gov. Bob Holden, has continued the practice, Greeson said.

"We are glad there is interest in the project," Greeson said Monday. "We think this is one way to preserve the building."

The state has 14 office leases in Cape Girardeau covering a total of 144,000 square feet at an annual cost to taxpayers of more than $1.5 million.

Greeson said Prost Builders is experienced in historic renovation projects. Prost has renovated the governor's mansion and the state capitol in Jefferson City and Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal, Mo.

Steve Perry, project manager for Prost Builders, said the Marquette Hotel renovation won't happen if his company can't buy the building. Prost is negotiating to buy the building from owner Ruby Bullock.

Bullock's daughter, Carol Bullock of Rockville, Md., said Prost Builders so far hasn't offered enough money. She said a half-million dollars would be "a respectable amount" for the building.

"We believe Prost has the money to buy it," Carol Bullock said.

The city has condemned the Marquette Hotel, but Bullock puts little stock in threatened demolition. She said the city doesn't have the money to tear it down.

Constructed in 1928, the building has been vacant since 1981. The Missouri Division of Health shut down the hotel in July 1971 for safety reasons. The late Thad Bullock, Carol Bullock's father, operated a piano store on the ground floor until 1981.

Perry said the renovation project would cost well over $1 million. Financially, it won't work without both state offices and private tenants, he said.

Age and neglect have taken their toll on the Marquette Hotel. The building has suffered water and other weather damage.

But Perry believes the old hotel is worth restoring. "It is such a neat looking building," he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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