Marquette- new lease on life

Saturday, July 13, 2002

For 21 years the aging and deteriorating Marquette Hotel building has sat vacant at the corner of Broadway and Fountain streets in downtown Cape Girardeau.

But that's about to change.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, in front of the old hotel, Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson and real estate agent Thomas M. Meyer placed a "sold" sign on the building and declared the hotel saved.

Shouts of joy erupted from a small group of people gathered outside the building when Knudtson announced that the Missouri Division of Facilities Management awarded a state contract for office space to Prost Builders, the new owners of the building.

Carol Bullock, who oversaw the hotel deal for her mother Ruby, the former owner, said Prost Builders purchased the 74-year-old building for approximately $350,000.

The bid award means 103 state employees with the departments of Social Services, Mental Health and Health and Senior Services will move into the building when the $6 million renovations are complete. It also means the future of the L.J. Schultz School building on Pacific Street is unclear.

Meyer, who spoke on behalf of Prost Builders, said renovations on the hotel will take about nine months, and the building should be ready for occupancy by summer 2003.

The first floor and mezzanine will be historically restored, and the top three floors will be converted to office space during renovations. When finished, the building will include retail shops and possibly a coffee bar on the first floor and two separate parking areas -- one behind the building and another across Fountain Street, where the old Southeast Missouri State University public works building currently stands.

Historic influence

Carl Greeson, assistant director of facilities management for the state of Missouri, said the building's listing on the National Register of Historic Places was one of the major reasons the building was chosen.

"The governor has an executive order that requires us to place or lease facilities in downtown, historic and revitalized districts," Greeson said. "The best proposal in terms of benefits now and in the long term for the state, Cape Girardeau and the agencies involved was, in fact, the Marquette."

Greeson said other state office bids were rejected because of price or location.

He said cost was the issue with Ray Bax's bid for renovating the Louis J. Schultz School building. Bax's bid was for $268,300. The bid from Prost Builders was $234,000.

Bax's local real estate agent Kerry Johnson said neither he nor Bax had any comment about the decision Friday.

Bob Fox, school board president for the Cape Girardeau School District, said he was disappointed about the decision.

"Personally, I don't think it's the best choice," Fox said. "I don't have any problems with the Marquette being restored, but Schultz was a better building."

Fox said the district will have to meet with Bax to see if Bax is still interested in purchasing the building for the $2 million he originally offered the district.

If not, he said, it puts the district back at square one with Schultz.

Hotel history

The Marquette was once a luxury hotel with retail stores, a coffee shop and a barber shop, but it closed to the public in 1981.

At one point in January 2001, the city of Cape Girardeau told Carol Bullock she had two months to sell the building, fix it up or watch demolition crews tear it down.

Motivated by the thought of the building's demise, Bullock started a campaign to save it. She hosted a public reception in the hotel's lobby and enlisted historic preservation students from Southeast Missouri State University to research the building's history.

On April 11, 2002, the student's work paid off when the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Bullock struggled to find words Friday to express her delight that the hotel had been awarded the state contract.

"I'm just completely thrilled," she said, pausing between each word. "I hope my mom believes me when I tell her. It's something she's waited and waited and waited on for years."

Robin Seiler, a historic preservation student at Southeast and self-proclaimed "building hugger," helped write the proposal for the National Register.

"This building deserved to be saved, and somebody finally woke up and did it," she said.

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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