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Editorial: State offices mean new life for Marquette

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Just the announcement that the Marquette Hotel in downtown Cape Girardeau will be transformed into an office building to house state offices and more was enough to cheer downtown supporters.

As it stands, the 74-year-old abandoned hotel is nothing short of depressing. There are still hints of the grandeur that attracted stars to its rooms and regular folks to its restaurant, but time and lack of care have taken a heavy toll.

Some even say the Marquette is dangerous. Passers-by risk being hit by a falling brick or tumbling parapet, they say.

So how meaningful it was when Thomas M. Meyer proudly hoisted that "Sold" sign over his head on Broadway. The event last week was called a news conference, but those strolling down Broadway stopped in the heat and the humidity for a quiet celebration and perhaps a little introspection of their own.

It was made possible by Gov. Bob Holden's decree: Where possible, state offices should go into downtown areas to help revive them. No one would argue that renovating the Marquette could go a long way toward revitalizing additional buildings -- including the H&H Building up the street -- and even attracting new businesses to serve the people who will work or use the services provided there.

The plans are impressive. State contract winner Prost Builders of Jefferson City, Mo., will invest $6 million of private money to renovate the building, which, by all accounts, needs almost a total gutting. It is expected to take nine months and should be ready for the first stages of occupancy next summer, Meyer said.

More than 100 state employees with the Missouri departments of Social Services, Mental Health and Health and Senior Services will move into two floors of renovated office space.

But there's more. The first floor and mezzanine will be restored to their original look, and the top floors will be converted to additional office space.

There could be retail shops in the building. Maybe a coffee bar.

And any parking concerns will be addressed by two lots: one behind the building and another nearby on the site of the old Southeast Missouri State University public works building.

It certainly was a meteoric rise for the favorite cause of area historical preservationists. Just over a year ago, city officials threatened to tear the place down. Only a lack of city funds kept that from happening.

Now the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and on the verge of rebirth.

However, those concerned about the Marquette and the overall appearance of downtown shouldn't stop paying attention.

It will be interesting to see Prost's plans and make sure they keep the look of the Marquette both inside and out. Any modern facade simply wouldn't do for such a treasure.

And the name of the partnership formed to bid on the state contract -- Marquette Office Building LLC -- would seem to indicate the name "Marquette" will stick with the building.

Excellent idea.


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