New ownership of Marquette Hotel in Cape

Thursday, September 12, 2002

$6 million renovation could take 15 months

Business Today

The 21-year ordeal to find a use for the six-story, Spanish-style hotel in downtown Cape Girardeau officially ended Aug. 29 when owner Ruby Bullock signed over the deed to Prost Builders Inc. of Jefferson City.

The transfer of ownership occurred at the nearby Royal N'Orleans restaurant in front of about 30 civic leaders, members of the Bullock family and historic preservationists.

"This will be the fourth renovation project for us this year. This is the biggest one," said Vaughn Prost, chairman of the corporation's board. "We've been in business 52 years. We like this challenge."

He singled out the part historic preservationists, most of them students or former students at Southeast Missouri State University, played in making sure the public and elected officials were aware of the building's cultural worth to the city.

The company paid $350,000 for the building. The asking price was $655,000.

Approximately 100 state employees will work in offices on three floors of the building. The state will pay Prost $2.39 million to lease the offices for 10 years. The other half of the space will be leased to retail businesses and to other offices.

Real estate agent Thomas M. Meyer, who handled the sale, said one restaurant and other businesses have inquired about renting space. Information about the property will be disseminated internationally, Meyer said.

Catherine Dunlap, executive director of Old Town Cape, said downtown restaurants and businesses obviously will benefit from having 100 state employees working at the Marquette Hotel. The renovation also will act as "a catalyst for redevelopment," she said.

When it opened in 1928, the hotel at Broadway and Fountain Street was touted as the finest between St. Louis and Memphis. But it fell into disrepair and has been vacant the past 21 years.

The city condemned the hotel in 2000 and in January 2001 gave Bullock two months to sell the building, renovate it or see it demolished. A series of deadline extensions followed as Bullock was unable to find a buyer and the city could not afford the $1 million cost of razing the structure.

Historic preservation students Jeremy Wells and Robin Seiler, meanwhile, got the building put on the National Register of Historic Places. That was a factor in the company choosing the building when the company started looking in Cape Girardeau, Prost said.

Last August, Prost's Marquette Hotel project was one of nine bids for the contract to provide state office space in Cape Girardeau. A December 2001 executive order signed by Gov. Bob Holden requiring the state's facilities managers to lease space in central downtown districts raised the Marquette's stock. The state already had a policy of renting space in historic buildings.

The project qualifies as a "brownfield site," an EPA designation for contaminated or polluted redevelopment property. Prost will get tax credits for removing the asbestos and other contaminants.

Mead Environmental Associates of Cape Girardeau is devising a plan for removing asbestos, lead-based paint and contaminated oil from the Marquette Hotel, the first step in a $6 million renovation of the building that is expected to take 15 months.

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