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DUE FOR DEMOLITION: Crane Mayor Collin Brannan, pictured with former City Clerk Beth Murphy, who helped the town apply for state grants last year, wants to seek demolition bids for a long-shuttered casket factory.
Heather Mosley | SBJ
DUE FOR DEMOLITION: Crane Mayor Collin Brannan, pictured with former City Clerk Beth Murphy, who helped the town apply for state grants last year, wants to seek demolition bids for a long-shuttered casket factory.

Battling Blight: Crane receives state grant to demolish 14 structures

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The small town of Crane is the recipient of some big money from the state that will lead to demolition of over a dozen blighted structures.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development announced last month Crane is among 38 government entities to share $15.8 million through the Community Development Block Grant Program. While some of the infrastructure improvement projects include constructing or repairing roads and bridges, Crane’s funding total of $241,088 aims to demolish 13 privately owned residential structures and a city-owned commercial building.

“Our hope is we turn these blighted properties back into marketable building sites,” said Crane Mayor Collin Brannan. “That would be the ideal goal and hope to stop further decay of the areas they are in.”

Brannan has served as Crane’s mayor since 2005. He said the town with a population of 1,357, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, has considered applying for CDBG funds for around four years. Getting all the paperwork and confirming properties to be included in the application has taken time. The Crane Board of Aldermen approved the list of buildings to be demolished.

The cornerstone of the project is the commercial structure, a roughly 26,000-square-foot portion of a long-abandoned casket factory. It was vital to include the factory in the grant application, Brannan said.

“That has been a blight in the community for years,” he said of the 207 E. Lockhart Ave. structure that most recently was occupied by Gold Shield Casket when it closed in 1990. “We’re only going to get one shot at this grant. We don’t want to just do the houses and not take care of the biggest problem that we have.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a structure as blighted “when it exhibits objectively determinable signs of deterioration sufficient to constitute a threat to human health, safety and public welfare.”

While the Lockhart Avenue structure owned by the now defunct Hometown Biofuels LLC was unsalvageable, he said a second former casket factory building on the property was worth saving. The roughly 40,000-square-foot building was bought in 2019 by the city from Stone County for $2,210 in a delinquent tax auction.

The building is under renovation for use as storage for city vehicles, he said, noting it eventually will have a new roof.

“Even if the roof is $100,000, it’s pretty cheap for 40,000 square feet of garage space,” he said, noting the city has spent around $50,000 so far. “The goal is that all of those vehicles can be stored inside and hopefully our equipment can last a lot longer.”

Brannan said the residential properties will stay in possession of the homeowners.

“We’re just doing the work. They retain the title to the property, and it’s returned to them, just in a clean lot,” Brannan said, noting the city had approval from all homeowners. “Hopefully, they’ll want to build something else there.”

Under consideration
While Crane plans to use state funds to eliminate blighted buildings, the city of Springfield is considering a blight study in connection with its $26.2 million Grant Avenue Parkway project.

Springfield City Council member Richard Ollis said last month he wants to sponsor a bill to authorize the blight study. Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner said the city spent roughly $100,000 for its last blight study in 2017 for a Kearney Street corridor plan.

Kerner said July 9 that city staff is still working on the bill’s language and the document should be ready for council review soon. The Grant Avenue Parkway project is designed to create a greenway trail system and transportation improvements along a 3.3-mile stretch of Grant Avenue between Sunshine and Walnut streets. Council voted June 28 to establish an overlay zoning district and rezone roughly 72 acres, comprising over 220 parcels.

Kerner doesn’t expect a six-figure price tag should the Grant Avenue blight study get approved.

“We’re estimating around $75,000, as I don’t think we’re going to ask for a study of the entire area,” she said. “I think we’re going to look from Fassnight Park and north. The Kearney Street corridor that we studied was over 3 miles long.”

The Kearney Street blight study was followed by a redevelopment plan. Its purpose was to remove blight and redevelop the area, Kerner said. Projects that have been developed include three from O’Reilly Hospitality Management LLC: Glendalough Convention Center, which is attached to the company-owned DoubleTree by Hilton; a retail building adjacent to the hotel; and BigShots Golf, an entertainment center that opened in May at Kearney Street and Glenstone Avenue. Kerner said all three projects were approved by the Springfield Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, an appointed city board that assists with redevelopment of blighted or insanitary areas. As a result, she said the projects receive real property tax abatement of 100% of the assessed value of the new construction for 10 years.

Regarding the Grant Avenue Parkway project, Kerner said ideally there will be a mix of new and existing buildings.

“It would be really cool if we could have an adaptive reuse of an existing building. In some places, there’s vacant lots that could have new construction built,” she said. “The way we write the redevelopment plan will be key in making sure that the appropriate incentives are offered to get that result.”

Kelly Byrne, managing member of real estate developer Say You Can LLC, has some experience with blighted buildings. Say You Can completed construction in April on a $1.4 million pocket neighborhood development on East Cherry Street that included demolition of two blighted residences. Council in November 2020 unanimously approved a decade of 100% property tax abatement for the project, which comprises six attached, single-unit homes around a central courtyard in the Rountree neighborhood.

“Using blight and using real property tax abatement is a good idea if used properly,” he said, noting the process can be expensive for small developers like Say You Can.

The company spent around $40,000 in attorney’s fees seeking the designation and incentives for the Cherry Street project.

“We ended up spending more money on attorney’s fees to have that done than the tax abatement was probably even worth,” he said.

While he doesn’t have any properties in the Grant Avenue area, Byrne said he’ll keep an eye on the project as it develops.

“There’s some really cool areas through that stretch,” he said. “I would be very interested to see how it plays out and potentially invest in that area.”

Time to wait
After turning in the CDBG application in December 2020, Crane officials were notified in May about the grant, Brannan said, noting the city had to wait to announce it until a state news release was prepared weeks later.

However, he said the city is in another holding pattern as the state works on paperwork with the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments for administering funds. Crane has until August 2027 to demolish all the structures, but Brannan has no desire to wait that long.

“We want to expedite it as much as we can. We want to see progress,” he said. “The public can’t see the paperwork.”

Brannan said the total project cost is $269,088 and the remaining $28,000 not covered by the grant will come from residential landowner contributions or cost-share funds from the city.

“I’m hopeful we can start taking bids on the demolition within six months,” he said.

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