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Building owners plan to go on in fire's aftermath

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Downtown Springfield is watching what happens after the fire.

Fire gutted a building at the corner of Jefferson and Walnut Dec. 27, just months after architect Dan Scott and contractor David Kellett had purchased the building to renovate it and create retail space and upscale loft apartments.

The city of Springfield completed its investigation of the building and released it to its owners Jan. 6. On that day, Scott and Kellett got to take their first walk-through of the building they hope can still be salvaged. The city's Building Development Services Department has declared the building to be unsafe, but the department's director, Bob Turner, said he is confident the two owners will take steps to not only make the building safe, but to see that the best possible use is found for it.

"After meeting and talking with the owners, I feel that they will look at their options carefully and make the best decision," Turner said.

Turner and other city officials met with Scott and Kellett Jan. 7 to discuss what might happen to the property.

Scott said that he and Kellett have not been told to tear the building down, and that they are waiting to see whether it will be feasible to rebuild.

"We haven't received a settlement from our insurance company yet, and it will depend on what that is whether we have the means to rebuild. I have reviewed the project with my partner. ... Right now, we're weighing our options," Scott said.

Although the fire was ruled suspicious by the city fire marshal, Scott said that ruling should not affect progression on the project.

Rebuilding or rehabilitating the building are the options the two consider to be the best ones, Scott said. When the two walked through the building for the first time Jan. 6, Scott said, the damage to the building was not worse than he had suspected.

Before the fire, the architectural drawings and engineering drawings for the project were complete; the owners were about to begin taking bids from contractors, Scott said. Those renderings will probably be almost completely useless now, he said.

Turner said the owners now have a permit from the city that will allow them to repair and clean up the building. The Building Development Services Department would like for the owners to have submitted their plans for what to do with the building within 30 days, Turner said.

"I am pretty optimistic that they will try to salvage the building," he added.

David Knight, director of Economic Development for the city, said that it was fortuitous that the building was in the hands of owners who are entrepreneurs and enthusiastic about downtown and the possibility of renovating.

"I think we made it over the first hurdle in that the building is now under the ownership of individuals who are excited about the property's potential," he said.

The city has a loan on the land and property; Scott and Kellett's Jericho Development LLC secured a city small business loan for $125,950 to purchase the building. That means the city has something of a stake in the project's future, as well, Knight said.

"The city is behind this 100 percent. ... If the existing building has to come down, then I'm excited about the prospect of a new building on that site," Knight said.

If the building had to come down, Kellett has said that the pair may attempt rebuilding something that complements downtown's existing buildings.

Mary Lou Gilbert, who owns Sothern Studios and Gilbert Gallery, property adjacent to the burned building, said some of the property in her studio suffered smoke and water damage, and that parts of her business are still smoky from the fire.

"I lost lots of props to smoke and water damage, and one window that was the window in my barn set had to be chopped out. That pane of glass was old and is irreplacable," Gilbert said.

The roof of her business caught fire also, Gilbert said. She lost a few of the gallery's prints because of smoke and water damage, and she, like Scott and Kellett, is still assessing what is damaged.

"Our insurance company hasn't yet assessed all the damage, and we've taken many things out to a storage area to prevent further damage," Gilbert said.

Her studio and gallery have been closed to the public since the fire, she said, although employees are staffing the phones to reschedule photo sessions or to explain what's going on to customers.

Gilbert's businesses were not part of

the city or fire marshal investigation, she said.

Although she concedes it will be some time before she determines what the damage was and knows how much that amounts to in dollars, Gilbert said she is trying to look on the bright side.

When the fire began, she was in her studio working, and when she first saw the burning building, she thought it would burn to the ground.

"I thought the whole building would go when I first saw it, but it wasn't as bad as I originally thought," Gilbert said.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Kellett also owns Three Nineteen in downtown Springfield, and Scott is the architect for the Boonville Brewery project.

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