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Opinion: Heer's hype reverts to circa '95

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In a day, the hype around the Heer’s building reverted to circa 1995. The windows are partially boarded up, dust is collecting inside and Warren Davis is the owner.

No, that was more than a decade ago. But today, the only difference is the owner.

Boy, how glad Davis must be that his hands are clean of the Heer’s – dare I say – curse.
Fifteen years later, redevelopment of the Heer’s is nothing more than a legend.

St. Louis developer Kevin McGowan struck out last month, leaving a mess with confusion over who owned the downtown landmark building and no fate for the future. He’s the third developer to step up to the plate and walk away with nothing.

Immediately following Davis’ failed renovation plans, was Columbia-based historic renovation specialist Vaughn Prost. Prost had a two-year Heer’s courtship littered with missed financing deadlines until he threw in the towel in 2006.

If Heer’s were a baseball game, well, you know how that ends. It’d be game over. But it’s not a game, it’s a living legend – one with little hope right now.

McGowan bowing out is a big blow to this city. I’ve heard countless deep sighs when talking with people about the latest Heer’s disappointment.

In a short telephone conversation on Nov. 30, the day he missed the apparent final Housing and Urban Development financing deadline, McGowan told me he just wanted America back – back to the time developers could develop, capital was freely available in a capitalistic society and dreams were fulfilled. The problem is, that was part of the problem. In those good years, there were little restraints, money was cheap and taken for granted, and risks weren’t given their proper weights.

I’m left wondering if that would have made a difference with Heer’s. Sure, McGowan’s plan carried the most promise we’d ever seen in a Heer’s revival. I said from Day 1 he’d get it done.

He had me convinced. Springfield Business Journal’s editors selected McGowan for our inaugural 12 People You Need to Know project in 2007, largely based on his track record for historic redevelopment and his strong plans for the Springfield landmark. We had high hopes he’d bring the city the vibrant Heer’s it’s longed for. Hopes were hung on the Heer’s by many a downtown restaurateur, retailer and grocer. Unfortunately, we’ve watched them come and go, most certainly losing their shirts along the way. The lofty – but so far empty – plans for College Station also factor in.

McGowan could have been a hero. Now, he’s a hold-up, and another one on the Heer’s short list. It’s a travesty that Heer’s now joins the ranks of the McDaniel and Woodruff buildings in their disrepair.

The sbj.net poll question last week indicates most readers are so tired of waiting they don’t even care (see Week on the Web on page 26). But still, a third of respondents believe in a commercial development future for Heer’s. Others are suggesting the building becomes shared by university, city and county needs.

Of course, McGowan could make a comeback when the credit dust settles. Until then, we wait again.

Springfield Business Journal editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.
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