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Refreshing History: Developers look to older structures for new business concepts

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Developers across Springfield are breathing new life into old structures. The construction is revitalizing the look of neighborhoods in the Queen City, while honoring its history.

At the corner of Cherry Street and Pickwick Avenue, the two-tone Spanish mission building in the bustling Rountree neighborhood is being renovated.

After sitting vacant and boarded up, a facelift of the 91-year-old building will feature large iron-framed windows to highlight first-floor retail space, said owner Ross Chaffin of Pickwick and Cherry LLC. And while the roof was recently replaced, the Spanish roof tiles accenting the storefront remain. Constructed in 1929, the building originally housed a grocer and pharmacy dubbed Pickwick Grocery and a second-floor apartment. Chaffin said he’s adopting a similar setup with his redesign, featuring a pair of two-bedroom apartments on the top floor and two retail spaces below for floral shop Greens and pottery studio Artistree Pottery LLC.

“I grew up in the neighborhood,” Chaffin said. “The Spanish mission building has always been so unique in its style and architecture. When we had the opportunity to renovate it, we couldn’t pass it up.”

David Ross, president of general contractor Ross Construction Group LLC, said the building was in complete disrepair when his crews started construction. Renovations will bring the building up to code, reinforce joists, add steel beams to support the window openings and create a stairwell to the back entrance.

“We basically took it down to the bones,” he said. “It’s been here for (91) years, so it’s obviously a good structure, but it needed a little ‘TLC’ to keep it going again.”

Renovation refresh
The Rountree staple is one of a handful of old buildings in Springfield undergoing renovations.

Layne Hunton, chief operations officer of The Vecino Group LLC and architect representative on the city of Springfield’s Landmarks Board, said the popularity of these types of projects has grown across the city.

“It’s being able to get into an area that is very typically highly desirable as people are starting to come back to these communities,” he said. “You can find properties that are very distressed, and you can invigorate and bring life to those areas.”

Across the street from the Spanish mission building on Pickwick Avenue, the former home of shuttered Homegrown Food is undergoing renovation for a new grocer called Culture Counter LLC.

On historic Commercial Street, Historic Commercial Developments LLC plans to begin work in the next few months on the site of the former Missouri Hotel. Co-owner Titus Williams, president of Prosperiti Partners LLC, said the estimated $50 million redevelopment plans call for multifamily housing, retail and office space, as well as a possible boutique hotel.

In downtown, Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Inner Circle Vodka Bar has plans to open a concept in the former 319 Downtown Event Center on Walnut Street. General contractor Kenmar Construction Inc. is handing infill work on the space, which was constructed in 1929, said Kenmar co-owner Kent Smith Jr. He said remodeling is expected to wrap up in early March.

Smith said renovations like these comprise nearly 90% of the company’s current $2 million backlog spread over 12 jobs.

“It’s a little more of a steady market for us,” he said. “The old look has a lot more character to it than the new metal buildings.”

History’s home
Smith and his team also served as general contractor for the new home of History Museum on the Square, located on the north side of Park Central Square downtown. The $12 million renovation of the historic building constructed in 1913 spanned five years, with the museum opening in August 2019.

Given the building’s historic status through the U.S. Department of the Interior, Smith said certain restrictions had to be followed. The look had to replicate its beginnings as Nathan Clothing Co. and, later, Barth’s Clothing Store.

The building’s signature sign flanked by torches was renovated, and replicas of the inside balcony railing were constructed, Smith said. With few photos from the original design, he said this proved to be a challenge.

He added that bringing old buildings up to code also is a large part of the renovation process, as well as incorporating the latest technology.

“We’re trying to make a lot of the current technology blend with the old look of the building,” he said. “We have 60 cameras to observe people; trying to make sure they don’t stick out.”

The HVAC system was designed with strict humidity and temperature controls, he said, to ensure preservation of the artifacts housed in the museum. The roof and windows also were rehabbed, and some of the demolition required drilling through a two-feet-thick wall of concrete.

“Pretty much everything was redone,” Smith said. “There was quite a bit of trial and error.”

Full of character
Hunton said the character embedded in older buildings is a feature many developers and business owners are seeking.

“That’s why there is a such a resurgence,” he said. “They see the value in them.”

He pointed to Vecino’s recent work in the last few years renovating the Cresco building on North Jefferson Avenue, as well as Sky Eleven and The Sterling on Park Central East. He likens these projects to completing a puzzle.

“You absolutely don’t know what you’re going to find. You have a whole bunch of walls and you don’t know what you’re going to run into until the demolition process begins,” Hunton said. “You’re really going to be spending a lot of time going through the details and piecing the project together. It’s a fun game for us to play.”

He said historic renovations provide extra challenges.

“The most difficult thing is finding people who are going to assist you to make sure it conforms to the Department of Interior standard so we don’t get dinged when we apply for those tax credits,” he said.

Although it’s not a historic renovation, Chaffin said working with an older structure stretched out construction more than he anticipated. The project is expected to wrap up this spring.

“A lot of things are unknown until you get in and peel back the layers on the building that old,” he said. “Keeping the integrity of the aesthetic has not been difficult, but you have to take it at a slower pace to keep the integrity.”

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