Communities of every size have buildings they consider ‘white elephants’ that are hard to tackle. For Cape Girardeau, it was the old Marquette and H&H buildings. until a locally-led effort brought Old Town Cape, the City of Cape Girardeau, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and developer such as Codefi and other local developers together. This partnership led to the rehabilitation that won the “Best Large-Scale Project” in 2019. Since the completion of this large-scale project, the tide of economic success has swept across the downtown district and raised the boats of many small businesses as well as given others reason to set their own boats asail on the adventure of starting their own business or renovating their own property.
The accomplishments that the project has achieved in the community are outstanding both on an economic and preservation standpoint. Coordinator of the Historic Preservation Program at Southeast Missouri State University, Dr. Steven Hoffman, made this remark about the project’s historical integrity:
“Both properties have outstanding architectural features from the early 20th century that were neglected due to the time, money, and work it takes to own a building. Thankfully by using historic tax credits and following the Secretary of Interior’s Standards, the project was able to be publicly and privately funded to restore this amazing building that has an incredible amount of detail that cannot be matched by modern construction. For instance, the tile and furnishings call back to its previous life while the cornice that had been previously removed was rebuilt.”
Public and private funding is an important aspect of Main Street because when used together they can get projects moving in the right direction by using tools like the historic tax credit and Tax Increment Financing (TIF). The impact that rehabilitating an old building is huge because of the revenue generated from businesses utilizing it for commerce as well as increasing property value—far exceeding the revenue beforehand. Former Cape Girardeau Mayor, Bob Fox, made this remark about the project’s economic impact:
“The Marquette and H&H building rehabilitation was a game changer for Cape Girardeau. It took the Marquette, which was a difficult building to rehabilitate due to it being all concrete, and the H&H and turned them into a space that now welcomes visitors from all over to downtown. The hotel houses many businesses and organizations in amazing offices spaces equipped with conference rooms for collaboration.”
The block that these properties sit on is now alive thanks to the development that used these two fantastic, historic buildings and breathed new life into them with help from the local community. That is one of the many distinctions of Main Street, that it is not just developers making money by putting a building back in service, but that the community has an integral part as a partner to inject new life into and invest in downtown.
Main Street also has a comprehensive mindset that guided the connector of this development, Old Town Cape, to identify 3 components for this property, which were space, technology, and talent. Executive Director of Old Town Cape Liz Haynes remarked:
“The available building [that is the Marquette building] would house a commercial space to be a hub for the Marquette tech district. After renovating the over 1,450 sq. ft. Marquette building, installing state of the art fiberoptic and Wi-Fi for the downtown Cape Girardeau area, and partnering with Codefi to provide training for tech focused careers, we could start to see the impact right away. Everyone started to look at downtown as a viable location to start their business because of access to high speed Wi-Fi for businesses which came as an amenity provided by this development. Like the saying goes everyone wants to be a part of a winning community.”
Old Town Cape has reported 4+ new business opening downtown especially in the blocks surrounding the development with more still to come. While many times Main Street is about a bunch of small efforts building into big change, Old Town Cape shows us that in some special cases, with just the right property and partners, a big project can be a catalyst for a bunch of smaller projects to build on the success of Main Street. This is a perfect example of how the heart of Main Street, historic preservation, can save and rehab a vacant property that impacts local job markets and supports small businesses.