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THE BLIND BOONE: Homeless Shelter? Councilman Kespohl's "off the wall" idea sparks criticism

"Another example of why the city should not be in the business of buying historic properties." -- Laura Nauser

COLUMBIA, 3/24/13 (Beat Byte) -- The famous Blind Boone Home the City of Columbia bought 13 years ago should be transformed into a homeless shelter, Third Ward City Councilman Gary Kespohl said at Monday night's Council meeting and again at a Thursday candidate forum on disability issues.
 
Kespohl faces long-time rival Karl Skala for the Council seat in April.
 
The Blind Boone Home-Less Shelter?
 
"This may be off the wall, but what about turning it into a homeless shelter?" Kespohl asked city manager Mike Matthes. "From what I've read about Blind Boone, it seems to me like he would be very pleased to know that his home was a homeless shelter," he told audiences at both meetings.
 
Mayor Bob McDavid and Matthes criticized Kespohl's idea. The Boone Home is "not big enough" for a homeless shelter, Matthes explained. The building's "historical stature" made Dr. McDavid "uncomfortable" with the suggestion.
 
A black composer, "Blind Boone was probably the most consequential, most well-known Columbian of the late 19th century," Dr. McDavid said. "His home was purchased by the city because of that. It was purchased to honor his stature as a Columbian. To turn it into a homeless shelter is a whole different mission."
 
Commendable but foolish
 
Kespohl's suggestion was among several at Monday's meeting, during which Matthes and Council members agreed that restoring the home must be done this year, but at a much reduced cost. Previously, McDavid asked that $500,000 be spent on the project, which has languished for years, possibly because of racism among some city leaders.
 
"It's really just a shell of a building," McDavid said.
 
"That's right," Matthes added.  "The interior is gutted."
 
Council members agreed that the home can be finished for well under $200,000, which includes labor already volunteered. So far, the city has spent roughly $380,000 buying, stabilizing, and painting the home. But the paint is now peeling.
 
Critical of the original $163,000 purchase, which never answered the question: What is City Hall going to do with Blind Boone's home? Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she wants basic repairs made and the home sold.
 
"This project is commendable, but we're still sitting with the Heibel-March building, and I would remind people of the failed Youzeum that the city invested in," Nauser explained. "This is another example of why the city should not be in the business of buying historic properties. I would give the Blind Boone Home $120,000 to $130,000 to fix it to where it's something we can sell. We have $200 million in projects we need to work on."
 
But the Mayor pushed back, suggesting that quitting Boone after 13 years is not acceptable. "The city is $380,000 into this," he said.
 
"I fully agree we should fulfill our commitment," Nauser replied. "We have the obligation to take care of it, but not for a half million dollars."
 
Bad position
 
The ongoing debate over the home's fate illustrates the bad position City Hall is in after financing several failed historic preservation projects.
 
The Tiger Hotel -- mired in controversy and still unfinished almost 5 years after its owners received tax incentive financing -- joins the Heibel-March Store and the Youzeum on a growing list of problem, city-funded projects.
 
"Thank god, the city didn't buy the Niedermeyer," an observer remarked to this writer, about rumors City Hall might purchase the nearly two-century old apartment building downtown to save it from a wrecking ball.
 
 
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