"It means a lot."
COLUMBIA, Mo 4/17/16 (Beat Byte) -- Sixteen years after the City of Columbia bought it to preserve, the home of African-American ragtime pioneer John William "Blind" Boone (left) has been restored.
Not without controversy, the nearly $800,000 preservation effort may be one of the most powerful statements of commitment to black history -- and the black community -- City Hall has ever made.
The completed renovation keeps a public promise Council candidates Ian Thomas, Karl Skala, Daryl Dudley, Bill Weitkemper, and Gary Kespohl made to audience member Khesha Duncan at a Feb. 2013 Muleskinners candidate forum.
"I want to know when you all are going to fix this historic home," Duncan asked. "It's been over a decade since the city bought it, and there it sits, blighting the neighborhood. It could be a real revenue generator."
Kespohl -- then the 3rd Ward incumbent -- accepted the challenge immediately. "We need to get the Blind Boone Home finished!" he said. "We need to complete those renovations."
The other candidates quickly followed suit. Bob McDavid and Sid Sullivan seconded the promise at a Mayoral candidate forum.
Duncan's call for action came after reports, some from this publication, questioning the long delay. The decrepit Boone Home was even cited as an example of blight when City Hall pursued EEZ tax incentives in 2012.
A former Columbia city administrator blamed "racism" for the stall. Leaders in the black community said powerful special interests wanted the home demolished. This publication in 2010 criticized City Hall for inequitable distribution of parks taxes in low-income and minority neighborhoods, with the Blind Boone Home and Heibel-March Store (also recently restored) Exhibits A.
Less powerful, but more committed interests sought to preserve the long-empty home, at 10 N. 4th Street.
Led by Columbia residents Lucille Salerno
and Clyde Ruffin
(now the First Ward Councilperson), the Blind Boone Heritage Foundation
steadfastly pursued funding and political commitments.
But it was Duncan's voice during a highly-charged campaign -- the first match between Dudley and Thomas, and a second match between Skala and Kespohl -- that ultimately sealed the deal
Three months after she spoke up, Council members including McDavid, Thomas, and Skala introduced Council bill B148-13, appropriating $326,855.00
to finish renovating the interior and exterior
"It is in the public interest to construct improvements to the interior and exterior of the JW Blind Boone Home," declared the bill
. "It is necessary for the welfare and improvement of the city."
The appropriation passed unanimously in June 2013, thirteen years after the city purchased the home. It is scheduled to open this September after some minor detail work. "I'm really pleased to hear they followed through," Duncan -- a Mizzou employee working to preserve her own childhood home -- told this writer at the campaign watch party for newly-elected Mayor Brian Treece. "It means a lot."
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