Failed historic preservation projects cloud Columbia's recent history, Weitkemper reminds
COLUMBIA, 12/28/12 (Beat Byte) -- Efforts to save Columbia's historic Niedermeyer building (left), including a proposed moratorium on downtown demolition, should be careful not to repeat past historic preservation mistakes, Columbia City Council candidate Bill Weitkemper is urging.

"Before the City Council makes any decision that would prevent [Niedermeyer owner Fred] Hinshaw from selling the property, I think it would be wise to determine, with a little more certainty, what it might cost to acquire, rehabilitate and maintain the property," Weitkemper -- a retired Columbia public works official -- wrote in a letter to Council members.

"A local historic preservation specialist [Deb Sheals] plans on doing that," 6th Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe told Weitkemper, a candidate for Columbia's 4th Ward seat.   Mrs. Hoppe introduced a bill on Dec. 17 that would slow or even stop historic building demolitions downtown for up to six months.   The Niedermeyer may be sold and torn down to make way for student apartments. 
For those historic downtown buildings that dodge the wrecking ball, disasters and near-disasters have nonetheless lurked, Weitkemper reminded Council members.  The Youzeum closed in 2010 after a few years as a student health museum and an $8 million renovation price tag. The Missouri Theatre's board and director left dozens of contractors unpaid after a multi-million dollar renovation.  The Blind Boone Home still sits gutted and decrepit after 15 years of city ownership.

The Heibel-March Store, a Notable Historic Property the Columbia parks department owns, may finally pass to private hands after its own 15-year history of failed renovation projects under city auspices.  And the Tiger Hotel has rankled guests with its mostly gutted condition nearly two years after a Canadian concert promoter purchased it with help from a tax increment financing package approved multiple times by city officials.

In other words, Columbia's leaders and boosters have an iffy track record with historic preservation.   Private owners like the Hinshaws have a better record that shouldn't be mischaracterized, Weitkemper suggested. 

"Mr. Hinshaw and his wife Janet have owned, and preserved, the Niedermeyer Building for over 23 years," he explained.  "They purchased the property in 1989 from the Niedermeyer heirs."

Still, maintaining the building Mark Twain once visited -- now 32 apartments -- presents the same problems Columbia has seen many times before.  

"Although the property obviously meets the city’s minimum property maintenance code, I would not be surprised if the cost to rehabilitate the Niedermeyer easily exceeds $1,000,000," Weitkemper told the Council after visiting with residents and a maintenance worker.
Meanwhile, Hoppe and Sheals hope to have more information for the Niedermeyer's owners -- and a community anxious over what many see as the wholesale demolition and deliberate neglect of important historic structures.   Nearly 1,400 people have signed a petition to save the Niedermeyer

"I have spoken to her [Sheals] before Monday and from what she has seen and knows to date, it would a very preservable building with the assistance of historic preservation tax credits," Hoppe wrote Weitkemper, cc'ing the Columbia Heart Beat. "Sheals will do a deeper analysis and contact the Hinshaws."