The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 29, 2012

Pittsburg officials overturn state historic office ruling on downtown facade work

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The renovation of a downtown business hit a snag last week when the owner and his contractor were notified by the State Historic Preservation Office that it was within 500 feet of a building on the state and national historic registers.

At a public hearing Tuesday night to consider whether to allow the renovation to proceed as planned, city commissioners were in disagreement about whether preserving the historic look was necessary, but they were in agreement that they might have put the cart before the horse.

Two weeks ago, the commission approved a $2,500 facade grant to help restaurateur Joe Kim upgrade the exterior of 808 N. Broadway. He plans to open a Bamboo Chinese takeout and delivery restaurant this fall.

Kim has begun work on the interior and to some degree on the exterior of the two-story brick building, which at one time operated as Hunan House but has been vacant. He plans to spend an estimated $150,000 on renovations, according to Mark Turnbull, the city’s economic development director, who said it would be a “significant improvement” to the downtown area.

But the building, which isn’t thought to have any historic significance itself, is within 500 feet of the Hotel Stilwell, 707 N. Broadway.

That made it subject to review by the State Historic Preservation Office.

The contractor, Tri-State Building of Pittsburg, submitted a request to the preservation office to change the facade in a style that would use a mixture of materials, including brick, a synthetic stucco known as EIFS and glass, and also would include a hanging canopy.

The state office denied the request after the City Commission had approved the facade grant, causing Commissioner Michael Gray and Mayor John Ketterman to question the timing of the entire procedure.

“New additions, exterior alterations, infill construction, or related new construction should not destroy character-defining features or spatial relationships that characterize the environs of a property,” wrote Stanley Weaver, a preservation officer, in his assessment of the proposed facade. “The new work shall be compatible with the historic materials, character-defining features, size, scale and proportion, and massing of the environs.

“While it is positive that the building will receive a storefront that is compatible within the environs, covering the rest of the facade with EIFS is an exterior alteration that will destroy the character-defining features of this building. It will no longer retain many of the details that make it a character-defining feature.”

State law allows a city’s governing body to override the preservation office after a public hearing and the determination that there are no feasible alternatives.

Danny Arck, Tri-State Building’s vice president, told the commission that the building’s second-story windows are badly rotted and would be costly to replace, and that the exterior brick is crumbling and would deteriorate further to the point of being unsafe if steel studs were not placed across the front.

It will mimic the facades of Ryan’s Cleaners and Sears, two projects by Tri-State that are directly across the street from the Hotel Stilwell.

While the commission ultimately overrode the state office’s findings and approved Kim’s facade changes as planned, Commissioner Patrick O’Bryan was opposed.

“I think this is totally taking away from the historical part of this building,” he said. “I agree the building looks like hell right now. But you’re making the first floor attractive and smart looking, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re turning the second floor into … well, you’re basically bastardizing it.”

It’s not the first time such hearings have been required. Before the construction of the Beard-Shanks Law Enforcement Center where City Commission meetings now are conducted, a public hearing was required to approve the demolition of a bread store that was within 500 feet of the historic Pittsburg Public Library.

Previous downtown renovations and new construction in the 400 and 500 blocks of North Broadway, near the Colonial Fox Theatre, and in the 600, 700 and 800 blocks, near the Hotel Stilwell, also have necessitated such hearings.

“I remember the Historical Society had the same findings on all buildings rehabilitated on that block, and we have said, ‘Thank you for your opinion, but we disagree,’” said Commissioner Marty Beezley.

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