Two of the largest building permits being issued by the city of Joplin so far this fiscal year are for downtown projects.
A $6.2 million building permit for the historic Olivia building, 320 S. Moffet Ave., was issued in April, and a $2.4 million building permit for the Pennington Drug Co. building, 512-520 S. Virginia Ave., was issued in March.
The building permit for the Olivia was the second for that building; an earlier permit was issued for the roof after the 2020 fire.
“We are going to make her one of the most beautiful apartment buildings in the West, just as she was originally,” said Jeff Neal, with Neal Group Construction and Restoration, referencing early descriptions of the building when it debuted in 1906 as the “handsomest apartment house in the West.”
The goal is 34 units for the Olivia, as well as additional units in a nearby duplex to the north, although that is not part of this permit.
Blue Haven Homes and Bykota REI LLC own the Olivia.
“We are ready to start framing it back up and bringing it back to life,” Neal said this week.
Just a few blocks away, crews were installing new glass in the windows at the Pennington building this week.
The bottom floor is home to Full Bore Studios and Pennington Station, the latter being a virtual reality arcade; the upper floors will become 21 one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
There also will be green space where the city took down a nearby building that had deteriorated to the point of collapse. The green space will have trees, twinkle lights and benches and serve as a community space similar to a college quad, Neal said.
Neal said there numerous advantages to renovating historic downtown buildings, including existing infrastructure. They also are affected less by the the delays and material shortages caused by supply chain problems.
“It’s impacted us less than new construction,” he said. “In a time of increasing raw material cost, 60% of the structure is already here.”
Neal noted the Douglas fir joists in the Pennington building, for example, which he said they couldn’t get today no matter how hard they tried.
Because the Olivia was built as an apartment building, they have to abide by certain design standards, but they have more flexibility with the Pennington, which was warehouse space.
“We can’t leave exposed brick at the Olivia and make it historically compliant, but here ...,” he said, referring to the Pennington, “we’ve got this amazing shell. That building was built around 1920, but it was a warehouse.”
He likened the Olivia to re-creating “Victorian living with much better systems” and said of the Pennington, “We’re able to do something that is big city loft style.”
The Olivia, Neal noted, was heavily damaged by a 2020 fire.
“We ended up having to demo out the fire-damaged fifth floor before we could even think about putting a roof on it.”
That included removing 40 tons of steel. He said the fire department also poured 1 million gallons of water on the Olivia, which had closed to occupancy decades earlier.
“Literally everything in the building was water-damaged or water-soaked,” he said.
Neal said they stripped the laths and plaster from the building but are keeping old trim and 50% of the hardwood floors. The main entry with its columns and tiles will be refurbished.
The projected date for completion of Olivia is fall 2023; the projected date for completion of the Pennington is summer 2023.
At the same time, he said they are finishing up work on the Muir building in the 900 block of Main Street, owned by Lori and Jeremy Haun — “We are expecting the first tenant in it in the first of July,” he said — and they also have begun work on the A.C. Webb building at Second Street and Joplin Avenue, previously the home of Sugar Creek Designs. It will become commercial space with one apartment. He said they also hope to begin work later this year on the former Downtown Y building at Fifth Street and Wall Avenue.