City officials: $250,000 Olivia funding limits liability

The Olivia Apartments building, which suffered extensive damage in a December fire, is still drawing interest for renovation despite the fire damage, and a recent structural report ordered by the Downtown Joplin Alliance suggests the building is still sound enough for such a project.Globe file

An agreement for the city of Joplin to provide $250,000 in matching funds to secure the fire-damaged Olivia Apartments building for renovation will be considered next week by the Joplin City Council.

According to city documents, the developer will be an entity named Bykota REI, which is registered in Colorado with an address in Boulder and headquarters in Jackson, Wyoming.

Brothers Sawyer and Sullivan Smith, who are Joplin property developers, confirmed Thursday that Bykota REI is the parent company of the company the Sawyers operate in Joplin. The Sawyers recently purchased the former downtown Joplin YMCA building for redevelopment.

The owner of the Olivia property has been Scott Tillman, of Tillman Redevelopment in Springfield. A representative of that firm said Thursday the company is aware there is a plan in the works for the Olivia but would not comment further.

According to city documents, the city will provide matching money of up to $250,000 spent by the developer for labor and material costs to secure the vacant building and rebuild its roof. In return, Bykota agrees to fully renovate and redevelop the building within two years.

The agreement specifies a quick deadline for the work, requiring the roof rebuild to be complete by June 15 of this year and full renovation by March 1, 2023, unless the city agrees to a delay.

The city will assess a special tax bill against the property to hold an interest in it until the construction is finished and the city issues a certificate of occupancy.

City Manager Nick Edwards last week confirmed to the Globe that a developer had expressed interest in repairing and redeveloping the 114-year-old building, originally built as a luxury apartment house. 

Edwards said last week that a developer that seems capable of a big project like the Olivia had expressed interest to city officials. The city manager said at the time that he could not go into detail, “but we do think that there will be a path forward” for the historic structure.

There had been hope by preservationists last year that St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group, which had an option on the building, could renovate it. That group had applied for state tax credits to help finance a proposed $12 million renovation for senior housing. But the company’s tax credit application was one of about 90 that were turned away in December by the Missouri Housing Development Commission.

When asked last Thursday in an email if Bywater had a new plan for the building, CEO David Dodson wrote, “We were not able to get the financing approved by MHDC that we needed. If there’s a developer interested, it would be someone else other than us, unfortunately.”

The building last year was listed on Missouri’s 2020 Places in Peril by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation before it was hit by a Dec. 7 fire that demolished the roof. The fire is still listed as having been ignited by an undetermined cause.

An assessment by a structural engineer hired by the Downtown Joplin Alliance, a group interested in retaining Joplin's existing downtown historic buildings, concluded that the building is still structurally sound despite the fire damage. Alliance representatives have said a new roof is essential to protect the building's stability.

The five-story building at 320 Moffet Ave. was considered a grand place to live in its heyday.

According to the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation, the Olivia had a reputation as the “handsomest apartment house in the West" after it was built in 1906. Each apartment had fireplaces, marble bathrooms with claw foot tubs, and French doors that opened onto private balconies.

As the building aged, it had continued to be used for rental apartments by a series of owners, some whom said they would restore the building. At 100 years old, it was emptied of renters in 2006 when it was declared uninhabitable by the city of Joplin because of noncompliance with fire and electrical code updates.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The City Council will consider the funding agreement at its meeting Tuesday. City offices will be closed Monday, the council's usual meeting day, for Presidents Day.

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