Jeff and Carolina Neal, owners of Neal Group Construction, are passionate about the preservation of Joplin’s many historic buildings, as well as environmentally conscious construction projects.
Those two passions combine to form a somewhat simple goal for the couple’s 12-year-old company.
“We like to take 100-year-old buildings and give them a better next 100 years,” Jeff Neal said.
Neal Group Construction has done what they call “retrofitting” — not renovations — on a number of decades-old downtown Joplin structures. The company started in 2004 with the Columbia Building, which housed Columbia Traders, a grocery store, coffee shop and restaurant before it closed, and is currently home to Columbian Apartments in the 400 block of Main Street.
Since then, Neal Group has done work on several downtown buildings, including: the Gryphon Building; the at least 77-year-old building now occupied by The Runaround at 422 Main St.; the Christman Building; the Grant Building, where Heartland Technology Solutions is located; Blue Moon Market; 512 Main St., home to Cell Phone Medics; a residential project on the Empire Block building; and Hackett Hot Wings. All of those projects are on Main between First and 10th streets in Joplin.
“There are times when historic structures have reached the end of their useful lifespan, or they just simply can’t be retrofitted to fill a new need,” Jeff Neal said. “But those, in our view, those things are very rare. Maybe it’s re-envisioning a use for a building.”
In as many projects as they are able to, Neal said he and his wife include aspects that reduce the structure’s carbon footprint and use renewable resources.
“When you think about what it took to get those resources out of the ground or to create those, put them into this building,” he said. “Then you think about what it takes to take them down, and then go bury them somewhere, which is what we do with our old buildings, we give them full-size graves, and then we go out and tear more up to come back and build something else in its place.”
The company’s latest endeavor to combine downtown Joplin’s history and energy-conscious construction is a project it calls 200 Block Commons, which it hopes to make Joplin’s first environmentally sustainable historic development. The development is made up of two buildings that both trace their roots back to the early 1900s.
One, the former home of the Salvation Army in Joplin, was built in 1921 as Hurlburt Mortuary and Chapel at 212 S. Joplin Ave. It has been unoccupied for the past 30 years, but the chapel’s stained-glass facade is still intact. The other portion of the development, 215 S. Wall Ave., was built in 1912 as White Motor Co., a truck dealership.
The Salvation Army bought the building on Joplin Avenue in 1948 and operated out of it for about 40 years, Neal said. The Wall Avenue building was most recently a book warehouse. Both buildings will be powered by solar panels, which are already installed, feature energy-efficient LED lighting and use gray water irrigation systems. The Neals plan to pass along the savings those features will allow to the buildings’ eventual tenants.
“You can invest in your employees, you can invest in your product, you can invest in the local economy somewhere,” Carolina Neal said of the ability to cut energy expenses. “So it is not only just the building by itself, but what the building will be able to give to others in a broader, bigger context.”
Neal said the company hopes to have the development ready for tenants by December. The buildings lend themselves most easily to office or retail space, the Neals said.
“That longer-term approach and saving and respecting what we can from the past but also repurposing it for the future is certainly where our passion is,” Jeff Neal said.