Tony Anderson readily says he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.
With workers on ladders making exterior improvements Tuesday afternoon to the historic building at 124 S. Joplin Ave., Anderson was right there in the thick of things, at one point sweeping the sidewalk facing Second Street.
“I’m a really a hands-on guy,” Anderson said, who owns a ranch south of Miami, Oklahoma. “I have to be here every day. … That way, I can see every inch of everything being done to the building.”
Anderson purchased the 36,000-square-foot building — consisting of three separate buildings merged over time into one shared space — in September for a little over $500,000. About $1.2 million of renovation work inside the “good, stout building” began later that month.
“We liked the way it was laid out,” Anderson said of the building, once used by a local motor company and as a hotel. “We could do whatever we wanted to with it.”
Renovating the building, Anderson said, requires that one gets “dirty and grungy.” He and his workers put down a concrete floor and refinished 12,000 square feet of a wooden floor.
“I was just raised (that) we do it ourselves,” Anderson said.
Similar to what has taken place at other refurbished historical buildings dotting Joplin’s downtown area, Anderson is converting the building’s upper floor into 14 “high-end” loft apartments, featuring both studio and two-bedroom spaces, with secured entrances/exits. Three apartments will be furnished. He said he hopes to have the first seven apartments completed by midsummer. Work would then begin, he said, on the remaining seven apartments. He plans to convert the northernmost section of the building into a covered, secured parking area for 18 vehicles.
“We’ve had probably a half-dozen inquiries who are definitely interested in renting,” Anderson said.
That doesn’t come as a surprise to Lori Haun, executive director of Downtown Joplin Alliance. After all, the city’s downtown has come a long way since 2007. Back then, “downtown Main Street was 70% vacant," she said. "In 2019, that same area is below 10% vacancy.”
Joplin’s downtown is composed of more than 200 historic buildings, and their redevelopment, Haun said, “has been long underway by many parties and partnerships. We've finally hit a critical mass, and it's exciting to see.”
Rehab work is moving away from Main Street, “and as we see with Anderson’s project, surrounding blocks are filling in now, too,” she said. “Downtown is more than just Main Street. In fact, downtown encompasses more than 150 blocks. Activity on the side streets create a more walkable downtown.”
Anderson has already secured his first commercial tenant — Lennon’s Boutique, a clothing store currently located at 2722 S. Main St. that is owned by his daughter, Kirsten. Anderson hopes to have the clothing store settled inside his building — to be named either the Anderson Building or the Lennon Building — by May 1.
“I just knew there was a bit of a demand for rental (apartments)” in downtown Joplin, Anderson said. "Yes, the building is old, and yes, it will take a lot of TLC and money to bring it up to spec, but it’s something that will be here for another 50 to 75 years. Everything we’re doing, we are putting it back to … the day it was built.”
According to Haun, downtown living is key for a downtown to thrive. And demand for lofts should remain high, with last year’s announcement of the proposed $40 million distribution center by Casey’s, as well as the construction of the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex on the parking lot of Memorial Hall.
“Downtown residents spend 40% of their income in the surrounding downtown businesses," she said. "Folks living downtown also make downtown safer because there are more eyes on the street. We already have a good number of downtown units with more on the way in several current projects, but I don’t anticipate running out of people desiring downtown living anytime soon.”
About the site
The two-story, red brick building at 124 S. Joplin Ave. is a part of the Joplin and Wall Streets Historic District, which is located along Joplin and Wall avenues from First to Third streets. The district encompasses five acres of buildings built from 1900 through the 1930s.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the building was used by the Gorman Motor Co., at the time located at nearby 110 S. Joplin Ave., and primarily known as the local Packard dealership. It’s likely the building was used as a large machine shop for the motor company, since, still visible today on a wall near a still operational freight elevator are the words: “machine shop entrance.”
With the growing popularity of the automobile during the 1920s, many of the surrounding buildings were devoted to the automobile industry, with car dealerships, car assembly buildings, gas service stations and automobile garages popping up throughout Joplin. The nearby Joplin Supply Co. building at 228 S. Joplin Ave., for instance, served at one time as a Ford assembly plant as well as a Ford dealership.
During the 1930s, the building was used as a storage facility by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., according to the National Register of Historic Places. Before and during World War II, the Liberty Hotel — located in the building’s upstairs area — would often house soldiers from Camp Crowder who were too inebriated after a weekend of fun to head back to Neosho, according to the building's owner, Tony Anderson. They would sleep in the rooms for 50 cents a night, he said.