For the third time in five years, a developer has plans for Joplin’s Olivia Apartments at the corner of Fourth Street and Moffet Avenue.
St. Louis-based Bywater Development Group will ask the Joplin City Council on Monday for a resolution supporting its plan to develop up to 40 units for senior housing. The preliminary cost has been put at $12 million.
“We kind of specialize in affordable housing,” J. David Dodson, CEO of Bywater, said last week. “We actually have an option to purchase it from the current owner if we can get the financing in place.”
Bywater’s plan rests on federal and state affordable housing tax credits and federal and state historic tax credits for the 114-year-old five-story building.
“The combination of these credit sources is needed to save a building like that,” Dodson said. “If we can get the financing from the Missouri Housing Development Commission, we think we may be able to make a go of it.”
Dodson said the application deadline for the tax credits from Missouri is the end of the October, and he will learn whether the company has been awarded the tax credits in December. If the group is successful, it could begin work next summer.
Dodson also said Bywater is partnering with Brandon Williams of WNN Developments, of Carthage, who “brought us to the building and asked us to be the lead developer.”
The current owner of the property, Scott Tillman, of Tillman Redevelopment in Springfield, declined comment last week.
Local residents who have longed for someone to restore the building believe its days are numbered if something doesn’t happen soon.
Lori Haun, executive director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, said last week the Olivia is leaking “and it needs help quickly.” She also said it is a priority for the alliance’s Endangered Properties Program.
“It is still savable now, but we do need to do something to dry it out,” she said.
Josh Shackles, a Joplin resident who several years ago created the “Save the Olivia” Facebook page, said he’s “hopeful” that Bywater will be the developer to succeed.
“Now it is at the point where it is not going to make it much longer,” he said of the building. “It’s fighting the elements.”
‘Nothing more elegant’
Built in 1906, the Olivia was constructed by Anton Bendelari for $150,000 and was named for his mother. When the building opened, the newspaper reported that “nothing more elegant, more stylish, more convenient has yet been erected in Joplin.”
“The Olivia was built as a testament to the strength of Joplin’s future,” Shackles said. “It is so tied to our identity.”
The building features a large lobby with Ionic columns and coffered ceilings. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, but two years earlier, it was declared uninhabitable by the city because it needed electrical and fire-code updates. As many as 20 tenants, some of whom had lived in the building for nearly half a century, had to vacate the property. It has been vacant since.
In the past five years, Murray Bonitt, a native of Joplin, put the Olivia under contract for redevelopment. He envisioned luxury apartments and features such as an outdoor kitchen and bar, a rooftop deck and more. Ultimately, a feasibility study concluded there wasn’t enough demand to support the high-end project he envisioned.
More recently, Tillman acquired the building but had focused on Springfield projects.
Dodson said he was recently in the Olivia and said it has many challenges but added: “The building is in sound structural condition. I was kind of amazed at how much of the architectural ornamentation on the exterior of the building is still intact.”
His company’s proposal includes replacing the building’s major systems while preserving its historic character and “restoring it to its past prominence as an architectural gem and community anchor.”
Bywater also said in a statement, “The aging population trend in communities across the country has led to a rapidly growing number of seniors, including many who are on limited incomes and are rent‐burdened. The Joplin area is included in this trend.”
Dodson said his company is asking the Joplin City Council for a resolution supporting the plan, which is on the agenda for the meeting Monday night. He said an “expression of support” from the community will be needed for the tax credits.
“If we can get the affordable housing credits, we can make this work,” he said.
‘A good experience’
Dodson said Bywater specializes in affordable housing, and he envisions the Olivia with “high-quality historic apartments for seniors.”
Bywater pursued the rehabilitation and modernization of a 20-year-old 168-unit apartment complex in Springfield, Illinois, and although it was unsuccessful in getting state financing, Alderman Joe McMenanin, an attorney, said he had a positive experience working with the company and had no issues with Dodson or its other officials.
“I think they are experienced,” he said. “They were very helpful, persistent, diligent on a project in Springfield. Every cycle, they applied for certain loan packages for affordable housing from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Unfortunately, there was a great deal of competition from around the state, and we could never get final approval for our project. ... Meanwhile, they moved on to some other projects. I had a good experience with them.”
Dodson said the company is currently working on five projects around the country, including in South Carolina and Kentucky as well as one in Belleville, Illinois, converting the vacant Hotel Belleville into Lofts on the Square, a $14 million renovation that uses tax credits to create senior living apartments. That six-story building will include a restaurant and retail space on the first floor. Bywater and the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority purchased the nearly 90-year-old building from the city of Belleville for $600,000.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said last week, “We have had a very good experience with Bywater. I’ve got nothing but good things to say.”
Projects with historic properties always encounter surprises, Eckert said, and Bywater representatives have followed up on promises and kept in communication with the city.
“I think you are going to be real pleased with them,” Eckert said. “This has been a very pleasant partnership.”
Bogue Wallin, chairman of the Greenville Housing Fund in Greenville, South Carolina, also gave Bywater an endorsement. Wallin, who also is a real estate agent who has worked on historic renovations, said Bywater received some of its initial funding from his organization to rehabilitate a project known as Stratham Place, with 88 units, into affordable housing.
“Stratham Place was a 1950s-era apartment project that had over time become blighted,” Wallin said.
Bywater was able to do what it promised, and today, the units are full. He called it a “successful” partnership.
“They did everything they said they were going to do,” Wallin said. “If they came to us with another project, we’d be supportive. We would embrace them.”
Leaving a mark on Joplin
The Olivia was designed by Joplin architect Austin Allen, who also designed a number of other historic buildings, including the Elks Club lodge building at Fourth Street and Pearl Avenue; St. Peter’s Catholic Church at Eighth Street and Pearl Avenue; the United Hebrew Congregation at Seventh Street and Sergeant Avenue; and the Newman Mercantile Building, which is now Joplin’s City Hall, at Sixth and Main streets.