One cannot help but notice the tall cranes that are towering over West Seventh Street in downtown Joplin. If you are traveling east or west, it’s an impressive sight.

The nearly simultaneous construction of the Cornell Complex on the south side of the street and the Jasper County Courthouse on the north side work together to create this immediate impression to motorists that something is going on in this town. Somebody’s shakin’ up the neighborhood.

These projects are so huge they tend to overshadow other developments that are taking place downtown. In case you missed it, the Willard Hotel at 905 S. Main St. has been restored and is now ready for food, retail and office tenants. Across the street, KM Guru Marketing applied in June for a $1.5 million permit from the city to begin construction of the Moss-DeGraff Building, which will offer commercial spaces along Main Street, and residential lofts and apartments above those storefronts.

Directly north of the Willard is the Muir Building at 901 S. Main St. A $747,000 permit application was filed with the city, also in June, to restore that building. While those projects are taking off, the 16,500-square-foot foundation for the new Midwestern Built Joplin gym at 10th Street and Virginia Avenue, which is set to open in September, is being constructed. Talk about shakin’ up the neighborhood.

Before Lori and Jeremy Haun took on the Willard Hotel, it looked awful. Working with Jeff Neal, of the Neal Group, they have transformed the hotel’s second floor into six one-bed, one-bath apartments.

Lori Haun said, “People were concerned about whether we could rent apartments on that part of Main Street. We had more than 40 applicants for them. I think that puts that concern to rest. In fact, the apartments available downtown are 100% full.”

The first floor of the hotel is ready for occupancy. Three storefronts for food or retail venues will face Main Street. There are two spaces for offices at the rear of the building, where a patio has been created. Haun said the commercial spaces have high ceilings with wood floors, and that everything in them is new.

“These are great spaces for food or retail,” she said.

Watching the transformation of the Willard is the sort of thing that should give inspiration to others to take on these older downtown buildings and give them new life while they can still be saved from the wrecking ball. Before this transformation, most people would have looked at the Willard Hotel and asked, “Why bother?” The Hauns recognized the potential, and with some help from historic tax credits, took on the challenge.

You might think it takes a lot of courage to do such a thing. It does, but the Hauns have done this before on Main Street, and there is one thing they have learned.

“After you tear away the 60 to 100 years of neglect, you find higher quality construction than if you were to build something new today,” Lori Haun said.

There is a reason these buildings have survived this long.

Just ask Jeff and Carolina Neal, who have done more than 100 small and large restoration projects in downtown Joplin since their first restoration with Columbia Traders in 2005-07.

“We want to give these 100-year-old buildings a better next century,” Jeff Neal said. “We use the good brick and good wood that is there and add new systems. We don’t give up on many of them.”

With the Willard, there were no major challenges.

“The difference with the Willard is that Lori and Jeremy know how to create a beautiful project,” he said.

Up next for the Hauns and the Neals is the Muir Building, directly north of the Willard. The building will have two ground-floor apartments facing Ninth Street and two storefronts facing Main Street. There will be six apartments on the second floor. Demolition work on the second floor has begun.

New sign

A new sign welcoming visitors to the Joplin Arts District has been erected on the Heath III Barber Shop and Salon at 1056 S. Main St.

Wayne Heath has been working to make improvements to the building that is owned by Bob Hoag, of Hoag’s Restaurant Equipment, 1044 S. Main St.

Local artist Sandra Pemberton painted the lettering on the windows of his shop and the welcoming sign, which marks the south end of the district.

A new welcoming mural for the district, which continues to evolve, is being painted on the north side of Covert Electrical Supply building at 202 N. Main St.

Contact Wally Kennedy at wkennedy@joplinglobe.com.

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