Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:31 p.m. with new information about the status of the dangerous building notice.
A broken window. That’s what warranted a “Dangerous Building Warning” notice on the long-vacant former Missouri Hotel at 412 and 420 E. Commercial St.
City spokesperson Cora Scott said it was removed this afternoon.
“That warning was posted in error and is being removed, ” she wrote in a text message. “…A new inspector posted a warning due to a broken window on the building’s third floor, and it just warranted a call to the property owner to get it fixed. The warning is being taken down at this time.”
The notice sparked fear among preservationists that the yellow paper was a first step toward razing the structure by an owner, Titus Williams, who they say has no interest and no history in preservation and yet has acquired some 20 properties on or near Commercial Street.
Developer says he will reveal an overall plan
On Friday, I emailed Williams — which has been the only way he communicates with me — and asked for a phone number for him and asked if he would cooperate on a profile story of him that I’d like to write.
I had suggested that the more property he purchases on and around Commercial Street, the more people are going to want to know not only about his development plans but about him personally.
Williams replied that he has no “interest in being known publicly,” and he fears his public comments will be twisted and used against him. He bases this concern, he says, on his experience “developing properties in Springfield and specifically on Commercial Street.”
Williams did tell me that he applied for Historic Tax Credits in December as part of renovating the former Missouri Hotel and “this process is lengthy and extremely expensive.”
Williams added that his architect is working on a presentation to submit to the city on his overall vision for the multiple properties he owns on and around Commercial Street.
He told me via email, “The exterior of the building (the former Missouri Hotel) is not in dangerous condition. I have staff inspect the building a few times a week including allowing the City Fire and Police Departments to conducting training exercises in the building.
Concern building has been vacant too long
I asked Layne Hunton, chairman of the Springfield Landmarks Board, if he was worried by the notice on the building.
“It could be concerning for the future,” he says. “You let a building rot long enough until the community has no other option than saying, ‘yeah, tear it down.'”
Williams has, thus far, declined to talk publicly about his overall plan for Historic Commercial Street. But what is known is that he does intend to knock down two other old structures he owns, built in about 1900, at Commercial and Washington Avenue.
C-Street one of 7 historic districts in city
The former Missouri Hotel building has historical significance, Hunton says.
It was built in 1928, according to records with the Greene County Assessor’s office.
“The Missouri Hotel is one of the few remaining large historical buildings that has had such prominence,” he says.
I should note the building itself is not designated as “historical” by any agency, but it is on a stretch of Commercial Street — from Lyon to Washington — recognized as “Historic Commercial Street.”
This section of the street was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. It is one of seven historic districts in the city.
Colleague Rance Burger mentioned the former hotel in a July 1 story about Commercial Street.
“Originally built … as the Greene Tavern Hotel, the four-story building was home to a hamburger joint, a bowling alley and a gas station and garage on its lower level throughout its years of operation as a hotel.
“In 1985, a nonprofit organization called The Kitchen leased the hotel and began operating it as a homeless shelter. The Kitchen ran the Missouri Hotel as a shelter until 2015.”
The building has been vacant since. Williams bought it from The Kitchen in 2017.
Colleague Jackie Rehwald wrote the following in an interview with Mary Collette while reporting for the Springfield News-Leader:
“The Missouri Hotel has always represented who Commercial Street was,” said Collette, president of the Commercial Club. “When it was first built, it was the finest hotel west of the Mississippi. And Commercial Street was the center of commerce and culture and trade in Springfield at that time. When the Missouri Hotel became a soup kitchen, that is what Commercial Street became for the next 30 years. And now we have the opportunity for the Missouri Hotel to really send a message (and) become something really innovative and exciting.”
That reflects what C-Street business owners and nearby residents hope.
Some view Williams with suspicion
It was clear at the Dec. 14 meeting of the Landmarks Board that many of those invested in supporting and preserving Historic C-Street are suspicious of Williams. He was not at that meeting, but an architect and an attorney represented him.
“I do not trust the man to do what he says he is going to do,” Christine Schilling said at that meeting. “I don’t think he is telling me anything that I am willing to believe.”
She owns property on East Commercial Street.
She wondered aloud: “Why buy a building in the historic district if you don’t intend to fix it up?”
That’s the question for many. If Williams’ plan is to raze buildings and build something new, they ask, why can’t he do that in other parts of the city that desperately need it?
Williams tells me (via email) that he cares about Springfield, despite what his critics seem to think.
“My true goal is to leave the community my family has invested our lives in for many generations, better than the way I found it — not for legacy but for the greater good.”
This is Pokin Around column No. 93.