The owner of this old building at Washington Avenue and East Commercial Street plans to tear it down. It was built in 1899 to 1902. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

OPINION |

A leading figure in preserving, protecting and promoting Historic Commercial Street fears the owner of an old building at 540 E. Commercial St. (at Washington Avenue) plans to knock it down.

Mary Collette owns Historic Firehouse No. 2, 101 E. Commercial St., an events center and wedding venue. It was built in 1901 and she and her husband restored it. Collette is a former member of the City Council and is president of the Commercial Club.

She says she is concerned because it seems as if the owner, Titus Williams, submitted a plan to restore the building to the Springfield Landmarks Board in March 2021 but, instead, apparently has decided restoration would be too expensive.

I thought I’d write about Missouri Hotel

The structure was built around 1900. Records with the Greene County Assessor’s Office say 1899. Information compiled by the Springfield Landmarks Board state 1902.

Collette said that Williams, president of Prosperiti Partners in Springfield, in recent years has purchased many buildings on and near Commercial Street.

In fact, I embarked on this story thinking I would write an update on the old Missouri Hotel, 420 E. Commercial St., built in 1927. From 1985 to 2015 it served as a homeless shelter.

The Missouri Hotel. (Photo by Shanon Cay Bowers)

Williams owns the Missouri Hotel building. In an email exchange, he shared little information with me about the hotel other than:

“An investment group owns the property. It’s in the process of being developed. The process is slow due to the complexity of the project, but it is moving forward.”

The Missouri Hotel. (Photo by Shanon Cay Bowers)

‘It seems like he owns half of North Springfield’

The former hotel is owned by Historic Commercial Development, a limited liability company. Williams is the registered agent, according to online records, and he has spoken as the owner of the property to other media outlets.

Since Williams had so little to say about plans for the hotel, I called Collette, who usually knows what’s going on along historic Commercial Street, which runs from Washington Avenue on the east to Lyons Avenue on the west.

She told me she had no knowledge of what was happening, if anything, with the former hotel. But she then shared with me her concern that Williams was going to knock down the building he owns at Washington Avenue.

“It seems like he owns half of North Springfield,” she tells me, “with no apparent goal — in my mind — that I can see.

“The individual property owners I have talked to are very upset about the possibility of this building coming down,” Collette says.

City decides building cannot be inhabited

After talking to Collette, I emailed Williams again and asked if he planned to knock down the building at Washington and, if so, why?

He did not respond.

A city building inspector posted the building as being “blighted” on Sept. 2. It is vacant and considered uninhabitable.

A city building inspector declared on Sept. 2 that building is blighted. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

I then checked city online records to see if Williams applied for and/or received a permit to knock it down. I found no such record.

He bought the properties in 2021

Williams bought the main building (540 E. Commercial St.) in January 2021. It has 8,198 square feet. He bought the adjoining building (530 E. Commercial St.) in September 2021. It has 4,400 square feet.

There is little, if any, space, separating the buildings.

He also bought a small vacant lot just to the west of the two buildings in March of 2021.

Collette shared with me plans Williams submitted at a Landmarks Board public hearing on March 24, 2021.

This is a schematic drawing of what the building might look like if renovated. (Photo: Springfield Landmarks Board)

She liked them. She believes the building, if restored, could serve as a gateway to Historic Commercial Street at the east end.

The plans included major renovation that mixed commercial and residential. There was a large outdoor patio for dining. Collette says a rooftop restaurant was part of the plan.

Williams, instead, she says, has let the building fall into disrepair.

Again, Williams did not talk to me, so I don’t know his intentions. I also have seen no effort on his part, thus far, to seek a demolition permit.

C-Street has history of restored old buildings

Commercial Street has a history of passionate property owners, Collette says, who renovated buildings that were in worse condition than the one at 540 E. Commercial Street.

She includes in that list the renovated structures that today house Askinosie Chocolate, 514 E. Commercial St.; Pizza House, 312 E. Commercial St.; and Big Momma’s Coffee & Espresso Bar, 217 E. Commercial St.

Collette says that if Williams did, in fact, restore the building to its historic appearance by, first, removing the stucco, it could receive national historic status, and he could be the beneficiary of tax credits.

“If he is going to come to the Historic District and buy a historical building, he has to have passion for it — or go somewhere else,” she says.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin