February 25, 2005 Excelsior Springs Standard:
Developer details plan for Oaks
By ERIC COPELAND
If the four members of the Excelsior Springs City Council who attended Tuesday night's meeting have their way, the Oaks Hotel will indeed have a chance for a new life.
Mayor Sonny Parker and councilmen Ken Fousek, Jim Nelson and Dennis Hartman all expressed enthusiasm following a presentation by Denise Ogan of DKO Consulting, LLC, and Tim Wilson of Stark Wilson Duncan Architects, Inc., on the plans a Springfield developer has for the historic but decaying building.
Carlson Gardner has completed or is working on nearly two dozen projects around the state, nearly all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. If the firm can get Missouri Housing Development Commission tax credits and historic tax credits, work is expected to commence in spring 2006, with the $7 million project slated for completion in spring 2007.
Ogan told the council and others gathered in the council chambers that a preliminary, internal market study had shown that housing for older residents was needed, and that's the plan for the Oaks40 one- and two-bedroom apartments, priced for low- to middle-income residents age 55
and older, but not subsidized in any way.
"We're very excited about it," said Ogan, whose company works with Carlson Gardner quite frequently. "We don't believe there's any challenge we can't overcome."
She admitted, however, that there are two pieces left to be put in place: an actual third-party market study, and the tax credits that would make the whole plan work.
"We have no doubts we can rehabilitate (the building)," she said, but until a true market study is finished they won't be positive there is a need for housing.
That's good news for the council, which just a few months ago was digging into its budget looking for an estimated $200,000 or more to demolish the building.
The MHDC makes its recommendations in December or January, and Ogan expressed confidence that the approval would be forthcoming. The procedure should be enhanced by the fact that the city council seems to be in support of the project.
Ogan turned the presentation over to Wilson for a more in-depth description of what Carlson Gardner has planned for the hotel. On the basement level, the only space available to most people would be a fitness area that would be open to the public. On the first floor, the lobby area and the porch on the west side of the building would be restored using photographs of the hotels that used to be housed in the building. A community room would be available for public use, and seven apartments would be stretched around the back side of the building.
On the second, third and fourth floors, the space would be solely dedicated to apartments. There would be 11 units on each floor, though the layouts would differ slightly because the stairs on the third and fourth floor are set up differently from those on the second floor. Wilson explained that the hallways would retain all the doors that went with the hotel, though only those which actually provide access to apartments would be functional.
As far as the lobby goes, Wilson said the rehabilitation would be a mix of true replication and estimation. "The key is maintaining the volume and spaces that are there," he said. In some areas, the damage is such that it's difficult to establish precise details, but photographs would help capture the building's spirit.
"It was a very showy hotel in its day," Parker agreed. "I would like to replicate that."
All the windows in the building will be replaced, and masonry on the outside of the structure will be repaired or replaced. Any modern materials that are used will be designed to look like the fixtures of the past.
Not everyone was so enthusiastic, however. Excelsior Springs Housing Authority Director Nancy Nolker and authority board members Paul Filley and Ray Filley expressed concern at the prospect of adding more low-income housing to Excelsior Springs. Plus, the three facilities the Housing Authority operates have vacancies at this time, and they wondered whether a market for more apartments truly exists.
At Nolker's questioning, Wilson estimated the apartments to be between 600 and 700 square feet, with five percent of the apartments accessible to the handicapped. Ogan guessed that rent would run about $450 for one-bedroom units, and about $495 for two-bedroom apartments. All renters must be age 55 and older, they added, and even when spouses or roommates are included 80 percent of the building's residents must still meet the age minimum. Allowances would be made for temporary stays by younger children or grandchildren.
Still, the board members were skeptical. "Do you think more low-income housing will help the city grow?" Ray Filley asked the council members.
"I do," Nelson answered. He also said that he was of the opinion that, if done correctly, the new development would enhance, not clash with, the services the Housing Authority provides. For comparison purposes, he pointed to new businesses that don't draw half their neighbors' clientele, and new housing that doesn't hurt the market for already-existing homes.
Ogan admitted that while Carlson Gardner did not intend to compete with the Housing Authority, someone who held a Section 8 voucher and met all other requirements couldn't legally be turned away.
Fousek asked what would happen if MHDC tax credits aren't approved. Ogan answered that if that does occur, another application could be made in 2006. Until a contract is in place, she added, the city would retain control of the building.
Nelson made a motion to authorize City Manager Darren Hennen to enter into an agreement with Carlson Gardner, and Fousek seconded the motion; the vote was 4-0.
The agreement, as well as a letter of support for the project, should be in front of the council for their March 7 meeting. It is hoped that Councilwoman Joy Fines, who was absent Tuesday due to illness, will be present at that meeting so her opinions can be weighed, as well.
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