If buildings could talk, the Missouri Trust Building could fill volumes.
Located at the corner of South Ohio Avenue and West Fourth Street, the building’s story is really the story of Sedalia, punctuated by a cycle of boom and bust years beginning with the city’s place as a railroad hub in the 1880s and flowing through history to today’s efforts to reshape and revitalize the city’s downtown core.
It has survived multiple owners, multiple fires, at least one notable bank robbery and the Great Depression.
Like much of downtown Sedalia, which once flourished as the city’s economic engine, changing socio-economic conditions and years of neglect have left the castle-like structure in desperate need of attention if is to be preserved to write its next chapter.
Sedalia architect George Esser, president of Sedalia-Pettis County Redevelopment Corporation which now owns the building, has spent more than a decade at the helm of the group and has plans at the ready for a $1.6 million renovation that would see the building’s top three floors converted into apartments, leaving the ground floor open for retail space.
“The building can be had for $100, but it is based on these plans,” Esser said.
What Esser and other supporters do not have is a buyer, though the property continues to draw interest, and, according to Esser, “We have come close a number of times.”
“We had a buyer and ran it through the Historic Tax Preservation program and got approval with the drawings, so I have a full set of drawings ready to go for that building,” Esser said.
Although the buyer ultimately backed out, Esser said the tax credits are still in place, meaning “with those tax credits approved you get 45 percent of your money back.”
Esser said there are a few historical preservation strings attached to the deal — such as a fairly stringent timeline for completion and some limits on the types of materials that could be used — but he believes the potential for a developer to recover nearly $800,000 of the $1.6 million investment should help sweeten the deal.
However, the building is not without some very real issues.
After a pair of fires in 1997 ultimately saw former owner Yuri Ives all but abandon the property, the building sat for nearly three years before Esser and a host of local contributors secured the funds to replace the roof. The repair prevented further deterioration, but between water damage from firefighting efforts and exposure, a walk-through of the building makes evident that the Trust Building has seen better days. Stucco and brick have crumbled, parts of the third- and fourth-floor turret is exposed, and a termite infestation has caused some minor damage to parts of the ground floor.
While a state loan and contributions funded the new roof, a gutter system for the north side of the building was never installed, leaving runoff from rain and snow to continue to damage the building. Esser said plans are under way to raise about $5,000 to install the gutter system before this winter sets in, as well as some basic repairs to the building’s exterior.
“Everybody is afraid of it because it has sat so long,” Esser said. “But it is still very repairable. It’s just that people go in there and see the mess and that scares them.
“It is the centerpiece of our downtown area. It is unique. It has character and all those things you can’t replace.”
That sentiment was echoed by a number of people, including Community Development Director John Simmons, who told the Democrat during a walk-through of the building on Thursday that the Trust Building is a defining element of the city’s skyline and cultural history.
“It would be a black eye for the city if this building can’t be saved,” he said.
“The city certainly has an interest in seeing this rehabbed,” Simmons continued. “But, I think time is of the essence. It is becoming urgent. We still have something to work with right now, but I don’t want to see us get into a situation where we are endangering the property owner next door, their safety, and I think we are already close to crossing that line. We can’t do many more winters on that north wall.”
He added that while the damage the building has sustained over the years remains “cosmetic,” at some point “cosmetic becomes structural.”
Local historian Becky Imhauser has preserved the storied past of the Trust Building in works such as “All Along Ohio Street” and considers the building a key piece of the downtown area. She and fellow members of the Central Business & Cultural District have provided funds to pay for termite eradication as well as the replacement of broken windows and other minor repairs.
Imhauser said she hopes the building can be saved, but cost concerns for the city must be balanced with a host of other, more pressing projects such as the replacement of the Washington Avenue Bridge and construction of the new fire station.
“I think the Trust Building represents our past. It shows the glory days of Sedalia — our days as the Queen City of the Prairie. No other building shows the trials and success of this city,” Imhauser said. “But it also represents our future. It is the most recognizable landmark of the downtown historic district. Even as in bad a shape as it is, people come through town from all over to get out and look at the building and take photos.”