For historic preservation developer Greg Rodewald, it pays to read the newspaper.
While in town over the Thanksgiving holiday visiting his sister, the Sedalia native read an article written by Democrat Managing Editor Dennis Rich about the historic Missouri Trust Building at Fourth Street and Ohio Avenue, which has sat vacant since 1997.
The story, part of a series on the downtown area, inspired Rodewald and his wife to take a look at the building.
“When everyone else was doing their Black Friday shopping we came downtown to look around,” Rodewald said. “After a lot of conversations together, and with my company (Oklahoma City-based Crowne Development and Consulting), we decided now was the time to take it over and renovate the property.”
Rodewald, who was born in Sedalia and raised in Green Ridge and Lincoln, is no stranger to historic renovations. He was the developer, and helped secure funding for the Lincoln-Hubbard renovation that turned the former school into affordable housing for seniors. Rodewald also has a history with the Trust Building itself and toured it for possible renovation as early as 2007.
“Growing up, it was always part of the Sedalia landscape,” he said. “And more recently, before my sister moved back to the area, when we visited for the holidays, my wife and I would always stay at Hotel Bothwell, which is right next door. I don’t know how much time we spent looking at the Trust Building from our window.
“I walked through it with an architect in 2007 to look at renovating it but that was when we were also looking at Lincoln-Hubbard. For whatever reason, we were steered toward the Lincoln project, but I think now is the time for the Trust project.”
While the price of the building wasn’t disclosed, its purchase comes at a great time, said Community Development Director John Simmons. It’s not on the city’s dangerous building list, but it had the potential to be in a few years, which would have cost the city thousands if it had to be torn down.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Simmons said. “There have been a lot of attempts made over the years from various people wanting to purchase the building, but for one reason or another, they always backed out. We’re finally seeing actual progress.”
According to Simmons, the building has been vacant since the mid-1990s after it was damaged in two fires and went two years without a roof, causing major water damage. In his article, Rich noted: “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.”
Rodewald doesn’t mince words when describing the building — he knows there are major issues that will have to be fixed.
“It’s going to be challenging, to say the least,” he said. “You walk into these buildings and see all the problems; I think that scares people away, but not us. We’re used to seeing the potential of a building, not what’s currently there.”
First on the list of projects is hiring a structural engineer to make sure the building is sound, though Rodewald was “confident the bones of the building are fine” and then bringing in a historical preservationist from Columbia.
“We’re committed to making the outside of the building as historically accurate as possible while keeping it modern and updated,” he said. “Take something like the windows; we’ll take the old ones out to install energy-efficient windows but they’ll be approved by the state housing preservation officer to match the historic fabric of time.”
As for the rest of the renovations, Rodewald plans to use president of Sedalia-Pettis County Redevelopment Corporation and Sedalia architect George Esser’s plans as a starting point.
“George will remain our architect,” Rodewald said. “He knows so much about the building inside and out, it would be stupid not to take advantage of that expertise. He’s had a set of plans for the building for a long time and our first step will be looking those over and seeing what needs to be tweaked or changed.”
Rodewald said he’d like to stick with Esser’s original ideas of using the ground floor for retail space and the top three floors for apartments.
“We’re looking at a variety of things, maybe office space since it’s so close to the Pettis County Courthouse,” he said. “Floors two through four will definitely be housing. We’ll be looking at whether market retail or affordable income housing makes more sense. My gut tells me it will likely be market price, but there will be an emphasis on luxury and space.
“(Crowne Development) doesn’t just come in and gloss over renovations to get by as cheap as we can. Our investors are pretty adamant that if we’re going to do something like this, we should do it right.”
Sedalia Downtown Development Inc. Administrator Meg Liston said she was “absolutely thrilled” when Rodewald contacted her on Black Friday about the building.
“Anytime Greg calls, it’s a good thing,” she joked. “The Trust is a huge portion of our skyline, a great piece of property for development and there are a lot of opportunities there that will benefit downtown and the surrounding buildings.”
Simmons echoed Liston’s thoughts, saying Rodewald’s previous work with Lincoln-Hubbard dispelled any fears of an unknown developer abandoning the project halfway through.
“It was definitely a comfort knowing Greg and his history, not only with the Lincoln-Hubbard project, but also other historical projects statewide,” Simmons said. “We know he’s going to do this the right way. He assembles a great team and is very involved with his projects.”
Rodewald hoped to look at the building plans before the holiday season, with an eye on potential state and federal historic tax credits. Esser told Rich he estimated a developer could make “45 percent of your money back” but Rodewald thinks that number could be higher.
“We have a few different things we’re looking at,” he said. “It’s expensive to do historic preservation correctly but we’re not in the business of losing money. And it also goes without saying that a project like this, we’re not planning to come in, fix it up, flip it for a profit and leave. We’re in this for the long term.”
Now that the contracts have all been signed, Rodewald said he was looking forward to the project getting started.
“I think we’ve found a way to make (the renovation) work to bring back the Trust Building to its original glory,” he said. “We’re going to not only make it a contributing member of the historic downtown area, but part of the economic engine as well.”