Feb. 22—The Joplin City Council made the right call when it agreed this past week to provide half of the $500,000 that will be used to stabilize and put a new roof on the Olivia Apartments.
The other half will come from Sawyer and Sullivan Smith, who are real estate developers who operate Blue Haven Homes, a subsidiary of their father's company, Bykota LLC, a real estate holding company. Sawyer Smith told the council they have a renovation plan for the Olivia that will cost $6.5 million and will create 38 market-rate apartments, possibly with a restaurant on the top floor.
Damaged by a fire last December, the building at Fourth Street and Moffet Avenue will quickly become a hazard without immediate attention — and a liability that could cost the city four times the $250,000 it just committed to help save it.
City Attorney Peter Edwards said, "Ultimately the fate of this building could fall on the city to demolish it, which we think would be in excess of $1 million, or at the very least if we repaired the building, by putting on a new roof, $250,000."
The council decided 8-1 to provide money for this part of the project but has not made a further commitment.
The lone holdout on the vote, Councilman Phil Stinnett asked fair questions and wanted to know why the Olivia's current owner, Tillman Properties of Springfield, had no hazard insurance on the Olivia. Lori Haun, executive director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, told him: "It's virtually impossible to get insurance on a building like that."
Stinnett then pointed out that insurance requirements are something the council and city staff need to discuss in the future, before there are problems with other old buildings. We wholeheartedly concur. We'd also like to see the council discuss steps the city can take to compel owners of empty buildings to make sure they are maintained and secured.
It was said of the Olivia — built in 1906 — that "nothing more elegant, more stylish, more convenient has yet been erected in Joplin." It also was called "the handsomest apartment house in the west."
The $250,000 is a risk, but one worth taking.
The Olivia, we think, can be a great Joplin landmark again.