In recent history, few fires left as much of an impact as the blaze that destroyed the Pioneer Building three years ago this November.
The fire filled the Downtown skyline with dramatic images of smoke and flames. In the end, a 144-year-old building, once declared the finest opera house west of the Mississippi River, was reduced to rubble and demolished. We’ve been looking at a hole in Downtown’s landscape ever since.
Now, a new plan has emerged for this space. JES Dev Co wants to construct a four-story building, with retail space on the ground level and residential lofts on the top three floors. The cost could come to $9 million.
The St. Joseph City Council has little to lose in approving a resolution in support of the developer’s tax-credit application with the Missouri Housing Development Commission. The council would face a more difficult decision down the road in determining whether to sweeten the deal with local tax abatements.
City officials like to say that “retail follows rooftops,” a statement that rings true when looking at the local stores, bars and restaurants that give Downtown its unique charm.
Some pine for a grocery store or drugstore Downtown, but that kind of development seems as elusive as another opera house. These businesses tend to involve regional or national chains that remain hesitant about expanding anywhere, let alone into an area with the population density and income characteristics of Downtown St. Joseph.
Like some past Downtown apartment developments, plans for the Pioneer Building space would involve some sort of income limits for tenants. Clint Thompson, the city’s director of planning and community development, envisions lofts marketed to tenants who make 80 percent of median income.
That would be about $38,000 for an individual and $48,000 for a family of three.
Asked if these restrictions make it harder to achieve retail development goals for Downtown, he said that the 80-percent limit fits a younger demographic that is attracted to Downtown living.
This means more niche retail, but plan on a trip to the Belt Highway for milk and eggs.
That might be the best Downtown can do right now, and that’s fine with us. Certainly, just about any development is better than a grass lot (we pretty much have that on the former hospital campus), so the council would be acting responsibly to consider incentives for the former Pioneer Building site.
It is important, however, to understand what might be coming with new rooftops and income limits. Don’t be surprised to see more of the same — a zone of cool rather than a cooler with milk — for the time being.
It’s best to underpromise and overdeliver.