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City Council asked to deny designating City Hall as local Historic Landmark

The City's Landmark Commission is requesting City Council designate City Hall as a Local Historic Landmark, but not everyone agrees with the idea.

Posted: Oct 21, 2019 6:51 PM
Updated: Oct 21, 2019 6:57 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) As an everyday place of business for many St. Joseph City officials, it's hard to believe the City Hall building along Frederick Ave. downtown is over 90 years old. 

Built in 1926, with Italian Renassaince style architecture, Planning and Community Development Director Clint Thompson says the structure meets every criterion for a local Historic Landmark title. 

"City Hall is considered historically significant to St. Joseph, architecturally significant and is over 50 years in age," Thompson said. 

The City's Landmark Commission has put in a request for the building to be designated by the City on Monday night's City Council agenda. The bill is only up for a first reading, but it's already causing some controversy.

Thompson says City staff are asking the council to deny the request because it would give the Landmark Commission final say on any potential future changes made to the building, instead of City Council.

"You would have a Landmark Commission making recommendations on City Hall if the ordinance was to pass in two weeks, and it's staff recommendation that the city council has the ultimate final decision in any exterior modifications made to city-owned property," Thompson said. 

If City Hall was listed as a local Historic Landmark, it would not only have protection from being demolished but would also have the potential to be awarded historic tax credits. The title would provide the building with additional incentives to help salvage and restore it, but any changes would have to follow Landmark Commission guidelines. 

However, the Commission says they believe designating the building would only be beneficial to the council, not take away from it.

"The Landmark Commission is the City's panel of experts who can act as a sounding board for potential changes to any historically designated property," Cole Woodbury, president of the Landmark Commission, said. "Instead of trying to avoid the Commission, property owners, including the city, should welcome and embrace the opportunity to have at their disposal an architect, a tax credit expert, a realtor, and other professionals, all at no expense."

While City staff isn't saying the building shouldn't eventually be added to the list, they're suggesting a change to the wording of the bill so that the council would have the final say in those potential changes instead of the Commission.

"This has been a consensus that was reached between the Planning and Community Development Department, Legal Department and also working with the City Manager to come up with the best possible recommendation with this situation," Thompson said.

He adds that this is also a unique situation in that City Hall is the first city-owned building to be put up for the local Historic Landmark title. 

"When the code was written, I don't know if it was ever really discussed or thought about at the time that you could have the potential for city-owned property to be nominated," Thompson said. 

The code does not limit the properties that can be nominated. Currently, there are currently eight buildings on the local Historic Landmark list, with City Hall potentially being the ninth if the ordinance is passed by the council.

The bill goes up for the first reading at Monday's City Council meeting, and will go up for a second reading and vote on Nov. 4. City Hall was designated as a National HIstoric Landmark by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in February 1936.

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