Simonsen building construction delayed as owners await historic designation

The now closed Simonsen School building is one of two local landmarks owners are looking at the opportunity of being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Although the process is taking longer than originally expected, the former Simonsen 9th Grade Center in Jefferson City is one step closer to being turned into an apartment building.

The Jefferson City Board of Education approved selling the 94-year-old, tornado-hit building on East Miller Street to Allyn and Todd Witt - two former Simonsen students - in August, and the couple closed on the property in September.

The Witts originally planned to start work on the building in June, but those plans were put on hold as they await approval on their third attempt to have Simonsen listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To be added to the list, applicants need to explain the property's age, significance and integrity. The application needs to be approved by the state's historic preservation office before going to the national office.

The Witts submitted an application in October with hopes it would be added to to National Register by May, but the State Historic Preservation Office didn't accept the first application.

"Basically, we did not convince them that it met the National Register criteria in that first application, so we had to wait until the next application cycle opens because they only accept applications every so often," Allyn said.

They submitted a second application but were told to narrow the focus further, Allyn said.

After making edits with help from a State Historic Preservation Office staff member, they submitted a new application in March and made it to the next step in the process.

The Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation will vote July 9 on whether to approve the nomination.

"That is a big step in the right direction for us because we did not get even to this point the last time we tried to get our nomination through," Allyn said. "Being on the agenda for this meeting was a big deal for us, and we're crossing our fingers that we get approval at that meeting."

While it's not guaranteed, Allyn said, she's hopeful it will be approved and added to the National Register by mid-September.

"We've been told that once you're on the agenda for that meeting, your likelihood of being approved is kind of high," she said. "They don't put anything on the agenda that they don't feel pretty confident in."

If the Missouri Advisory Council approves the proposal, it will be sent to the National Park Service for final approval. If it gets approved at the state level, it typically also gets approved at the national level, Allyn said.

"The whole process is done at the state level first so that at the national level, they don't have to look at it as hard," she said.

The National Park Service must decide whether to list the property on the National Register within 45 days of receiving the proposal, according to Missouri State Parks.

Allyn said the couple wants the former school building to be listed on the National Register because it deserves the recognition - and because it needs the designation to qualify for a historic tax credit.

The tax credit is a 20 percent credit for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings that are considered "certified historic structures," according to Technical Preservation Services.

Allyn said their ability to complete this project is based on receiving that tax credit.

"All the money we spend before we get through that historic tax credit process does not qualify for historic tax credit - and that is 100 percent necessary for the financial aspects of this project to make any kind of sense."

After the building is added to the National Register, the Witts will have to go through the process of applying to receive the state and federal historic tax credit.

"As soon as we get on that National Register, we'll start the historic tax credit process," she said. "That takes some time because they look at our plans for the building and make sure we're keeping the historic integrity intact."

If it is listed on the National Register by mid-September and the tax credit process goes as expected, Allyn anticipates construction would start in January.

The estimated cost for the project is $16 million. The Witts and their team - which includes architectural company Ebersoldt and Associates and property management company Tegethoff Development - plan to restore historic features including classroom doors, wooden built-ins and hidden corbels.

They plan for the building to have 71 units, including 49 one-bedroom apartments, 11 two-bedroom apartments and 11 studio apartments. Units will range from 575-1,300 square feet.

Amenities will include a fitness center, cyber lounge, tenant storage, bike storage, patio and dog-wash station.

"We're being held up by the timing of all these different things we have to go through for the National Register and for historic tax credits, but we're going to be ready to get teed up and ready to go as soon as we can after that," Allyn said.