September 22, 2021
Way to Go Wednesday: Dan Moser
DEFINITION: The act of maintaining, protecting or keeping something in existence.
St. Joseph is a city of stories. Like historic towns across the country, there are blocks of amazing homes, business buildings and neighborhoods. Founded in 1843, St. Joseph’s location along the Missouri River and national mid-point created an economic and residential boom fueled by Westward expansion, transportation and communication industries.
Translation: We have a super enviable architectural personality. And probably more jaw-dropping structures than any small to mid-sized city really deserves.
It’s long been known that St. Joseph has some of the Midwest’s most impressive collections of mansions, with many a part of active preservation activities and neighborhood initiatives. These neighborhoods — Harris-Kemper, Hall Street, Museum Hill and Cathedral Hill – feature community events year-round, sharing the stories of early founders and the movers and shakers who are bringing properties back to life.
As an architectural star in the laid-back, affordable center of the U.S., St. Joseph has also continued to attract preservationists and home buyers from everywhere. It’s not unusual to hear of people passing through on vacations and deciding to return to buy a historic property. From a regional perspective, it’s also no surprise that St. Joseph has hosted events like the Missouri Preservation Conference and been the location for the popular show American Pickers.
But some people might be surprised to know that preservation makes a lot of sense, economically. Several studies show that there’s a lot of economic power in neighborhood revitalization efforts, and that historic preservation can be used effectively as a tool for overall planned revitalization efforts. Working within the architectural amenities of a city draws in new workers and businesses; helps boost the tax base; and reduces the challenges from city services.
St. Joseph is on board with this way of thinking, and preservation activities continue to see progress. Looking to the future, preservation activities will be part of the resident-led Imagine 2040 strategic plan, with key goal areas including investing in people, creating a better place and growing overall prosperity. While many cities have lost their historic character to redevelopment, St. Joseph can expect a type of progress that recognizes that while maintenance and rehab is expensive, it’s worth the investment because these kinds of neighborhoods can never be reconstructed.
Local entrepreneur and residents Dan Moser, and his wife Rebecca, understand this from a very hands-on perspective. They have restored two historic homes in the Hall Street historic district and stabilized a third. They are currently working to restore the Turner Frazer building in downtown St. Joseph as a warehouse for their business, Royal Packaging.
Dan explains that the impact of the uniqueness of historic preservation and restoration cannot be overlooked. “As we look ahead in St. Joseph, we want to continue to look different than other cities. Inventive re-use, mixed use of residential blocks, box stores in former warehouses, locally owned retail businesses — all these things work in our historic structures. Building new may seem less expensive, but nothing nice came about from going after the cheapest options. We are talking about investing in our community. This should be preserving the unique infrastructure that exists here.”
In terms of economic growth, Dan shares the perspective that restored structures and homes have a “wow” factor that can’t be found in most newer spaces. Because St. Joseph already has the streetscapes, there is a need to continue to work aggressively toward redevelopment of historic homes and properties for the market. This includes efforts toward funding reuse initiatives that not only preserve the character of the city, but reduce expenditures on upkeep of new roads, sidewalks and utilities. (Note: Check out resources like Historic St. Joseph Emporium to engage in this kind of thinking.)
“Reinvestment in the infrastructure we have already is the way forward – and much more attractive and rewarding,” says Dan. “This is why we are choosing to use one of our original downtown buildings for its original purpose as part of our own business growth. This keeps our skyline unique and our infrastructure viable.”
He also notes that with stable population numbers and new construction, St. Joseph could end up with more square footage than needed for residential use. “We are purposefully and intentionally restoring a beautiful multi-story building to be used as warehouse and offices. We are restoring the façade while doing necessary upgrades to the interior to make it viable for the next company that will come along after we are gone.”
Historic preservation in St. Joseph ties the past to the future in stunning, innovative and often gutsy ways – a perfect fit for the character of this river city where the positive tide toward preservation continues to grow.
“We will turn the corner in our historic neighborhoods by increasing the percentage of owner-occupied structures. It is a fact that people often look at rental housing unit percentages when deciding on a neighborhood to call home, among other considerations. Loving our city and wanting to see it prosper can mean moving into one of our historic neighborhoods adjacent to downtown and doing your part.”
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