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HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE: Partners Titus Williams, left, and Matt M. Miller plan a mixed-use development for C-Street’s Missouri Hotel.
HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE: Partners Titus Williams, left, and Matt M. Miller plan a mixed-use development for C-Street’s Missouri Hotel.

‘MoHo’ sale signals change on C-Street

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The business owners on historic Commercial Street have seen the 11-acre stretch through a multitude of changes and stages. A decade ago Lyle Foster opened Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar where 50 percent of the retail space surrounding his business was either vacant or abandoned, and multiple homeless shelters occupied the rest. Five years ago, Gina Cooper opened Sisters in Thyme with the Missouri Hotel in operation nearby, spurring her to welcome payment with food stamps. A year and a half ago, Robin Gilmore opened Ms. Gilmore’s Tea Room and Vintage Suitcase, and soon after the Missouri Hotel was boarded up.

Commercial Street seems to be defined by change, and the recent purchase of the Missouri Hotel and its surrounding property from The Kitchen Inc. is continuing to accelerate it.

New owners Historic Commercial Developments LLC’s first project is in the works on the hotel, 420 E. Commercial St. Business partners Matt M. Miller and Titus Williams plan to renovate the 42,000-square-foot building as well as the additional 60,000 square feet of buildings on the former Kitchen campus for residential and commercial tenants.

Miller declined to disclose the potential tenants and planned investment.

Though Commercial Street hasn’t always had the best rapport among Springfieldians, the business owners say they value its historical charm and see opportunity.

Now, the programs that historically provided care for people in poverty are rethinking their place on the street. The Kitchen Inc. is leasing space in the Missouri Hotel and operating in a limited capacity for about two years until they are prepared to move, and rescue shelter Springfield Victory Mission Inc. officials have said they’d consider selling and moving from C-Street.

Foster of Big Momma’s Coffee said he and other business owners had appreciated the range in people that inhabited the street and saw the promise the area held. He has customers come in frequently that say they haven’t been on the street in years and are surprised by the change.

Gilmore of Ms. Gilmore’s Tea Room echoed Foster’s observations. A woman in the shop recently told her she didn’t want to be caught on Commercial Street, but upon coming to visit Ms. Gilmore’s, ended up walking up and down the street and realized how nice it was.

“I think a lot of people had such a bad image of it and now because it’s changing and people are coming in and seeing the change, they’re coming back,” Gilmore said. “I think we’ll just continue where the buildings are vacant or boarded up – I think those all will open up.”

Though there is still room to grow, much of historic Commercial Street is filled out. Recent business openings include Gabriel Design Co. LLC, Sangha Studio LLC and Glitter and Wit LLC. At Sisters in Thyme, Cooper is watching renovations at 300 E. Commercial St., where Tom and Lori Muetzel are working to reopen Ophelia’s bar and restaurant. Cooper plans to partner with Ophelia’s to provide house-made desserts.

C-Street’s official website labels it “Springfield’s creative edge,” which is evident in a modern home decor business, yoga studio, boutique hotel rooms and thin-crust pizza parlor.

Pizza House and small-batch manufacturer Askinosie Chocolate took a chance on the street before this current buzz.

Foster thinks the transformation coming with the Missouri Hotel is a game changer and it could become an anchor on the street.

Miller said in the renovation of the Missouri Hotel he wants to honor C-Street’s unique history and create its new identity.

“What’s more important to me, and this is really my underlying motivation in doing the project like this, is the fact that I’m a lifelong Springfield resident and I’m not going anywhere,” Miller said. “I want to live my life here; I’m sort of committed to making this a better place to live.”

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