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New owner plans upgrades in $20M Plaza Towers investment

Bulk of exterior work is projected to be completed by summer 2021

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Springfield Property LLC, the new owner of Plaza Towers, is investing over $6 million in renovation plans for the over 50-year-old office building and its adjacent shopping center.

Marco Denis, the real estate company’s owner and president, said his investment in the Plaza Towers properties is roughly $20 million. That includes the $13.3 million purchase of the 10-story, 130,000-square-foot building, 35,000-square-foot Plaza Towers Center and Jimm’s Steakhouse and Pub building. The properties sit on roughly 10 acres at the southwest corner of Glenstone Avenue and Sunshine Street.

“This is one special building, and you can’t miss it,” Denis said. “I want to preserve it and therefore that’s why I’m willing to put in a lot of money to making sure that we can.”

The Plaza Towers purchase from the family of Errett Sechler Jr. closed Sept. 25, Denis said. Wilhoit Properties Inc. agent Ken Schwab brokered the deal.

Sechler, who died last year at age 98, bought Plaza Towers in 1973. It was built in 1969. He later developed the Plaza Towers Center and constructed what is now Jimm’s Steakhouse. Restaurant owner Jimm Swafford will continue to operate under a long-term lease arrangement.

Springfield Property set up operations earlier this month on the third floor of Plaza Towers, but Denis said his five-employee company still maintains an office across Glenstone Avenue at Plaza Shopping Center, which it also owns.

Denis is a native of Haiti and came to Springfield in 1994, noting he “was looking for a cheap place to move to, so this was it.” A self-described private person, he arrived alone and didn’t know anyone in town prior to moving but said he was determined to become a successful businessman.

He’s run Springfield Property for over a decade and for several years also operated cellphone stores through First Impressions Wireless Inc. To focus full-time on real estate, Denis said he sold the last of his four stores in 2017, declining to disclose financials.

“I wanted to get out because it required so much of my time,” he said. “My passion was for real estate and I decided that’s what I needed to do more.”

Work in progress
Denis’ office space in Plaza Towers is under renovation, one of many projects in progress or planned in the coming months for the building. Exterior work is expected to continue into late summer 2021, he said. He declined to estimate the timeline for interior work, which will involve upgrades of all public spaces, such as bathrooms, the lobby and hallways.

“It’s a step-by-step process,” Denis said, adding interior work will start upon completion of the exterior projects. “You have to be very careful and at the same time not be messing up people’s business. We’ll just have to play it by ear because we have to go floor by floor and make sure everybody is happy.”

Exterior work on Plaza Towers and the shopping center are ongoing. Kansas City-based MTS Contracting Inc. is tackling the building’s concrete repair work, such as fixing cracks – a process Denis said will continue into December. Sealing and painting the structure an off-white color will follow.

Roof work, including changing the highly visible lighted sign to a digital one, also is on tap.

“Don’t worry, everybody will still be able to see it from far away,” he said.

Denis said the building needs a more modern look and is considering exterior design options with architecture firm Boti Architects LLC.

Aside from its facade being repainted, the shopping center also will have upgraded digital signage with room for advertising. Denis expects those two projects to wrap within the next six months.

“We’ll do our best to get everything completed as fast as possible,” he said.

There’s room for roughly 100 tenants between Plaza Towers and the shopping center, Denis said, adding occupancy is currently around 70%.

Wait and see
Greg Tigges, co-owner of Document Solutions of Springfield Inc., has been a Plaza Towers tenant since 1994. He’s anxious to see the coming improvements.

“We had a good discussion,” he said of meeting Denis a couple of weeks ago. “He’s very excited about owning Plaza Towers.”

Tigges said he’s had numerous opportunities to leave over the years but had a good relationship with the Sechlers. With new ownership in place, he isn’t shopping around now, either.

“I’ve never had the desire to truly pick up and move,” he said. “Unless the walls fall in and the whole building floods, I’m fine.”

It’s an iconic building, Tigges said, adding it makes sense to want to upgrade an over 50-year-old piece of property.

“Everybody knows where Plaza Towers is,” he said. “I can be in Neosho or Nevada and if they’re somewhat familiar with Springfield, I can say Plaza Towers and they know where we’re at.”

Acceptance Counseling Associates LLC owners Douglas and Alison Gragson are newcomers to Plaza Towers. They moved their counseling practice to the building March 30.

“There’s maybe a little trepidation about what will change and what will stay the same,” Alison Gragson said.

The Gragsons say they’re pleased with the new office and have been so focused on their practice they haven’t taken time to meet Denis yet.

“We’ve got a three-year lease, so we’ll see what happens over the three years,” Douglas Gragson said of the planned renovations. “Hopefully, it’s all good.”

Denis understands tenants may have uncertainty with a new owner in place planning changes. Still, he’s confident his plans will refresh the Springfield landmark and secure continued operation for decades.

“At the end of the day, you have to make your own decision and do what you feel is right,” he said. “It’s a big renovation and I feel like the building needed it, inside and out.”

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