ALTON — A piece of Alton history is up for sale … again.
Janet Kolar, Mineral Springs owner and operator and tenant for the last nine years (one of five remaining active tenants in the building), is worried.
“There is no on-site manager,” Kolar says. “Tenants are stuck doing common maintenance, including mopping common area floors, taking out the garbage, cleaning public bathrooms.”
Another concern is the lack of security. Already this year, Kolar says there have been multiple break-ins, and Something Simple Something Grand, another shop in the mall, has been robbed.
“It is a public building, so people can enter the building and wander,” Kolar says. “We have found doors propped open and people hiding in the building.
“It is unsettling and we question our safety.”
Last December, Banyan Ventures donated the building to Mercy Real Estate as a tax write-off. Just a few weeks later, Mercy placed the building up for sale, asking $195,000, according to RE/MAX agent Dennis Dugan. To date, the mall has yet to be sold.
Mercy Real Estate has been unreachable, leaving phone messages and emails unanswered, according to Kolar. She says she is happy the property has been listed.
“Mr. Dugan has been monumental in getting the roof fixed and some simple repairs done,” she says.
The Mineral Springs Hotel, located at 301 East Broadway, was founded in 1909 by two German immigrants, August and Herman Luer. Originally built as a resort hotel, the 8900-square-foot, five-level icon gained its name and fame from the rumors of healing powers in the water bubbling up from the hotel’s rock foundation. The water was collected in a big mineral water well, three stories below the bottom floor.
After decades of thriving business (thanks in large part to the hotel’s impressive indoor pool), business began to decline in the 1950s, and the building closed in 1971 due to city code violations.
In 1978, Robert Schuler purchased the property and opened the Mineral Springs Mall. The property continued changing hands through the years and underwent extensive renovations in 2004, including a ballroom makeover and the addition of meeting rooms, retail shops and spa.
In January, current owner Steve Tschudy offered the building to Mercy Foundation as a tax-deductible donation. Mercy Foundation, owned by Mercy Real Estate in Tampa, Fla., offers to buy vacant or near vacant buildings that are difficult to sell.
According to the website, “Mercy Real Estate is the global leader in acquiring underutilized, or hard-to-sell, commercial and industrial properties. Our secret? The IRS 170 Exchange, better known as a Bargain Sale Real Estate Transaction. We close quickly on properties that meet our acquisition criteria.”
The Mercy Foundation Group uses the transaction funds to support microloans for impoverished entrepreneurs and students across the globe, according to its website. To date, the company claims to have supported thousands of people in more than 60 countries.
Charles Howland operates a used gift shop, Whatt Notts, in the front of the building. Iconic barber Wayne Hensley has operated out of the mall for the last 34 years. On the opposite end, Aunt Sha’s Cottage Furniture remains open.
The shops that remain do their best to work around what they see as serious neglect of what was once a beautiful Alton landmark. Residual damage from roof leaks is easily visible. Entire wings are gutted. For decades, the property has been rumored to be haunted and peering into abandoned areas of the building, it is easy to imagine ghostly specters drifting through the quiet and empty spaces.
Kolar operates her haunted tours out of the building, as well as her well-known Historic Museum of Torture Devices. Although the commune with the dead helps her business to thrive, she would like to see some life back in the rooms and hallways, as well.
“Mineral Springs is over 100 years old, and I personally would like to see it restored as a hotel,” she says. “The city of Alton wants another downtown hotel, so why not use an existing historical building with a beautiful view of the river? It would be successful and great for the city.”
“It is time to get some young blood here,” he says. “I believe this part of the city can come alive again, and we could do some great things with this building.”
Calls and emails from AdVantage News to Mercy Real Estate were not returned.