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WIBS DRIVE-IN

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Published on Aug 28, 2009

Wib Drives In Jackson Missouri After 21 years of operating Wib's Drive-In in Jackson, owners A.D. and Judy Hoffman are thinking about expanding.

The long-standing restaurant North High Street, or U.S. 61 North, is a Jackson institution dating to 1947. The Hoffman's acquired the property next door, the Brookside Motel, as bequest from Gwen Winningham, who operated it until her death in 2005 at age 95. The motel, which also opened in 1947, would have required too much investment to update it to modern standards, Judy Hoffman said, so it is coming down.

Expanding the restaurant would make it more accessible, especially for handicapped customers, but the Hoffmans are worried about changing the atmosphere, she said.

"We just don't know what would be the best thing to do right now," Hoffman said. "But we don't want to change the food, the service or the atmosphere."

An expansion would also bring benefits of better climate control, Hoffman said. The old concrete building has no insulation and no airlock (the double doors that create a small room at the entrance).

"We're either very hot or very cold," Hoffman said. "Whatever Missouri weather throws at us, that is what we have got."

While the restaurant retains the "drive-in" portion of its name, car-hop service is part of a bygone era, Hoffman said. But it seems that half the people who eat there say they were once employed as car hops at Wib's, she said.

Hoffman said she and her husband are drawing up plans in an attempt to figure out how much an expansion would cost. The project would have to be balanced with family needs, she said -- the Hoffmans have three teenage children, with one daughter in college at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"We just don't know what would be the best thing to do right now," she said.

* Upstairs Downtown: Old Town Cape director Marla Mills and historic preservation consultant Terri Foley attended a workshop in Alton, Ill., on converting upstairs space in downtown buildings into apartments, condominiums and other usable space.

Called Upstairs Downtown, the conference was hosted by Illinois Main Street, but the lessons learned can be applied to the historic district in downtown Cape Girardeau, Foley said.

"Historic buildings are worth saving," Foley said. "Every square foot of a historic building that is saved is worth 10 gallons of gas."

That figure, she said, takes into account the fuel needed to haul away a building that is demolished, the fuel to bring new building materials in to construct a replacement and the fuel saved by shorter commuting distances to work sites.

Downtown Cape Girardeau has seen several big renovation projects made possible by the application of state and federal tax credits, including the renovation of the Marquette Tower and the Southeast Missourian buildings. Those credits can defer up to 45 percent of the cost of renovating a building on the National Register of Historic Places, Foley said, and can also be used on historic buildings within a historic district.

The Missouri credit is 25 percent, and state law allows those credits to be sold if the person or business that receives them is unable to use them. The federal credit is 20 percent, and new legislation pending in Congress is proposing that it be increased to 40 percent for projects with a price tag of $2 million or less, Foley said. That can defer up to 65 percent of the costs of renovation, Foley said.

There have been two recent Cape Girardeau additions to the National Register, Foley said. The Broadway Middle Commercial Historic District, which includes the 500 block of Broadway and the 100 block of North Middle Street, is a new listing. And the building at 101 N. Main St. was added to the Cape Girardeau Commercial Historic District, which already encompassed North Main Street from Themis Street to Broadway and ran along the south side of Broadway to Spanish Street.

The new designations, as well as the possibility of an increase in the federal credit, could spur additional investment in the area. Mills said she and Foley understand how other towns have used the programs to create living spaces and offices in unused portions of historic structures.

"The best use of resources is reusing what you have," Mills said.

* New restaurants: I caught up with developer Gary Hellwege and he said he has leased space at his development on North Kingshighway for two new restaurants -- Beef 'O' Brady's, which is a franchise that will be built by Robert M. MacGillivray of Sikeston, Mo., and Lee Hillman of Cape Girardeau, and a Pizza Hut that will be part of the new "Italian Bistro" concept unveiled by parent company Yum! Brands in 2005.

Beef 'O' Brady's is a family sports pub, and will be in a 3,500 square foot restaurant, Hellwege said. "We've already got all the design work and mechanical, and the engineering is being worked on right now."

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