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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blairmont Goes to the Mall

The two-and-a-half-story, side-gabled house at 1416 Montgomery Street is Old North St. Louis is fairly nondescript. Its front elevation probably bowed years ago, and was taken down and relayed with a harder modern brick and newer fenestration. The rebuilt front wall is boring, although the side and rear walls show the house to be a late-19th-century house that could be restored to some more appropriate appearance.

But doing that work would take imagination, patience and a faith in the neighborhood' renewal. You see, this modest dwelling is right across the alley from the so-called 14th Street Mall, the two blocks of commercial buildings fronting a part of north 14th Street closed in 1971 to form a pedestrian mall. The mall conversion killed the vitality of the commercial district, and by the 1990s only a few stores remained open. Today, the only occupied storefronts on the mall are a hair salon and a storefront church. Every other first floor is boarded or broken in, and the upper floors of the multi-story buildings have been empty even longer.

All of this is set to change, though, as a major collaborative redevelopment project is in the works. Most of the buildings on the mall are now owned by a partnership between the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, two organizations whose work is often miraculous. Imagine what they might do with 1416 Montgomery Street if they had the chance!

All we can do now is imagine, because at a recent Sheriff's tax sale the house and its accompanying garage sold to one of the Blairmont companies. Although their purchases in Old North have slowed, they still wanted to buy a derelict building that needs to be included in the 14th Street project.

Perhaps Blairmont can rehab the building better and faster than the partnership. Perhaps I am a dog person. Perhaps someone will rebuild the buildings cleared for the Arch. Perhaps asbestos is actually a nutrient...


Anonymous said...

One wonders why the "major collaborative redevelopment project" of such fine organizations didn't purchase the house themselves. you can't win the ballgame by sitting on the bench.

Anonymous said...

Because grassroots organizations aren't rolling in money. As one who's watched both of these orgs work to bring back the neighborhood, I would NOT say they've been "sitting on the bench." Quite the opposite. As for Blairmont, both orgs have managed to make quite a bit of progress in Old North DESPITE these jerks' tendency to sit on buildings waiting for everyone else to do the hard work so they can cash in on it when the neighborhood begins to revitalize.

Anonymous said...

When your purchasing agent is one of the few approved city appraisers who has inside knowledge of what will be available for purchase before even reputable developers will know, you can snatch anything.

Anonymous said...

Sitting on the bench. That's a good one.

Anybody who thinks these fine organzations have sat on the bench in any way at any point, simply isn't in touch with reality. Every morning these folks start the day running; Unlike the purchasing agents for Blairmont, who have the ability to totally focus on aquiring property, these organizations have a much broader range of concerns. They work for the community. Who does Blairmont work for? The fact that something will now happen on the Mall is a tremendous sign of RHCDA's and ONSLRG's dedication to the community.

At this point the same cannot be said of Blairmont. Their intentions have not been made clear.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is time for RHCDA to engage with Blairmont and its associated entities to reach out for a collaborative effort. The old Mall project with Blairmont could lead to other endeavors.

Anonymous said...

These organizations have tried to reach out to Blairmont for the past two years. To my knowledge, there has been no response.

Blairmont's owners espouse values like "interaction, openess to new ideas and information, dedication to both work and play, and nurturing the spiritual dimension in one's life". While those are certainly community friendly values, the behavior of their holding companies and the refusal to come forward and discuss their intentions is not community friendly.

How does one even begin a conversation if the door is closed and no one is willing to open it?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous No. 1, I am beginning to wonder if you have vested interests in seeing Blairmont get a foot-hold in the neighborhood... perhaps you work for them? Until Blairmont conducts itself in the same transparent manner as ONSL & RCGA, I don't trust them as far as I can thrown a rock. My belief is that they are merely sitting on property, ready to cash in after residents & good-hearted nonprofits do all the hard work to bring the neighborhood back. The burnen of proof to show otherwise is on them, as far as I can see. Why aren't they engaging with the community in an honest, open manner? The only reason anyone knows who they hell they are is because of Claire & Michael's excellent investigative blogging. I have a tough time believing that they have good intentions when they scuttle around in the dark like so many cockroaches...

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've seen so many anonymous posts to this blog before. I think that speaks to the level of scuttling the players involved in this deal are engaged in. It goes pretty deep and spans wide across ward boundaries.

I also don't think it's a sure thing these folks have a simple cash in on the work of others approach. I think they may be interested in some community building of their own. The question that remains to be answered is will that community building invlove the residents and community stakeholders that call the area home now? Or will they be swept aside for a hermetically sealed new development loosely reflecting the semblance of real urbansim that remains today?

Time will certainly tell.

Michael Allen said...

I am also amazed at the number of anonymous comments, but that's not surprising given Blairmont's known connection to Pyramid's John Steffen and probable connections to other big players in local development.

As for the partnership not getting this property first -- well, it doesn't have a full-time agent like Eagle Realty that can spend hours waiting at auctions to buy properties. RHCDA's staff works all over the region and cannot always be working on Old North, and the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group's staff consists of three overworked people.

On the other hand, Blairmont obviously has enough money to retain a full-time agent, pay upwards of $2.8 million for vacant properties that it doesn't immediately develop and somehow keep aldermen and city officials at bay.

That's hardly a fair match.