Michael,I have recently become a faithful reader of your blog. Congratulations on providing such a great service to the community. Like others, I am intrigued and concerned about the Blairmont activities that are taking place in Old North St. Louis. In my experience, one of the most effective ways to bring political pressure and force someone to take action is coalition building with other interested parties. What is Landmarks, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, or others saying about this issue? Has the information you compiled been brought to their attention?Thanks.
There is an overwhelming silence over the creeping Blairmont ownership of property on the near north side, in the 5th ward specifically, from elected officials, neighborhood leaders and city development folks. In parts of the area--like the southwestern portion of St. Louis Place--the current ownership pattern is the end part of a lenghty process of abandonment and residential dispersement that far preceded Blairmont. Elsewhere, Blairmont ownership butts up against smaller-scale, but sucessful, redevelopment of new homes and rehabbed buildings. The question is whether 5th ward residents, stakeholders, and leaders--and city officials who direct development activities--really want to sanction a large-scale redevelopment conducted through a process, in which they have little say or little input? Apparently so. Or at least the cost of Blairmont ownership--a continuing pattern of neglect of property--has not raised the hackles of local leaders to prompt them to take more public action.
I sent the letter to Brown at the Business Journal, Wagman at the Post Dipatch, as well as the Citizens' Service Bureau, License Collector Mike McMillian, Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, State Senator Maida Coleman, State Representative Rodney Hubbard, Congressman Lacy Clay, Jr., and Attorney General Jay Nixon.I mailed the letter from the post office at Market on Friday the 22nd before my Christmas Shopping at Macy's. The letter would have arrived by now. I have received no phone call or letter as of today.
I read your letter and thought that it was extremely well done. In general, however, my experience is that it is unfortunately all too easy for local officials to dismiss individual letters. I suspect most of the people on the list will point fingers at each as to whom you should direct your attention, leaving you in an endless rate race. I just thought one effective way to at least force a conversation on this is to line up some of the ducks (i.e., the organizations that typically speak on these issues) and see if you can't force some sort of dialogue on the topic. Whatever the approach, it would just be nice to get some feedback as to what is going on.
I am puzzled that outside of EOA's Michael and Claire and one other ONSL resident who has posted to this site, there has been no "public" questioning of this by near north residents, leaders or current developers. My assumption is that they are all OK with Blairmont's development plan.
Most of the content for the letter was done by Mike and Clarie. I simply put it together in good form. I suppose when monies are being sent to officials by some of the biggest developers in the Region, one can expect public dialogue to be suppressed. The only way this will be on the agenda is if people keep writing letters. I think some type of rally would also be in order.
On behalf of the ONSLRG, I would like to express our gratitude to Michael and Claire for their diligent investigative work of Blairmont’s activities and offer a response to some of the comments. Our organization has been aware of Blairmont’s activities for quite a few years and is very concerned about their impact across the entire near north side. EOA’s work has provided us the kind of useful data on Blairmont’s activities, data that we simply do not have the time to mine given the current work load and activities we have underway – work that includes over the past 18 months moving over 40 new families into renovated and newly constructed dwellings into the neighborhood, the planning and predevelopment of the 14th Street Mall Project, and the effort to save the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. This work is slowly but surely transforming the landscape of our neighborhood and capturing the imagination of other to join our calling - to revitalize the physical and social fabric of our community. This work is ongoing, healthy and quite visible in spite of the activities of Blairmont. Those who know our organization know we are not undertaking these efforts alone – it is through a broad spectrum of close working relationships ranging from city officials, organizations like RHCDA, and neighbors like Michael and Claire that we have been able to reverse Old North’s decline.EOA’s contribution has lit a candle in the darkness of this one situation, and we are certainly inspired by its light. In this matter we have not been “silent”. Over the years we have had a number of conversations with elected officials and even Mr. McKee regarding Blairmont. While I will not go into detail about those conversations, we believe the facts Michael, Claire and others have been uncovering make action on this matter possible and even easy to consider. A year ago in a conversation with our organization, Mr. McKee denied any involvement in this enterprise. EOA’s detective work allows a different kind of conversation to occur at this point and we are actively pursuing those discussions.Let there be no question: Blairmont’s activities are most certainly a concern to us. They do indeed raise our “hackles.” As a community based development organization we are committed to principles of openness and public engagement as key ingredients in any socially sustainable, large scale development activity. This has been a virtue we have practiced in our own work, and one which we consider as an imperative for others considering large scale efforts. We have expressed this position to both Mr. McKee and city officials. In the matter of neglected problem property, our organization has in the past organized efforts to report Blairmont properties to the city and urge action to clean these properties up. This activity usually involved calls and emails to the CSB and ultimately did not produce the kind of sustainable action needed to hold these folks accountable for taking care of what they own and being good neighbors. I’m sure they simply paid the fine or bill the city sent (if any) for board up, debris removal, or mowing the city did at our urging. For an organization like Blairmont that kind of activity is like a buzzing gnat – it really doesn’t slow this gorilla down and so we are very interested in a more proactive working relationship with the city to pursue this issue and have also expressed that position to both city officials and Mr. McKee.I apologize for the length of this note, but help it hopes your readers to understand our stance regarding this situation. Again thank you to Michael, Claire, and Doug Duckworth for your outstanding efforts.Kind regards,John BurseBoard PresidentOld North St Louis Restoration Group
It's reassuring to hear that ONSRG is allocating some resources to investigate the activity and pursue ansnwers. I'm not assuming that something "bad" is afoot, now or in my first message, although I do believe a healthy amount of skepticism is in order. McEagle and Paric don't exactly have a track record of historic preservation. And Paul's initial misinformation (or outright lies) to ONSRG about being involved in Blairmont heightens the skepticism in my mind. Will ONSRG be making publicly available any information you are able to obtain through your renewed efforts and discussions respecting Blairmont?Because of the scope of the Blairmont activities I think one can make the case that it is a city issue rather than a single neighborhood issue. But unfortunately there is so much deference between members of the board of alderman for each of their own little fiefdoms getting one to take action may be equally as difficult as the ones to whom McKee and his colleagues are making the requisite payments. The current race for the board of alderman president presents perhaps a unique opportunity because it has certainly caused some infighting among the board and a reshuffling of alliances. Does anyone know if the city of st. louis board of aldermen has subpoeana power to hold the functional equivalent of congressional hearings? Certainly one way to force McKee to answer questions a bit more forthrightly and candidly.
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