We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wagman Strikes at Paul McKee Again

Developer pays city to 'treat' eyesores - Jake Wagman (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

McKee to Rehab Clemens House?

A recent post on Urban St. Louis about the James Clemens House caught my attention:

A co-worker and I were out on the north side this morning and since he had his camera with him we decided to get some pics of the place. When we got there a man was walking around the property looking it over and talking on a cell phone. He asked who we were and said he was talking to the property owner who wanted to know who we were and why we were there. I took the phone and explained that we were just taking pictures. I asked if he really was the owner and he said that he was. I asked what he was planning to do with the place. He said he was going to rehab it. That he was accepting bids and that the work will begin in September.

Read more here.

Bye-Bye Old Boat?

Admiral's tide may be ebbing - Tim Barker (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 28)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Talking Past Each Other?

Here is the written part of my testimony to the Preservation Board concerning the "Doctor's Building" at 4635 Martin Luther King Drive in The Ville, a contributing resources to the pending Wagoner Place Historic District. (Read more here.) The board denied a demolition permit for the building on appeal at its meeting on Monday. The pastor of the church that owns the building had earlier involved Elliot Davis' brash "You Paid For It" show to broadcast his claim that by doing its job, the Cultural Resources Office is a waste of tax dollars. Davis' report did not matter that the church's wrecking contractor had started demolition without a permit.

Thankfully, with the offer of Ald. Sam Moore (D-4th) to swap land for the parking the pastor seeks, the demolition denial should cause no ruffled feathers. However, forging such a compromise at the very last minute seems like a difficult way to deal with situations like this. There must be a better way to make sure that city preservation laws are recognized by all citizens. The laws are not designed to be punitive, but to ensure that our shared architectural heritage is handled responsibly by present owners. Ignorance of the laws breeds polarization, not understanding. I can make testimony like this forever, but without the foundation of education on preservation as a cultural good, there will be a gap between me and property owners like the pastor. Rear-guard preservation activism is only designed to spare specific buildings. Hearts and minds should be swayed some other way, and I hope to work with others -- including many aldermen and pastors -- to make that happen.

My words from Monday:

Staff is correct; the so-called Doctors Building does not meet the criteria for demolition established under ordinance.

Under city law, thankfully, demolition is not an entitlement. This Board is enabled to uphold the physical integrity of this city's buildings and historic districts at its discretion. We have a process that mostly works. Key to that process is respect for the actual laws at hand.

The applicant illegally began demolition of this building, causing damage that he has broadcast on television as reason why the building is unsound and fit for demolition. However, the Building Commissioner quickly stopped the work and further damage has been avoided. The Building Commissioner notable did not issue an emergency demolition order, meaning that the building's condition even after demolition began was not so unsound as to require immediate demolition.

The best evidence presented so far by the applicant is damage inflicted through illegal demolition. Surely the Board will take that evidence with one thousand grains of salt.

In the current state, the building retains architectural integrity as well as physically sound condition defined in the Preservation ordinance and interpreted by the Building Division. Once it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the Wagoner Place Historic District, rehabilitation tax credits are available to address the building’s actual problems (none of which threaten it structurally).

That makes sense to most readers of this blog. However, the testimony was made in a specific context in which understanding is a scarcity. Somehow, with this issue and the broader Ville issue, we found that understanding at the Preservation Board on Monday. Usually, we aren't that fortunate.

Summary of Monday's Preservation Board Meeting

On Monday, the Preservation Board met. Commissioners John Burse, Mike Killeen, David Richardson, Mary Johnson, Anthony Robinson, Alderman Terry Kennedy and Richard Callow were present. Follow along with the agenda published here; that includes detailed reports on all items.

Here is a summary of the proceedings:


The Ville: In the end, the Board voted 4-3 to accept staff recommendation to demolish eleven homes in the The Ville Historic District. Commissioners Kennedy, Richardson and Johnson voted "yea" while Commissioners Robinson, Killeen and Burse voted "nay." Chairman Callow broke the tie by voting "yea." During testimony, Alderman Sam Moore stated he would just as gladly mothball the buildings as tear them down, as long as something was done. He actually consented to staff recommendation after back-and-forth with Cultural Resources Director Kate Shea.

3911 & 3961 Blair: After rejecting a motion by Kennedy to approve demolition of both houses, the Board voted 4-1 (Killeen dissenting) to approve demolition of 3911 and deny demolition of 3961 Blair. Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. already broke his earlier promise to support no further demolition in the Hyde Park Historic District and urged approval of both, especially 3911 which -- if the city sells the lot to a homeowner -- will become the site of a gazebo, circle drive and swimming pool for a house next door.


Both items approved with staff stipulations. The number of permits this month was atypically low.


5286-98 Page Boulevard: Owners obtained a continuance; matter not considered.

4635 Martin Luther King Drive: This controversial issue, subject of a recent "You Paid for It" segment on Fox 2, died down after Alderman Moore promised a land swap with the church seeking demolition. Moore is in favor of preserving the so-called Doctor's Building. The Board unanimously denied the appeal, and the pastor stated he would pursue the swap to get parking space elsewhere.

7416 Vermont Avenue: The Board unanimously denied the appeal of a church seeking to demolish a historic parsonage in Carondelet.


The Board approved all nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wicke Auto Body Building Burns

One of the two historic buildings occupied by Wicke Auto Body in the Central West End burned this afternoon in a spectacular blaze. The 1920s-era one-story brick garage building with steel bow-truss roof is located in the 400 block of Newstead just south of Olive Street.

Television station KMOV has raw footage here here.

(Thanks to Andrew Faulkner for the alert.)

Rally for Historical Preservation and Urbanism


Contact: Douglas Charles Duckworth
Phone: 566-3465
Email: dcdb66@umsl.edu

Date: July 26th 2007

Once again there will be a rally protesting Lawrence Biondi's demolition of historical buildings within Midtown and the burgeoning Locust Business District. The last two attempts at dissent were cut short due to inclement weather; however this Thursday the 26th many will rally at the intersection of Locust and Josephine Baker Boulevard. Please arrive by 5:30 PM. At 6PM we will be walking from the remnants of the Livery Stable to the soon to be demolished Second Empire mansion at 3740 Lindell. Show your opposition to the annihilation of historical buildings as they represent St. Louis' unique built environment and history! Inform Biondi and the political machine that needlessly bulldozing the built environment is not a policy which will revitalize St. Louis.

St. Louis City has a precedent of demolition extending back decades. The practice is ingrained within its political culture. The argument for demolition, specifically of large areas, was that certain neighborhoods were blighted slums thus their redevelopment was in the interest of the City. In fact Soulard was supposed to be demolished per the 1947 City Plan. These large scale projects, called “urban renewal,” were designed to provide new housing, office space, and industrial, that would allegedly offset population losses due to suburbanization. They failed miserably as the City continued its depopulation.

Considering the former Livery Stable, the argument for demolition was that surface parking must be provided for SLU’s new arena. In reality, there is plenty of parking available via on-street, surface, and garage parking. Moreover, the benefit of providing parking does not outweigh the loss of St. Louis’ unique built environment. Readily apparent throughout St. Louis City is our plethora of parking garages and lots, many of which supplanted a historical building through demolition. Suburbanites visit the City for a ball game, concert, or other event; yet afterwards the sidewalks are devoid of pedestrian life. The goal of the establishment should be a change of policy. Both large scale urban renewal and demolition for parking are failed policies. What didn’t work in the past should not be repeated.

There is a better solution. The City will gain residents by concentrating resources on rehabbing the built environment. Ironically, after decades of decline, Mayor Francis G. Slay and others in power cite the Washington Avenue rehab boom, and other transitioning neighborhoods, as explanation for the City’s recent population increase. Why is needless demolition acceptable in some areas when rehabilitation of the built environment has had such positive benefits elsewhere? Specifically, within Grand Center, concentration on rehabilitation and new infill construction would bring pedestrian life. With such activity comes a market for storefront retail and commerce. The end result is that Grand Center lives up to its official name, The Intersection of Art and Life, rather than its current reality: The Intersection of Art and Death.

Pedestrian traffic facilitated through urban residential and commercial development provides SLU with patrons to their new arena without the construction of parking. Individuals would simply walk from where they live or work. They could even use a bike. Finally, the rehabilitation of our built environment would provide the City a higher tax yield. These monies could fund mass transit expansion within the City, thus lessening the need for parking. The possibilities are endless, yet are utterly destroyed when a viable historical building is demolished. The Livery Stable is gone, but the mansion at 3740 Lindell, which contributes to the Midtown National Register Historic District, can be saved. Moreover, a message must be sent: St. Louis should have higher standards.

After the rally we will be walking across Lindell to the Moolah, which was masterfully rehabbed in 2004, for our monthly discussion of politics, urbanism, preservation, and architecture. This is the perfect opportunity to meet fellow activists and make new friends. Be sure to attend the rally and the social gathering afterwards. The future of St. Louis City is being decided today. Make sure it does not look like O’Fallon. Your children will thank you.

Thursday Night Drinks Are Back This Week

What: People gathering to talk about architecture, urban design and politics.

Where: The Moolah Lounge, 3821 Lindell Boulevard

When: Thursday, July 26 from 7:00 p.m. until the discussion winds down

Who is invited: Preservationists, aldermen, Situationists, members of the Preservation Board, plasterers, urbanists, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, developers, philanderers, saints and real people.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Trick Question Regarding the Ville Demolitions

What kind of careful decisions about historic preservation can the city's Preservation Board make when faced with an application to demolish 39 different buildings in one neighborhood?

That's the case tomorrow, when the Board will consider Alderman Sam Moore's (D-4th) aggressive push to wreck 39 buildings scattered throughout the Ville neighborhood. The city's Cultural Resources Office staff has approved some permits for demolition on buildings that barely exist. That's fine. But the remaining 39 buildings deserve more than even one hour's hearing by the Board.

Much of the Ville lies within a city historic district, but very little is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The staff of CRO have worked on several successful National Register nomination in the last two years, but more are possible. Not enough is know yet about future nominations to know what buildings on Alderman Moore's list are potentially contributing resources to future districts. Caution is needed, but unfortunately the Preservation Board is bound to decide the fate of these buildings in a rather uncautious manner.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Today's Rehabbers' Club Meeting in Hyde Park

Under the cover of great weather, this morning the Rehabbers' Club made its way to Hyde Park for its monthly meeting. The meetings follow a show-and-tell format designed to expose city residents to dedicated rehabbers and developers, unique projects and the city's many fantastic neighborhoods.

Today, the meeting began at the Friedens United Church of Christ Fellowship Hall at 19th and Newhouse, where Friedens Neighborhood Foundation YouthBuild Program Director Brian Marston discussed the new YouthBuild academy and its rehabilitation of the church's long-vacant historic school building. Afterwards, I gave a short walking tour that went through the park and ended at what will be a spectacular rehabilitation project: developer Peter George's rebuilding of the Nord St. Louis Turnverein.

Included on the tour was a garden that Friedens has dedicated in honor of Marti Frumhoff, founder of the Rehabbers' Club as well as the Publishing Group.

While attendance was atypically low, typical of summer meetings, the crowd's mix was noteworthy: a former president of Metropolis, a 37-year resident of Hyde Park, a micro-developer who is taking on the difficult rehab of five historic buildings in Old North, one of the earliest members of the Rehabbers' Club, a Riverfront Times reporter, a resident of Carondelet, a young family seeking to buy and rehab in Hyde Park and myself. Marti's desire to connect all of us continues to realize success.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act Back, Still Seems to Benefit Only McKee

On Monday, Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton convened a bipartisan group of House leaders to forge a compromise version of the controversial economic development bill (HB 327) that Governor Matt Blunt vetoed. The new bill, which may be heard by the end of August or in September during a special "veto session," includes a modified version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. The modified version has reduced overall eligible project size to 50 acres, a move that still seems to benefit only developer Paul J. McKee, Jr.'s north side land assemblage project while bailing McKee out from the political problems of pursuing a larger plan. No other developer could qualify for the revised version, which seems even more helpful to McKee' project than before while recuperating some of the rhetoric of critics of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act

Developing (ouch)...

One Year Since Major Storms, Heat Wave, Power Outage

One year ago today, heavy wind storms hit St. Louis. Damage struck the Switzer Building on Laclede's Landing, later demolished; the roof of my house, now repaired. Over 400,000 people lost electricity for days during a major heat wave (a type of urban disaster still widely viewed treated as something else), and several died.

So much that seemed uncertain after the storm is now resolved (unhappily, in the case of the Switzer Building). So much that was certain then, well...

So it goes. We move onward, but we remember.

Mayor Slay Makes Case for Preserving Doctor's Building in the Ville

MayorSlay.com is ahead of Ecology of Absence in making the case for preservation of at least one of the buildings in the Ville whose fate will be considered at Monday's Preservation Board meeting. I'm certainly not complaining.

Writing about the Doctor's Building, the mayoral voice states:

After neighbors and the alderman noticed the demo and reported it, the City’s buildings inspectors ordered the owner to stop. If he wishes to continue, the building’s owner will have to make a persuasive case for demolition before the Preservation Board.

Given its place in our history and the fact the federal historic designation makes tax credits available for the building’s rehabilitation, I can’t imagine what that case would be.

Read more here.

We Need More People Like NiNi Harris

This past Sunday, people flocked to the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church complex on North 20th Street for their annual Summer Picnic. Many of these people were there to purchase the new book Unyielding Spirit: The History of the Polish People in St. Louis and meet its author, historian NiNi Harris. NiNi's book signing line was steady throughout the day.

Unyielding Spirit was definitely the main attraction, but NiNi is worth a lot of attention. Over the last thirty years, NiNi has gained a vast knowledge of the people and places of this city, especially her native south St. Louis. Her recall is quick, and her details usually precisely remembered. She likes to tell good stories, too -- the hallmark of a great historian. NiNi seems possessed by a desire to see that the people and places of this city live forever.

NiNi shares both knowledge and passion through frequent walking tours, lectures, seven books, over 600 articles and what must be millions of conversations. The remarkable thing is that she is self-employed, having never sought the safety and salary of nonprofits, government or the other places historians' circumstances usually lead them.

Above all, NiNi remains approachable and joyful about her work -- and modest. She actually called me on Monday to thank me for stopping by her book signing.

(Unyielding Spirit is available for sale through St. Stanislaus Kostka and at the Chatillon-DeMenil House shop.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


SLU's Long, Slow Mistake (Built St. Louis): Rob Powers discusses the demolition of the livery stable on Locust Street.

Sunset Hills Teardown, Revised (B.E.L.T.): Toby Weiss finally gets to repost her tribute to the Brinkop House -- because it has a new owner who is renovating it!

Steal Das Book (Riverfront Times): Kathleen Mclaughlin details the complicated question of the provenance of a book that a German museum wants back from a St. Louis book dealer.

Kinder Blogs, V-logs on Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act Proposal

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has a blog entry with video:
Revitalizing Our Cities Can Happen If We Work Together
. The blog entry and video address the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, part of the economic development bill vetoed by Kinder's supposed cohort and fellow Republican Governor Matt Blunt.

Kinder's video includes footage of buildings on Chouteau Avenue that are already under renovation, as well as dramatic shots of him looking over a parapet apparently at Vin de Set.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Strength of Old North

Some neighbors in Old North went through a kitchen fire on Saturday. The fire did not do major damage to their house, but did take out their power lines and ability to occupy the house. However, the response to the fire was classic Old North. I was at an event when I received a message from my neighbor Barbara telling me of the damage. Immediately, I left the event to help my neighbors. I arrived to find a crew of neighbors already tackling the job of gutting the fire-damaged areas. My neighbors were in good spirits.

Barbara immediately turned her attention to the job of boarding up the damaged doorway and windows on the first floor of the rear wall, where the fire was most extensive. Another neighbor who is a general contractor was set to handle the matter after visiting the prisoner he is mentoring, but we decided to give him a good break. Barbara and I joined neighbors James and David to frame our the affected openings and to cut and screw in playwood. When we all left, the house was secure and its residents could focus on other tasks at hand. The board-up took less than two hours, due to the knowledge of the group -- all of us had framed our board-ups before.

Only in Old North? Perhaps not. The response nonetheless demonstrated the unique talents of my neighbors, our get-it-done attitude and the prevalent concern for our neighbor's needs. Ours is a strong neighborhood spirit, and one on which to count when times are tough. We take the communitarian spirit of a village and add the know-how and street smarts of a city. This is a great neighborhood!

Bosley Wants to Get Strict With Brick Dealers

Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. (D-3rd) has introduced Board Bill 232 to increase the regulation of brick recyclers in the city of St. Louis. The bill has two aims:

- To require that brick dealers videotape all transactions on their yards, keep the tapes for thirty days afterwards and make tapes available to the police department.

- To limit the hours of operation of brick yards so that they close at 6:00 p.m. on Fridays and do not reopen until 5:00 a.m. on Monday.

Bosley's bill imposes the punishment of fines not to exceed $500.00 and imprisonment not to exceed ninety days for each violation of the bill by a dealer.

These measures are practical and seem to be effective steps to combat the rising tide of brick theft that is decimating vacant buildings in St. Louis Place, JeffVanderLou and Hyde Park. While the theft occurs at all hours, theft is increased during late night and weekend hours, and most thieves lack storage space and money, and thus quickly sell the stolen goods to yards. Late-night sales are not uncommon at some yards.

While the bill does not harm dealers in the suburbs who are also buying stolen brick, perhaps it will inspire ordinances in St. Louis County and other areas where dealers operate. The punishment called for in Bosley's bill may also not be severe enough to serve as a major deterrent. However, the provision for use of cameras will no doubt have a major impact on the incomes of those who profit from dealing stolen bricks.

Hopefully, the Board of Aldermen will swiftly pass Bosley's bill.

Thirty-Nine Demolition Permits in The Ville on July Preservation Board Agenda

The preliminary agenda for the monthly meeting of the city's Preservation Board (to be held Monday, July 23) contains many demolition permits:

For preliminary review:

4232 and 4234 Aldine; 1707, 1709, 1711, 1717, 1820, 1824, 1825 and 1826 Annie Malone; 1922 Belle Glade; 3950, 4320 and 4448 Cote Brilliante; 4547 Cottage; 4409, 4411 and 4417 Garfield; 4549, 4551 (front) and 4551 (rear) Kennerly; 4402 Maffitt; 4147, 4153,
4220, 4224, 4234, 4446 and 4649 Dr. Martin Luther King; 4357, 4446, 4617 and 4559 North Market; 4364 St. Ferdinand; 1825, 2510 and 2512 N. Taylor; 3013 Vine Grove, all in the Ville historic district.

On appeal:

Residential buildings at 3911 and 3961 Blair Avenue in the Hyde Park historic district;

A two-and-a-half-story storefront and apartment building at 4635 Martin Luther King Drive in the Ville historic District;

A two-story storefront building at 5286-98 Page Boulevard in the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place historic district;

A two-story rectory at 4716 Vermont Avenue in the Central Carondelet Historic District.

Also on the agenda are five nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pruitt-Igoe Demolition as Seen in "Koyaanisqatsi"

Someone has posted a long segment from Godfrey Reggio's 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi that includes the famous aerial footage of the vacant housing project and the explosion-based demolition that took down the entire complex between 1972 and 1974.

The Pruitt-Igoe sequence begins at 2:49.

Thirty-three acres of the originally 57-acre Pruitt-Igoe site at the southeast corner of Cass and Jefferson avenues remain vacant to this day.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One Lovely Storefront Building in JeffVanderLou

This beautiful corner commercial building stands at the southeast corner of Glasgow and St. Louis avenues in JeffVanderLou. (The mansard-roofed tenement to the east is also worthy of appreciation.) The date is likely some time in the 1880s. The front elevation on St. Louis is clad in white Missouri limestone over a cast-iron storefront and under a galvanized sheet metal cornice. One charming detail is the recessed, chamfered storefront entrance that creates one of those delightful corner triangular stoops found on many local commercial buildings. The limestone wraps the corner on Glasgow, but after one window bay the wall is brick. Overall, the stylistic effect is Italianate.

One detail that mesmerizes me when I look at this building is on the side elevation, where the galvanized cornice ends. Here, brick corbelling continues the cornice line. However, the classical formalism of the bracketed cornice gives way to abstract masonry, where all angles are right and nary a curve can be found. The tenor of the cornice line changes sharply, but the line itself extends so that even the secondary elevation has an articulated crown. The different treatments only give the eye yet one more different element to look at -- one more demonstration of the expressive qualities of 19th century architectural vernacular.

This building is large for a corner commercial building, with ample space on the upper floors for residential or office uses. It is located just two blocks east of Grand Avenue. At the corner of Grand and St. Louis, the even larger Grand-St. Louis Building, recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is about to undergo renovation. While blocks south and east of the corner of St. Louis and Glasgow are marked by open land and vacancy, the blocks west and north are mostly occupied and well-kept. This building is at a pivotal point in JeffVanderLou, and its future reuse is both feasible and meaningful for the neighborhood.

The building is owned by VHS Partners LLC, a holding company controlled by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. as part of his large-scale north side redevelopment project. Hopefully its preservation is part of his plan; he is fortunate to own such a unique building with amazing potential.

Unfortunately, according to records on Geo St. Louis, the city Building Division condemned the building for demolition on May 8, 2007. A separate two-story alley building behind this building has also been condemned for demolition, although given the fact that brick thieves have removed nearly two whole walls, the condemnation is more understandable. The storefront building at the corner is in sound condition.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

State Funding Brownfield Cleanup for New Housing in Bohemian Hill

From Mark Bohnert, President of the Red Brick Community Land Trust:

Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority Awards $15,000 to Red Brick Community Land Trust for Environmental Cleanup of Soulard Brownfields Site

The State Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (EIERA) has selected the Red Brick Community Land Trust to receive $15,000 to address petroleum related contamination of a Soulard brownfields site.

The EIERA will make the award to the RBCLT in a public ceremony at the property location, 1805 S. Tucker Street, St. Louis on Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 9:30 a.m. (Rain Site: 2020 S. 12th St.)

The Red Brick Community Land Trust will use the money to remove petroleum-related contamination enabling a residential development to proceed on the property in the Bohemian Hill neighborhood, part of the Soulard area. Red Brick Community Land Trust was established in 2001 as a non-profit organization that secures permanently affordable housing for low-income St. Louis metropolitan residents.

"Affordability in Soulard remains problematic, thus the Bohemian Hill property is an attractive location for this proposed project," said Jerome Govero, a member of the EIERA Board.

A brownfield site is real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

The EIERA received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to capitalize the Missouri Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund that will provide loans and subgrants for cleanup of sites contaminated with petroleum and hazardous substances. The EIERA works with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Brownfields Voluntary Cleanup Program to support brownfields cleanup activities so
that redevelopment and reuse of properties can proceed.

For more information, contact the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority at (573) 751-4919 or Red Brick Community Land Trust at (314) 621-1411 ext. 102.

Friday, July 13, 2007

US Attorney Indicts Doug Hartmann

Today the US Attorney's office announced that it is indicting mortgage fraud artist Doug Hartmann for bank and mail fraud. Hartmann's scheme involved nearly 250 properties, including scores of historic houses in the city of St. Louis and the Nord St. Louis Turnverein, which burned last July under Hartmann's ownership.

The Post-Dispatch has the story here.

Burse's Response to News of McKee's Plans

Old North St. Louis Restoration Group President John Burse drafted a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch regarding Paul McKee, the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act and the site assembly experience Burse has gained working on projects in Old North.

For some reason, the Post chose to publish other letters on these matters, and never published Burse's eloquent letter from the front line.

But you can read it here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Latest Brick Rustling Casualty in St. Louis Place

In the last two weeks, brick rustlers have reduced this Romanesque Revival two-flat at 2318 Howard Street to the tell-tale mess of sagging floors supported by internal walls. The four brick walls are completely gone, with the bricks taken to one of the yards that gladly fence bricks stolen from the north side. Some veneered McMansion in the Phoenix suburbs could end up with a thin face of brick taken from this house to raise money for rent, crack cocaine or any number of other needs and desires. I took the photograph above last summer; the building was remarkably intact

The building stands (barely) on city block 2318, bounded by Howard on the north, 25th on the west, Mullanphy on the south and 23rd on the east. This is two blocks north of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project site in an area of St. Louis Place that resembles

The ownership pattern on the block is rather strange:

1617 N 23RD ST LRA

In addition to one LCRA holding here we have the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIE), Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), N & G Ventures LC and Blairmont Associates LC, two of Paul McKee's companies, and a smattering of private owners.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Have You Thanked Governor Blunt Yet?

On Friday, Governor Matt Blunt vetoed the economic development omnibus (HB 327) that contained the tax credits designed for Paul McKee's north St. Louis project. I'm sure that you sent your letter of thanks, because you know that the best way to get good behavior from an elected official is to provide positive reinforcement. After all, we all know the tax credit proposal will be back again, and likely on Governor Blunt's desk once more before the next election.

Wait, you haven't thanked the Governor? Well, go ahead and do so.

Letters can be sent here:

Governor Matt Blunt
Room 216, State Capitol Building
Jefferson City MO 65101

Phone calls can be directed to:

(573) 751-3222

There there is e-mail:

Contact form here.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Rally Tomorrow Against SLU Demolitions (CANCELED)

UPDATE: The rally has been canceled due to weather concerns. Stay tuned.

The Disconnection of the Locust Business District from Grand Center

Contact: Anthony Coffin
Phone: 314-498-0483
Email: cowpuppyproductions@hotmail.com
Date: July 10th

On Tuesday July 11th at 5:30PM there will be a rally protesting St Louis University’s continuing demolition of historic structures. Specifically we are opposing the current demolition and any future demolitions that will further disconnect the Locust business district from Grand Center.

The livery stable had occupied a very important location along Locust. East of Josephine Baker, Locust has undergone an amazing transformation in the last several years with almost every building undergoing renovation with beautiful facade restorations, and they are being filled with creative firms, offices, restaurants, etc. The block between Josephine Baker and Theresa however is quite desolate. The Drake Plaza while beautiful, has no storefronts or offices facing Locust. Around the corner on Theresa however, is the new Moto Museum and west of that on Olive, the recently completed Centene Center for the Arts and the Metropolitan is undergoing renovation into a hotel and retail. The livery stable, along with other surrounding buildings, held a key ingredient to tying the Locust Street corridor with Grand Center to the west.

Directly across Josephine Baker from the livery stable, SLU owns two more buildings that may be threatened with demolition. 3331, and 3327 Locust are buildings that if rehabbed could lessen the negative impact of a parking lot on the site of the livery stable. If these buildings are razed the result will be even greater disconnectedness in midtown and a slap in the face to the pioneers of Locust street.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

cities on other planets

I would just like to call your attention to this poem by local writer Aaron Belz: cities on other planets.

(And, at least from my interpretation of it, I'm thinking you can assume a little sarcasm in the tone, so calm down and read it again.)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Hanley's Meadow

Filmmaker Carson Minow's award-winning 48 Hour Film Project entry, Hanley's Meadow, is now available online. Readers of this blog will recognize a few of the actors and many of the locations, which range from St. Louis Place to the Wellston Loop.

EDITED to add: This is Claire butting in to note that except for one scene done in a rural-ish part of Rosemont City, everything else in the movie was filmed North of Delmar. Yay!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Governor Blunt Vetoes HB 327, Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits

Pub Def has the good news: McKee Tax Credit Vetoed

Media Coverage of McKee's North St. Louis Plans Has Increased

Here is a review of recent media coverage of Paul J. McKee, Jr.'s plans for north St. Louis. Times have changed when all I have to do is link to the work of others.

Even on Donnybrook

The old gang on KETC's Donnybrook program brought up Paul McKee's plans for north St. Louis on the June 28 show. Ray Hartmann and Bill McClellan make good points critical of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act and McKee's silence, while Charles Brennan and Martin Duggan wonder why people are upset. Watch the show here (the discussion starts about twelve minutes into the program).

Making the news all over the state

On July 2, Southeast Missourian business editor Rudi Keller published a column entitled "One person may qualify for new tax credit".

Keller also published a blog entitled "The $100 million man" on July 2.

The Kinder connection

On June 26, Fired Up! Missouri blogger Howard Beale reported that NorthPark Partners, the development partnership that includes Paul McKee's McEagle Properties, hired David Barklage as a lobbyist in April. Barklage is a long-time associate of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. Beale speculates that the recent inexplicable claim that the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act has more to do with NorthPark than north St. Louis has a lot to do with the hiring of Barklage.

Read more here.

On the radio, too

Some of the July 5 St. Louis on the Air program on radio station KWMU was dedicated to discussing McKee's plans. Listen here.

Handling the truth

Back in June, a Truth Handler blog entry made a point about the unintended consequences of well-meaning liberal support for urban renewal schemes like McKee's:

So, in the end, the good-intentioned attempts you had made to shift some sort of power/wealth to the poor by creating a new use for government power is then ultimately used by the rich to benefit themselves, and no one else.

Good coverage from At Home

At Home magazine blogger Stefene Russell has been continuing its pithy coverage of McKee's plans. One of her best recent posts is "The Politics of Neighborhoods" -- check it out.

Urbanists debating McKee's plans

Over at the Urban St. Louis forum, usually suffering from a dearth of discussion on north St. Louis, the thread on McKee's north side project has blown into a vigorous debate. Jump into the discussion here.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Teens Learning About, Producing Media in Old North St. Louis

(Teen participants in the Adventures in Media program stand in front of a mural on the 14th Street Mall designed and installed by The Urban Studio.)

Hopefully people are following along with the blog entries produced by the teenagers who are taking part in the Adventures in Media Teen Program. Sponsored by the Urban Studio, Trailnet and KDHX, Adventures in Media is a two-week program that examines the role of media in our dietary practices to demonstrate the nuts and bolts of how media is produced. Sessions take place at the Urban Studio, 2815 N. 14th Street in Old North St. Louis, as well other locations on the near north side. The Urban Studio is basically a storefront space reclaimed by imaginative neighborhood residents interested in using creativity to shape and strengthen community. It's one of the many bright spots making the near north side a lively and changing place to live.

One of the other places, the New Roots Urban Farm in St. Louis Place, is a logical part of this program. There, the teens learned a lot about the healthy, local organic food that isn't often promoted through mainstream media.

As part of the program, the teens are making some media of their own -- daily blog entries with photographs that chronicle this summer's experience.

Read those blog entries here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

McKee's Holdings Ready for Development

In a written statement sent to Riverfront Times reporter Kathleen McLaughlin, developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. remarked of his north side holdings, "what we do own, with a few unremarkable exceptions, is owned in small, undevelopable scattered sites."

McKee is wrong on several counts:

- The most desirable and sustainable development in any urban area is precisely done in small, scattered sites. Great cities are built through accumulation, not master planning -- the same goes for great redevelopment. McKee's 662+ parcels were each developable, or they never would have been surveyed and divided as parcels. These are not good sites for large buildings or homes with generous front lawns, but they are perfect for dense urban infill construction.

- With property values rising throughout the city, all property in the city is "developable" -- especially land as close to downtown as McKee's holdings are. Even what he owns now could lead to an extremely profitable develoment program.

- McKee owns dozens of historic buildings in the Murphy-Blair, Clemens House-Columbia Brewery and Mullanphy National Historic Districts -- many adjacent to rehabilitated buildings or soon-to-be rehabilitated buildings. Obviously, he's already eligible for an established and proven state development tax credit: the historic rehabilitation tax credit. His Paric Corporation can been seen all over the city serving as general contractor on numerous historic rehabilitation contracts utilizing the tax credit, and that company does good work. He could proceed with rehabilitating all of his holdings eligible for the state historic tax credit and make a huge and qualitative difference in north St. Louis.

- In Old North St. Louis and the eastern side of St. Louis Place, McKee's holdings fall among rehabbed buildings, maintained houses, businesses and new construction. Large-scale development is not only unfeasible in these areas, it's not needed. There already is development activity scattered in these areas. On some blocks, everything is in good repair except the holdings of McKee and the city's Land Reutilization Authority. Surely he can put together development projects on a small scale where they will make such a critical difference.

Overall, McKee's holdings are a remarkable development opportunity as-is. Rather than wait for big political deals to take shape, the developer is posed to start now on meaningful development based on community needs and sensitivity to the existing urban fabric. In fact, if he only rehabbed every building eligible for the state rehab tax credit the difference on the near north side would be clear. If that statement doesn't seem true, one need only look at the result of the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance's CONECT project on North Market and Monroe streets in Old North St. Louis. There, scattered rehabs using the state historic rehab tax credit and other existing financing mechanisms changed the character of some blocks from hopeless to hopeful. Simultaneous construction of new houses helped make the difference bigger. Some of these blocks are unrecognizable in their renewed states.

As such good changes take place, they spread -- fast. Private development is at an all-time high in Old North St. Louis. Within a few years, the 14th Street Mall will be reopened and dozens of historic buildings will be rehabilitated as part of that project. In short time, figuring out what to do with all of the vacant land in the neighborhood won't be a problem; the gaps will fill in. This won't happen in even ten years, but I'd be surprised if it takes more than thirty. Given the magnitude of the decline of the neighborhood, that is remarkably fast.

With careful planning, McKee could identify other potential historic districts among his holdings and carry that momentum westward into JeffVanderLou. That process seems to coincide with Mayor Slay's statement that historic preservation is part of what will happen in development of McKee's holdings.

The large scale on which McKee has operated is hardly visionary any more. We have watched decades of such projects fail. In the meantime, we have seen developers make bigger differences in reversing decay by tackling the city on a parcel-by-parcel basis -- the same way the city was first developed. McKee has the chance to do something unique by putting his resources and energy behind smarter urban development projects. No matter what happens, development of his parcels will take decades. Why not start now and work steadily doing something no other developer can do?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Plaza Rendering Available 33 Years Ago

This rendering shows an envisioned "civic plaza" on the 800 block of Locust. The plan calls for passive space with views of the north elevation of the Old Post Office and a tall, modern high-rise built between the plaza and the Mayfair Hotel.

The date? This plan appeared in the 1974 Downtown Plan, prepared by Downtown St. Louis, Inc.

Good Responses

While the MayorSlay.com's attack on the Post-Dispatch coverage of Paul McKee's north side land assemblage struck the predictable reactionary posture, two responses online are worthwhile reads:

Slay Supports McKee, Blasts Post - Antonio D. French (Pub Def)

I Take the Bait - Lisa Selligman (clearview)