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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Forest Park Southeast Clear-Cut On Monday's Preservation Board Agenda

On the agenda for tomorrow's Preservation Board meeting once again is the matter of the demolition of buildings owned by Forest West Properties in Forest Park Southeast. (Read all about last month's attempt to get Preservation Board approval to demolish 30 buildings.) This time, the number of buildings is 32. This time, the Cultural Resources Office is recommending denying permits for ten buildings. However, the reasoning behind the ten buildings recommended is difficult to discern. It seems to have more to do with basic architectural features that with a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood. From a preservation standpoint, such reasoning may be logical but from a more holistic view it could end up producing dispersed vacant lots that diminish historic contexts appropriate for renovation and historic district designation without demolition.

In my testimony at last month's meeting, I suggested a plan for ranking the buildings architecturally as a worst-case preservation strategy. In the absence of compelling plans for the buildings' sites, the best case for planning still exists, despite what Forest West Properties says.

Since last month, a credible developer has made an offer to acquire over half of these buildings south of Manchester, in a pattern that would retain the remaining context there and may allow for a historic district to be created that would enable the use of tax credits.

As far as I know, Forest West has not responded to the offer except to immediately re-apply for preliminary review of the demolition. (The Board did not vote at last month's meeting because, due to absences and recused members, only two members were able to vote so no quorum existed.)

Forest West needs to explore sensible redevelopment of these buildings and not continue in a mad rush to tear them down. There is still time to build a true redevelopment plan. Forest West knows a lot about waiting, because they have owned these buildings for over a year without coming up with any plans for redevelopment. All they can do now is take the easy way out with clearance.

Their best bet may be a sale to a developer with expertise at complicated urban development that is architecturally sensitive and at working in rebounding marginal areas. Demolition only will make things worse for the southern part of "the Grove."

See the agenda for the meeting here.

Meeting details:
Monday, May 22 at 4:00 p.m.
1015 Locust Street, 12th Floor


Anonymous said...

From what I have been able to learn from this story, I am not convinced that these demolitions are a bad idea.

For starters, it seems very clear that the neighborhood based development organization (FPSEDC) supports this plan.

If there were serious negatives with it, why do they endorse the demolition approach?

Let's not forget that the turnaround we see happening in "The Grove" today has been years in the making, through long-term efforts carried out by the neighborhood development corporation.

Joe said...

FPSEDC is not necessarily a neighborhood-based development org. Like Forest West, it owes its existence largely to WashU Med Center.

While WashU's efforts are laudable, these demolitions are unwarranted without a development plan for the Adams Grove area.

What do the actual neighborhood groups - FPSE Community Council, Adams Grove and Laclede Race Course associations - think about these plans?

Michael R. Allen said...

FPSEDC is not a "neighborhood group" and its board membership is quite small. At least one of its board members lives outside of the city!

Irving Blue, executive director of FPSEDC, told me that he was unaware of the demolition application before it went before the Preservation Board last month.

The groups Joe mentions are the actual neighborhood organizations, and none of them have stances on the demolition. I wonder if their members even know what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, FPSEDC is not a "neighborhood group", it is a neighborhood development corporation. However, the individual sub-neighborhoods are represented in the makeup of the FPSEDC board of directors.

The FPSEDC has been instrumental in many of the important development projects which have vastly improved the neighborhood.

They have a track record of getting things done.

Michael R. Allen said...

When did the Forest Park Southeast Community Council get a representative on the FPSEDC's board? I'm surprised that no one told me.

While the FPSEDC has gotten a lot of work done, it has also increased the alientation of long-time residents and poor people, although not necessarily intentionally.

I think that it's noteworthy that FPSEDC and Forest West did not present the demolition plans publicly, and did not send anyone to the Community Council to present the plans.

While there is a track record of getting things "done," the demolition plan is a major step in another direction.

Anonymous said...

Saundra Moss served on the board of the FPSEDC for quite some time, is possibly still a member, and is also active on the Community Council board.

However, in Forest Park Southeast, there are the Adams Grove, New Boyle, Gibson Heights, and Ranken East sub-neighborhoods (I think).

Those are the groups with representation on the FPSEDC board.

Anonymous said...

Here's the FPSEDC board as reported in the 2005 annual report to the Secretary of State:

Phil Minden, President
Greg Campell, V.P.
Craig Nashville, Secretary
Saundra Moss, Treaurer
Daniel Corbin
Brian Phillips*
Sandy Cline*
David Renard

Those with asterisks do not reside in FPSE or in the city itself. Renard is a notorious slumlord who owned a huge number of crime-breeding vacant buildings until he sold them to Restoration St. Louis (for a huge profit). Minden works for Pyramid.

Anonymous said...

Phil Minden no longer works for Pyramid. He's now deputy director of the local Fannie Mae office.

Either way, as a dedicated neighborhood resident, he was serving on the FPSEDC board long before he ever worked for Pyramid.

Sandy Cline works for Commerce Bank. Smart move on the part of the FPSEDC to have someone with Sandy's expertise on its board.

Dave Renard is a long-time business owner in the neighborhood. He has a deep investment in seeing the neighborhood improve. He has donated years of his time serving on the FPSEDC board.

Craig Nashville is an architect and neighborhood resident. Another smart addition to the board.

Brian Phillips is ED of the Wash U Med Center Red. Corp. Read more synergy, partnership and access to resources.

Of all the nonprofit development corporation boards serving St. Louis neighborhoods, the FPSEDC has one of the most professional.

No wonder the neighborhood is seeing so much rapid progress.

Makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the properties on Donovan, I believe Michael's estimation of their value is over-inflated. These wood-frame houses are in deplorable shape. I know. I live in the area. They are not habitable. You would be hard-pressed to get a legitimate developer to save these properties let alone get someone to live in them. The other properties might have some value.

Forest Park Southeast neighborhood is undergoing an interesting time. You have long-time residents who have seen the ups and downs of the real estate market. You have pockets of crime. You have investment from urban pioneers and others. You have speculators who believe it's the next "hot" area.

These realities create tensions. And simply having a strong opinion about preserving the past doesn't make for an informed reason.

Let me illustrate. A bookseller who I know would often buy lots of books from flea markets or from other venues. He cherry picked the books that had value. He also burned the paperbacks that were moldy, unreadable and brittle. Does that make him a "bad" person? A book burner?!?!? The outrage! But it makes sense. My only complaint with his practice is that he couldn't find a way to recycle them. They might have made great mulch for his garden.

Michael R. Allen said...

The previous Anonymous commenter has good points. These points are the kind that would inform a good redevelopment plan. However, at the moment, we aren't cherry-picking for a bigger plan. Forest West is simply trying to tear down everything at once, without considering opening the properties to a request for proposals (and apparently without considering an offer for over half of the buildings).