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Friday, February 16, 2007

A Word from the Cave

The developers' shills are now accusing critics of being "anti everything." Once again, when given an opportunity to learn from people with ideas we see the apparatchiks dust off the old "obstructionist" and "zealot" hatchets. Yawn!

Obviously, they are counting on a city whose culture is stunted and whose citizens are eager to be commanded how to think. Unfortunately, the old St. Louis they wish to lord over forever has passed them by.

Nowadays, citizens are better-informed about development projects than ever. If that is inconvenient to developers, so be it. These are the lives affected by the developers' projects -- the flip side of the debate.

Complacency, submission and acceptance of whitewash campaigns are outdated. Try openness, dialogue and civic debate about issues. More innovative minds have already realized that the most effective development projects are those in which the most vocal critics eventually become stakeholders. Check the dreaded blogs and one will find praise for developers like Restoration St. Louis, Loftworks and others despite minor disagreements. These developers are those who don't try to suppress discussion and dissent, but assume that is part of a healthy civic culture.

Honestly, finding someone who opposes redevelopment of Bohemian Hill or the near northside is downright impossible. To call smart suggestions for better development "obstruction" is to ignore the fact that there are more discussions of the built environment in St. Louis than in any other city. That actually helps development because it creates an intellectual culture interested in change and growth. (How many Milwaukee or Philadelphia built environment blogs are there? They would love to have some of ours!) After all, the odds in this state and this country are so tilted against a city like St. Louis, it's a wonder there are so many motivated people working on all sides of development. With a scarcity of quality old media outlets, and an abundance of vacant land and buildings, there seems plenty of room for consensus in St. Louis.


Anonymous said...

It is important to focus on the reasons that near-north side residents and organizations are concerned. The label of "Citizens Against Virtually Everything" is inflammatory, either by design or due to lack of information. Near-north side residents DO, in fact, have a strong basis for concern.

First, the property acquisition tactics of Paul McKee's affiliate organizations (the Blairmont family of orgs) have included horrendous fraud and mis-representation. For example, one of our community members, an illiterate low-income woman, unwittingly signed a contract to sell the house from under her feet, as well as, an adjacent property for $7000, when she thought she was selling only the adjacent property. The neighborhood organization's staff, The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, stepped in and annulled the contract. This is one of a series of mis-representations that ONSLRG staff have witnessed first-hand.

Secondly, the properties that Paul McKee and partners have acquired are being left unsecured and unmaintained. Vacant buildings without roofs or boards on doors and windows are major public health hazards on MANY levels: they serve as impromptu hosts for drug-use, prostitution, and squatters, the unmowed lots serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and eventually turn into neighborhood dumping grounds for other trash, vacant building have a history of catching on fire in cold winter months when squatters light fires for warmth that get out of control, and finally, these historic buildings are rapidly deteriorating because their owner does not keep them secure from the elements. For those of us that call the near-north side home, Paul McKee and partners' property is a BIG detriment to our quality of life and safety. It would be a different story if McKee and partners secured their properties.

Lastly, when you combine the fraudulent acquisition tactics and the property negligence with the absolute lack of communication with major area stakeholders, us residents get a little concerned. Many of us have poured years of our lives into rehabbing BEAUTIFUL old homes and into fostering a strong community. If McKee and partners plan to continue their development plans with the same disregard for area residents (we have seen nothing to prove the contrary), you better believe we are concerned and against McKee's modus operandi. You would be concerned too (probably more than just concerned) if someone acted so cavalierly in their dealings with your community.

In the Business Journal article, McKee refers to acquiring property in "unpopulated" areas of north St. Louis; the areas he is referring to are home to tens of thousands of people. Perhaps that statement represents the real problem: McKee does not believe that there is anyone worth counting living in near-north St. Louis. Again, imagine this happening in your community. How would you feel?

Finally, in the Business Journal article, McKee, referring to his land acquisition, states: "An action was taking place that should have been viewed as positive by those with an understanding of development." Paul McKee, is a developer, and therefore, understands development. We are NOT developers. We might understand McKee's plans if he would take the time to engage the stakeholders in the community and let us know what he is planning. The recent Business Journal article is the first major public communication I have seen in which McKee has even acknowledged that he is involved in the site acquisition in near-north St. Louis.

We are concerned by the stone-walling we have experienced and the track record we have observed in the last 2 years. If McKee expects us to accept him with open arms, he needs to start talking. Regardless of high praises McKee had received, why would we be blindly supportive of the biggest absentee owner of derelict property in our neighborhoods?

Phil Valko
Near-north side resident

Robert Powers said...

Phil - I hope you will forward this to the Business Journal and elsewhere. It needs to be heard.

Michael R. Allen said...


Great work. Thank you for the excellent summary.

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter and summary Phil.

In these matters, especially with the "unsecured and unmaintained" properties, how does the City respond (if at all) to the reporting of these violations? Do they ever take any corrective action or initiate legal proceedings?

Do your aldermatic representatives get involved? How?

For years code violations throughout the StL region go without proper enforcement. Typically our elected leaders prefer to ignore such in order to enhance their power and influence. This then allows the same leaders to more easily control others' property via blight and E.D. Truly terrifying and this is the real story of urban design-StL style.

Anonymous said...

"An action was taking place that should have been viewed as positive by those with an understanding of development."

This statement is outrageous.

The only discernible action taking place was rampant accumulation and neglect of property by a developer who would not even admit to owning property.

The only semi-public "action" that McKee made was to directly lie to a community organization head.

How could the community embrace the purchases, neglect and lies?

How could even well-informed critics look at the purchases and understand the game plan?

He still doesn't have anything to offer to the public except for that statement.

There is still nothing to embrace.