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Friday, August 31, 2007

Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act Remains Much the Same

Yesterday, on the last day of the legislature’s special session, the Missouri House of Representatives passed the economic development omnibus (HB1) sought by Governor Matt Blunt. The bill contained a new version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act (DALATCA), modified slightly in the House and Senate economic development committees and on the floor of the Senate.

The basic formula proposed by Blunt survived: The credit creates a $95 million tax credit program that covers 50% of acquisition costs and 100% of maintenance and interest costs on eligible parcels located in census tracts that meet federal and state income-based definitions of distressed areas. No more than $10 million in credits will be issued annually. The tax credit is available to applicants who have assembled at least 50 acres within a 75-acre redevelopment area established by a municipal redevelopment agreement. The 50 acres need not be contiguous, and no parcel acquired by eminent domain is eligible for the credit. The applicant can only redevelop 75% of the project area alone, and must assign redevelopment rights to other developers or create partnerships to redevelop the remaining 25%.

Obviously, the tax credit structure has changed very little since first proposed by Peter Kinder in February 2007 and drafted by Steve Stone, attorney for developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. The whole idea is still predicated on a scale that is unrealistic for urban areas and small towns. The whole idea remains predicated on rewarding McKee for an acquisition project he has already undertaken in north St. Louis. Consequently, the credit fundamentally is a reimbursement for purchases already made rather than an incentive for future development.

However, the legislature made a few changes to the tax credit, at least one of which may be of consequence:

The credits cannot be used to cover fines or bills levied by municipal government.

To be considered eligible, a parcel must have its municipal taxes, fines and bills paid in full.

The redevelopment agreement must be approved by ordinance of the governing body of a municipality.

The redevelopment agreement must include a timeline for redevelopment.

All redevelopment work conducted by the applicant must be done in compliance with Missouri fair labor and wage laws.

The tax credits are considered redevelopment tax credits under state law, requiring an applicant to furnish financial information as well as project cost and completion date.

These are small but welcome improvements to the bill. However, the only ones that alter the state's expectations of an applicant are those relating to redevelopment timelines. These stipulations encourage actual development planning and construction, two aspects not previously part of the proposal. The two stipulations relating to municipal fines and bills are important on principle, but are of minor consequence to the nature of land assemblage rewarded by DALATCA.

The version of DALATCA headed to Governor Blunt's desk may require McKee to make his project better, but it won’t enable other people to start new ones. DALATCA remains a gilded albatross designed for one project. The governor should veto the omnibus, but that seems unlikely. Still, the scrutiny that the tax credit act invited may lead to future amendment or scrapping of DALATCA and enactment of a tool of wide and true use to distressed areas in Missouri. After all, most legislators probably weren’t thinking about the scale, form and nature of development before this tax credit act came along. They will take some time to learn the lesson that DALATCA is a huge mistake.

Full text of HB1 is available here; DALATCA is section 99.1205.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

McLaughlin Profiles People Affected by McKee's Plans

In this week's Riverfront Times, Kathleen McLaughlin has a story on the impact of Paul McKee's plans for the near north side on its residents and on other developers. In particular, McLaughlin turns up some interesting tales of McKee's purchase methods and how people feel about selling.

Read it here: "Arrested Development"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"A new chapter of the story writing itself in my backyard"

Please read Toby Weiss' blog entry "The River Roads Memorial Garden" over at B.E.L.T..

That is all.

Who Has the Power?

Tomorrow, residents of the near north side neighborhoods affected by the acquisitions of developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. have a chance to share their concerns in a public setting hosted by elected officials. In addition to appearances by state representatives, there will be presentations from alderwomen April Ford-Griffin (D-5th) and Marlene Davis (D-19th) as well as mayoral aide Charles Bryson. While the issue of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is important, we should not lose sight of the big picture of development -- and that the fact that most of the political power to shape McKee's development lies at the local level.

Long before anyone amended the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, there was local control over the near north side. Under our municipal government system, the aldermen have a lot of power to either facilitate smooth sailing by developers or hold them accountable. Lately we have watched the two aldermen representing the wards most affected by McKee's project act to hold the developer accountable. We have watched the mayor's office use its power to set the big picture of what is permissible by lending support to the embattled developer.

Tomorrow is a chance for citizens to ask questions, learn facts and discuss solutions. The meeting's attendees should not lose sight of the fact that they have a lot of power -- both through the officials who will be speaking and on their own.

Hopefully, the spirit of the forum will be one that acknowledges the power. Hopefully the officials will identify ways in which they can use their power to shape outcomes to the problems they will be detailing. Too often, we see public process get mired on problems. Citizens watch their leaders identify problems without offering real involvement for citizens who want to solve the problems. The resulting feelings of powerlessness and cynicism further stagnates our anemic civic culture.

With the McKee development, the aldermen are gatekeepers of redevelopment. They don't need to see McKee's plans to articulate a vision for their wards, and ask that the developer act accordingly. They can expedite nuisance complaints. They will be on the front lines of the fight in the Board of Aldermen on McKee's plans. No matter what version of Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act passes the General Assembly this week, it will require a tax credit applicant to get a redevelopment agreement with a municipal government -- and that has to come from the Board of Aldermen in St. Louis.

Nothing can happen for McKee without the support of these alderwomen. That's mighty power. Furthermore, nothing can happen for these alderwomen without the support of their constituents. That may be the biggest power in play here, if people use it well. Any power imbalance here can be overcome, and tomorrow offers a great chance to start.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Public Forum on Large Scale Development in North St. Louis


The neighborhood impact of vacant properties and rebuilding our community

A public forum will be held in the auditorium of Vashon High School at 3035 Cass Avenue on Thursday, August 30th at 6 p.m. The forum is co-sponsored by Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (Ward 5), Alderwoman Marlene Davis (Ward 19), Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (District 60) and Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (District 59).

This forum will be an opportunity for residents, business owners, developers, neighborhood stabilization officers and other city services workers, and state and local elected officials to come together to discuss development in the community.

Topics will include:
- concerns over large numbers of vacant buildings and parcels being held by developers, including the reported 40 acres owned by Paul McKee
- ways area residents can influence state and local laws and policies, including the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit being considered in Special Session by the General Assembly
- and ways to make each block a safer and more pleasant place to live

The goals of the evening are:
- To give area residents an opportunity to voice their concerns
- To make progress toward a consensus on how to improve neighborhood safety, stimulate the local economy, and rebuild the community

Contact: Anthony Coffin
Phone: 314-498-0483
Email: acoffin@stlouiscinemas.com

Senate Committee Passed Amended Version of Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit

Yesterday the Economic Development Committee of the Missouri Senate passed to the full Senate the economic development bill (HB 1) that includes the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act.

Despite the absence of testimony at the hearing from critics of the current version of DALATCA, the committee approved two amendments that were suggested by myself and other critics: a measure requiring that the applicant for the credits host public meetings and a measure that prohibits use of the credit toward fines and bills paid to municipal government.

Read more here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

St. Louis American Endorses Distressed Areas Tax Credit, McKee's Involvement

The St. Louis American yesterday published an editorial endorsing the idea of a tax credit for private land-banking in low-income areas that does not include any guarantees for actual development.

While wisely suggesting future dialog and compromise among the parties involved in the current debate over the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, the editorial does not address any of the problems in that legislation that make its use in north St. Louis problematic. Furthermore, the American has yet to publish a single news article on the tax credit proposal or on developer Paul J. McKee, Jr.'s plans for the near north side. The paper is squandering the chance to promote the civic dialog that it calls for.

Read the editorial here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act Passes Missouri House

On the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives today, Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th) offered two measures that offer a chance to see the consistency in the positions of members of the St. Louis delegation on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act (DALATCA).

Nasheed first offered an amendment wthat ould have removed DALATCA entirely from the economic development bill that is the focus of this special session of the Missouri legislature. That amendment failed by a vote of 62-86. All of the St. Louis city delegation voted "yea": Mike Daus, TD El-Amin, Rodney Hubbard, Connie Johnson, Jeanette Mott Oxford, Rachel Storch, Tom Villa and Robyn Wright-Jones.

Nasheed later called for the vote on DALATCA to be separated from the larger economic development bill. That measure yielded a 106-45 vote in favor of DALATC, which now passes the House. While Daus, Nasheed, Oxford, Storch and Wright-Jones maintained a consistent position and voted against, Hubbard, Johnson, Villa and El-Amin voted in favor. Hubbard declared the proposal palatable because a symbolic local control measure was included; never mind that only one developer in the state will be likely to qualify for the tax credit.

Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-59th) had intended to offer a comprehensive measure to overhaul DALATCA with the same acreage requirements advanced by Hubbard in committee (maximum project size of 30 acres, minimum acquisition of two acres). However, House Speaker Rod Jetton ruled her amendment out of order because it did not correspond to the detailed call-to-session instructions of Governor Matt Blunt, who stipulated the DALATCA should have an minimum acquisition requirement of 50 acres and minimum project requirement of 75 acres. Without a change in acreage numbers, local control is a moot point.

Whether or not the governor's stipulation of acreage constitutes legislation by the executive branch should be an interesting question to answer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More Changes Needed to Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act

Yesterday, the Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development of the Missouri House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass with “do pass” recommendation the economic development omnibus (HB 1). The bill contains the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, the tax credit program for large-scale land assembly targeted at areas with low-income populations.

Although the version passed from committee contained one modification, the tax credit act would still be of dubious benefit to distressed areas like north St. Louis. The committee unanimously agreed to an amendment by Rep. Rodney Hubbard (D-58th) to strengthen the provisions about municipal approval of redevelopment ordinances to stipulate that the municipal governing body must approve the redevelopment plan by ordinance. While the act may have already implied that approval, it was not explicit.

However, without adopting other changes, the committee released an act that will still likely be of use to only one developer, Paul J. McKee, Jr. The committee rejected two other amendments by Hubbard. One would cap the project size at 30 acres while assigning the credit for assembly of anything over two acres within. Another would require the applicant to hold prior to application three public meetings where site plans would be displayed. These were reasonable changes. No one offered any other amendments, despite the fact that without development timetable and recapture provisions even the smallest developer could end up getting the credit without ever developing a single parcel of land.

Hopefully, legislators will consider further changes on the House floor and in the Senate next week. The trouble with the current version is that there are no substantial changes in availability of the credits but there is tighter control by local elected bodies like the Board of Aldermen. That’s not exactly the outcome that critics of the proposal are seeking.

House Committee Passes Economic Development Bill Containing Distressed Areas Tax Credits

Yesterday, the Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development of the Missouri House of Representatives passed an economic development bill out of committee with a do-pass recommendation. The bill includes a slightly amended version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. Here is media coverage from around the state:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Proposal requires aldermanic approval for McKee project

Arch City Chronicle: McKee Tax Credit passes House committee

Columbia Daily Tribune: State lawmakers consider economic package

Springfield News-Leader: Business tax credits likely to pass House

Missourinet: House Committee Approves Economic Development Bill

Testimony on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act

Here is an extended version of testimony I provided yesterday at a hearing on the economic development bill (HB 1) currently being considered in a special session of the Missouri legislature called by Governor Matt Blunt. The Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development of the Missouri House of Representatives conducted the hearing.

Pub Def has a video of the testimony as delivered as well as my questioning by Rep. Rodney Hubbard; watch it here.


Good afternoon. I am Michael Allen, Research Associate for Landmarks Association of St. Louis and a resident of north St. Louis. Landmarks’ mission since its founding in 1959 is to preserve, promote and enhance the architecture of St. Louis. We have a deep interest in promoting good urban planning practices that solve the complicated challenges of our city.

We are supportive of the concept of creating an economic incentive program of benefit urban areas deprived of investment, like north St. Louis. However, we oppose the current version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act. The act encourages a size of development both inappropriate and unfeasible in urban areas where its use could be highly desirable. A much lower threshold for assemblage would enable more flexible use of the tax credit. Inserting requirements for development completion, public input and historic preservation would ensure good results. The current version is of little use to the majority of developers in places where its use is likely.

The numbers are simply too high to be realistic. In the city of St. Louis, the average city block is about one acre or less. We haven’t seen anyone put together a 75-acre redevelopment project in a distressed area of St. Louis; a recent attempt seems to be failing. What we have seen recently are projects of 25 and 30 acres in size that create remarkable transformation and gain community support.

Sometimes, however, a 75-acre project may be necessary. Other times, a ten-acre project may be more desirable. These choices can only be made at the community level. What the state legislature can do is create an incentive that hands the question over to those people who know best what is needed at a local level. This would leave many options open. Fundamentally, the size of a project depends on the size of the problem at hand. A credit that truly could be used statewide should not apply a standard that promotes one type of development with no proven track record.

The preponderance of city-owned land in north St. Louis has created a major development crisis that requires a solution. This tax credit needs to enable that solution. Applicants should be allowed to count city-owned land toward the total acreage acquired within a project area.

There is no guarantee that this incentive program will actually lead to development. As written, the tax credit would apply only to acquiring large amounts of property in distressed areas. Without required development timetables, rewarding acquisition in distressed areas could in fact lead to further blight rather than investment. These credits should be issued only upon completion of development. Also, a recapture provision would provide a final safeguard.

The requirements for the municipal approval process here are too vague. We need to make sure that the redevelopment agreement required under the act be approved by a municipal legislative body that represents affected residents.

The act lacks needed requirements for historic preservation planning. One of the most likely areas for use of this tax credit is in north St. Louis. Even in the most depopulated parts of north St. Louis, there are few areas of even one acre where there are no historic buildings. In an urban area, any project of 75 acres will include hundreds of potentially significant buildings. A preservation plan is essential to ensure careful choices about these resources. Rehabilitation of historic neighborhoods is the one of the few proven redevelopment strategies for urban areas.

As written, an applicant could use the tax credits to pay for fines and bills levied by municipal government for code violations. State law should not provide any incentive for violating municipal health and safety codes.

In conclusion, the current version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act might end of being of little use in encouraging development of the most economically distressed areas of the state. Binding ourselves to a flawed proposal could result in continued stagnation of areas like north St. Louis. Fortunately, we still have the chance to make useful changes, and I urge the committee to do so. Thank you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Construction Starts on 14th Street Mall Project

This morning on my way to work I saw a beautiful sight: the start of construction work on the 14th Street Mall project in Old North St. Louis! Dumpsters were being placed and gut demolition work was underway on one of the buildings in the project. The next 18 months will be great days for Old North as we watch the implementation of the solution to our biggest development problem.

More here: 14th Street Mall Redevelopment is REAL!

Pub Def, ACC Continue to Cover McKee Tax Credit

Pub Def has posted a video of last Thursday's bus tour of the 5th Ward, led by Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin with some assistance from myself. Check it out here.

Dave Drebes has posted "My Thoughts on the McKee Tax Credit" on Arch City Chronicle, to which Will Winter has added an insightful comment.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

St. Alphonsus Liguori After the Fire

These photographs of St. Alphonsus Liguori ("Rock") Church are frpm Friday afternoon. As the photographs suggest, the worst damage was sustained by the roof. The fire appears to have spread quickly across the roof, consuming some of the trusses and rafters while causing some roof collapse behind the steeple and over the altar. Overall, though, the church retains structural integrity. Even the roof damage is far less severe than anyone could have suspected on Thursday night during the fire. No assessment of interior damage is available. Given the amount of water used to fight the fire overhead, I would expect to find extensive water damage.

St. Alphonsus church was opened in 1872, although the steeples were not completed until 1894. The original plans came from Reverend Louis Dold and architect Thomas Walsh, while noted church architect and sculptor Joseph Conradi designed the steeples and the marble altar inside. Construction of the limestone church, designed in the Gothic Revival style, had begun in November 1867. The church was built by the Redemptorists, a Roman Catholic order founded by Liguori. After racial integration in 1947, the church congregation membership became heavily African-American.

St. Paul

Blunt challenged about deals he wants to make - Virginia Young (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19)

In an unusually specific resolution calling for a new version of the economic development omnibus bill he vetoed in July, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt has called the Missouri Legislature back to a special session beginning Monday.

One of the sections of the bill that remains on the table is the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits. In the new version, a land assembler -- there are no meaningful provisions in the bill to guarantee development -- would have to acquire a minimum of 50 acres within a 75 acre redevelopment area in order to receive a credit for 50% of land acquisition costs and 100% of interest, maintenance and demolition costs.

As rewritten, only one person in Missouri seems to qualify -- developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. Republican leaders are calling the reduction in acreage requirements from 75 to 50 a big move that opens the possibility of competition, but the reality is that in an urban area where a city block is usually less than one acre 50 acres is nearly impossible. No matter, according to one legislator -- McKee is a saint:

The sponsor, Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, Mo., said he believed the new proposal satisfies concerns that the program was designed for one man. Griesheimer added that McKee "ought to be nominated for sainthood" for investing in decaying areas of St. Louis.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mullanphy Benefit Concert Successful

The Bearded Babies play at last night's show. Photo by Sean Thomas.

Last night's benefit concert at the Tin Ceiling for the stabilization of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home raised $1,900. Coupled with the news last week that the St. Patrick's Day Committee is donating $3,000 to the Historic Mullanphy Alliance and that reconstruction of the foundation under the south wall will start next week, and there is serious momentum afoot.

Music by the Bearded Babies, the Monads and the Red-Headed Strangers began at 8:00 p.m. and kept people dancing, singing and smiling until well after midnight. The concert was the work of Lindsey Derrington (one of my colleagues at Landmarks Association), brothers Jeff and Randy Vines of STL Style renown, Andrew Weil (another colleague) and others. The Historic Mullanphy Alliance's co-chairs, John Burse and Claire Nowak-Boyd, deserve credit for keeping the effort alive amid countless other neighborhood tasks in Old North and the demands of private life.

Good News for St. Alphonsus "Rock" Catholic Church

Church set to rebuild - Aisha Sultan (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 18)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Alderwomen, Representatives Conduct Tour of McKee Properties

For more information contact:
Ald. Ford-Griffin – 941-0186; Ald. Davis – 680-9168
Rep. Oxford - 775-8940; Rep. Nasheed – 409-5730

Alderwomen, Representatives Conduct Tour of McKee Properties
Targeted for Controversial Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit

ST. LOUIS – Several local and state elected officials joined today to request changes in a proposed “distressed areas land assemblage tax credit” (DALATC) headed for debate in the special legislative session Gov. Matt Blunt has called for Aug. 20. Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin (Ward 5), Alderwoman Marlene Davis (Ward 19), Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (St. Louis City, D-60), and Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (St. Louis City, D-59) said that a better tax credit proposal should be designed in cooperation with area residents and presented for full discussion in the 2008 legislative session.

In the 2007 session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 327, an omnibus economic development bill containing the Quality Jobs Act, DALATC and other tax credits to various industries. Gov. Matt Blunt later vetoed that bill. Much controversy arose shortly before the May 18 adjournment of the General Assembly and in the weeks since as to whether DALATC was conceived as a tax credit to benefit one particular developer, Paul McKee.

Numerous media and internet reports have noted that the City of St. Louis is cutting high weeds and grass and clearing trash from more that 500 properties owned by McKee on approximately 150 blocks of the 5th and 19th wards. McKee is reimbursing the city for this maintenance, but some say city workers are needed at other nuisance properties and should not be diverted to maintain the McKee properties. Others question the methods used by McKee in obtaining parcels of land.

“Much positive development is already happening in the 5th Ward,” said Ford-Griffin. “If Mr. McKee would like to join the vibrant efforts that are already underway, he should show area residents the respect of doing so in an open fashion, sharing information freely and receiving their input instead of operating behind closed doors.”

“Speaker of the House Rod Jetton has said that our part of the city is a setting fit for urban warfare training,” said Davis. “He ignores the $700 million in development that has taken place in the 5th ward and $1.5 billion invested in the 19th.”

Ford-Griffin, Davis, Nasheed and Oxford invited all Missouri state senators and representatives from the St. Louis Region to join the Aug. 16 bus tour of the area targeted for the tax credit. They said it was imperative that legislators learn about the existing redevelopment plan, see the properties and hear from area residents firsthand before casting their votes.

Rep. Nasheed said: “This is a historic piece of legislation, and our colleagues from the St. Louis City delegation should think seriously about their vote, because as currently drafted, this proposal could be devastating for north St. Louis.”

“The health of my district in south St. Louis is directly connected to the health of north side districts,” said Rep. Oxford. “We are one community and will sink or swim together. Our best chance for success is an honest and open process wherever development projects are undertaken.”

Davis, Ford-Griffin, Nasheed, and Oxford all said they were pro-development, but wanted to see some changes from the original form of the DALATC bill. The elected officials and community leaders speaking at today’s press conference and tour called for the following to considered during the special session:

• Reduction of the project size so more developers may compete for the credit.

• A requirement that any development plan approved be consistent with the existing redevelopment plan for a ward.

• Historical preservation safeguards.

• Allowing more than one developer to work in each project area.

• Requiring community input into the redevelopment plan.

Tour organizers pledged to continue working on improving the bill. They also said area residents had been asking for a public forum on the McKee properties, and that such a forum has been set for Thursday, Aug. 30, 6 p.m. at Vashon High School. Paul McKee will be invited to attend to share his vision for development in the 5th and 19th wards.

# # #

More Coverage of "Rock" Church Fire

Pub Def (with video)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

KWMU (links to photos)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

St. Alphonsus Liguori Church burns

St. Alphonsus Liguori, better known as The Rock Church on North Grand (just south of Page) burned this evening. It was terrible--according to KMOV.com, 45 fire trucks had to be used. Apparently the blaze was started by a bolt of lightening.

My sister and a friend and I were heading north on Grand when we noticed cop cars, then lots of cop cars, then fire trucks, then smoke OH my GOD! Streets were barricaded off a block or two away because there was so, so much smoke. We parked and watched the fire for a while, and saw a large crowd (presumably mostly parishoners) watching as well.

It sounds like the walls survived, but not much else.

Man. I pass The Rock every day on my bus ride to work, and it has always been a sight that buoyed my spirits: a big, big historic North Side church that was obviously still a source of community and obviously still lovingly maintained. It was beautiful. As always seems to be the story, I was forever meaning to stop in there some day to see what the services of such a clearly beloved place were like, and what surprises the building's interior held, but I put it off one time too many. Now I will always regret that.

For now, I'll just keep hoping that something of the building's wonderful physical structure and the lively community it supported can survive. If they decide to rebuild, I hope that we in the architectural advocacy community can find ways to help.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legislators Host Press Conference and Tour of Near North Side Neighborhoods

State Representatives Jeanette Mott-Oxford (D-59th) and Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th) are hosting a press conference and tour tomorrow, Thursday August 16, to showcase the how properties owned by developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. on the north side have created detrimental conditions within and served as an impediment to the ongoing development of the JeffVanderLou, St. Louis Place and Old North St. Louis neighborhoods.

This is your opportunity to hear from the persons who know this issue best, elected officials and residents of the 5th and 19th wards. Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin and Alderwoman Marlene Davis will be on hand to share information about the McKee properties and redevelopment efforts underway in their wards. The event starts at a tent at 2950 Montgomery at 10 a.m., where elected officials and residents will make statements. A bus tour of the wards begins at 10:30 a.m..

Here are directions to the meeting site: From I-44 or Highway 40, take the Grand exit and go north. From I-70, take the Grand exit and go south. Montgomery is one block south of St. Louis Avenue. Go east on Montgomery to the tent and bus at 2950. Call 314-775-8940 if you need further directions.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act Getting More Coverage

Pub Def has news on the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act and the related economic development bill into which it is inserted:

"Son of 327" Smaller Than Pop

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mullanphy Benefit Concert on Friday

The next Mullanphy Benefit Concert will feature The Bearded Babies, Red-Headed Strangers, and The Monads at the Tin Ceiling (3159 Cherokee) at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, August 17. Admission is $7 at the door (CASH ONLY). All proceeds will go towards further stabilization and rebuilding of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. Even if you can't make the concert, you can learn more about the Mullanphy Emigrant Home and make a tax-deductible donation anytime at www.savemullanphy.org.

News from Downtown East St. Louis

E. St. Louis sees future for hotel, downtown - Doug Moore (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 12)

City Manager Robert Betts wants to reopen the Broadview Hotel as a hotel, while considering the demolition of the Spivey Building and the Majestic Theater.

(Thanks to Crone for the lead.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jetton Says Distressed Areas Credit Will Become National Model

A revised version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act will be part of the economic development bill to be considered during the Missouri legislature's special session. From an article in the Post-Dispatch:

[Gov. Matt] Blunt said revisions will make the tax credit available to more than one developer. Under the old plan, a project would have had to cover 100 acres. The new threshold will be 75 acres.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, predicted that the tax credit program would become a national model for revitalizing urban cores.

Koster Gets $45K from McKee and Stone

Fusion candidate Senator Chris Koster has a friend in developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. His July quarterly report shows some big money coming from the developer and his attorney's office:

On June 19, McKee's attorneys Stone, Leyton & Gershman gave the Republican-Democrat $10,000.

On June 26, Land Trust #125 LLC, a company connected to McKee, gave $25,000. That was followed on June 29 by a $10,000 contribution from McEagle Fund LLC.

Koster is the sponsor of the revised version of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act that will be considered in the special session of the Missouri legislature that begins August 20.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Please Do Not Buy 407 E. Argonne"

There's a little article about an interesting anti-teardown effort going on in Kirkwood on StLToday: Kirkwood neighbors decry redevelopment of homesite

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Historic" Cochran Gardens

One local television station's report on today's fire at one of the Cochran Gardens buildings on Seventh Street north of downtown called the building "historic."

The use of that adjective was bittersweet. The six red brick apartment buildings -- including two buildings reputed to be the first high-rise public housing buildings in the city -- are a handsome example of relatively sensitive mid-century design. Designed by George Hellmuth and completed in 1953, Cochran Gardens was the city's third federally-funded housing project built by the St. Louis Housing Authority. It also was the scene for one of the nation's earliest and most successful tenant management programs. For better or for worse, Cochran Gardens survived its contemporaries, form Pruitt-Igoe to Darst-Webbe. Tenant management helped, as did a modern design much more humanely scaled than the successor projects with uniform heights and building types.

Demolition of Cochran Gardens is currently underway, with five of the six buildings slated for eventual demolition. One of the taller buildings will remain. The replacement HOPE VI project is under construction, and seems better-designed than many recent examples. One wonders what sort of viability the Cochran Gardens buildings could have had in today's downtown housing market. Next door, the stunning rehabilitation of the Neighborhood Gardens Apartments demonstrates that much can be done to creatively transform mass housing, and that there is demand for the end products. Whereas the intended tenants of high-rise public housing may have desired housing more along the lines of what HOPE VI projects provide, some people do choose to live in basic, sturdy spaces off of the ground. After all, the transformation of the wholesale buildings of Washington Avenue into desired housing suggests that just about any kind of building can be someone's house. Why not a building design for housing in the first place? No matter -- we lost the chance with Cochran Gardens. Next time?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Marti Frumhoff Memorial Garden, Mullanphy Emigrant Home Efforts Moving Forward

Christian Herman announces a new blog covering fundraisers for the Marti Frumhoff Memorial Garden, including the fun event held at Tin Can Tavern this past Saturday.

Meanwhile, some work has begun on the effort to rebuild the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. E.M. Harris Construction Company has performed stabilization and debris removal needed to prepare for reconstruction of the south foundation wall. The New Old North blog posted photos of work back on July 17. More work has taken place since then, and foundation work could start any day now. Look for further updates there and here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

How Useful is the Distressed Areas Tax Credit for the Rest of North St. Louis?

The western half of St. Louis Place suffered some of the most severe building loss of any city neighborhood within the last 50 years. While many houses and businesses survive, there are a few blocks there that provoke comments akin to Camilo Jose Vergara's chilling statement in The New American Ghetto: "There is so much empty land that in some places the city seems to have ceased to exist."

The extreme appearance of parts of St. Louis Place is jarring to people not accustomed to seeing urban decay in their daily lives. The preponderance of vacant land is frightening even to optimists. However, most struggling north side neighborhoods don't look like that. From Hyde Park to the Ville, the more common pattern of north side decay comes in rampant abandonment of buildings, substandard conditions of many occupied units, gradual and scattered building loss and flimsy, quick-to-decay new construction. Even more important to consider is that most of north St. Louis has a population density greater than St. Louis Place.

How practical is the proposed Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit to most of north St. Louis? Not very much, it seems. The latest version of that tax credit act that will be considered in the state legislature's upcoming veto session mandates developments of at least fifty acres. Fifty acres has proven difficult to assemble in even St. Louis Place. In areas with greater population density, use of the tax credit would be almost impossible and even less desirable than it is on the near north side. Take the Blairmont approach to a densely-populated distressed neighborhood in north St. Louis and the acquisition phase would be cultural annihilation.

North St. Louis is a large place with many different types of neighborhoods. There is no denying north city faces unique challenges, and that it's high time that state government aid in the rebuilding of half of the state's oldest big city. However, the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act is really only practical for the near north side where developer Paul J. McKee, Jr. wants to use it. In areas where vacant buildings and substandard housing are more common than frontier-like expanses of vacant land, land assemblage isn't the most pressing development concern or the most appropriate strategy for renewal. We still have the chance to prevent the Ville or Wells-Goodfellow from looking like St. Louis Place. We have the chance to use incentives to improve neighborhoods for current residents, not for potential developers. Surely a better incentive for renewal for north St. Louis could be devised.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Adding Up

In a recent post to his St. Louis Real Estate Law blog, attorney Greg Kelly offers an interesting idea for ensuring that Paul J. McKee, Jr. stops abusing city government's ability to provide maintenance for his north side holdings. Writes Kelly:

Right now, the city adds a 10% premium to the final bill before sending it to the property owner. Simply increase that premium by 10% for each subsequent bill. At some point not too far down the line it will be come cost prohibitive to have the city maintain the property.

Yet Another Downtown Park to Break Ground Next Week

On next Tuesday, August 8 will be a groundbreaking ceremony for the Old Post Office Plaza. Situated just north of the Old Post Office on Locust Street between 8th and 9th streets, the plaza site is currently a series of parking lots sharing the block with the Orpheum Theater, Mayfair Hotel and the site of the Roberts Tower. That the site is one of the most valuable pieces of downtown real estate is unquestionable. Located in the core adjacent to some of the city's largest and most splendid historic rehabilitation projects and one block south of bustling Washington Avenue, the plaza site seems ripe for development. In fact, the Roberts Brothers' proposed tower -- what may be the first downtown high-rise since the Eagleton Courthouse -- underscores the fact that developers see viability in this location.

Yet the site is being squandered for yet another downtown park. I admit that this site could be far worse for a downtown park. Sure, it offers a broad view of the Century Building Memorial Parking Garage (which fails to fully screen its descending floors). Sure, having an Old Post Office Plaza that faces the rear of the Old Post Office is more than a little strange. Yet the site does have some sense of enclosure, being surrounded by buildings that come up to the sidewalk line on all of its street-facing sides and butting up against the Orpheum Theater and the Roberts Tower. One can see some interesting views of wonderful buildings from the middle of the site. A failing of many downtown parks, including blocks of the Gateway Mall, is the lack of visual enclosure that creates interesting views as well as an urban sense of place. This site is better than most in that regard.

The design, published on the website of designers Baird Sampson Nuert (link here), provides the basic ingredients of the typical contemporary urban plaza: a large paved assembly space, a wooded lawn for passive recreation, a screen for moving images, dramatic lighting and the presence of moving water. Perhaps all of these plazas, at least in the United States, are now the descendants of Chicago's Millennium Park with predictable dominant genes. The Old Post Office Plaza deftly packages the components of this type of plaza without overwhelming the site severely. The plaza design doesn't dazzle, but it just might work. (One potentially troubling visual issue is the relationship between the new tower and the plaza.)

Of course, the plaza probably won't get to work. There is a simple reason: It's in downtown St. Louis. This is no slight on the center of our fair city, but a recognition of the fact that there is glut of park space downtown and already spaces like Kiener Plaza that receive the attention of tourists, noonday office workers and other users attracted to well-defined recreational spaces. The cool kids, it seems, prefer their outdoor concerts and movies on parking lots and streets, saving lots for buildings.

Downtown lacks a coherent vision for recreational space, an in the absence of that vision has accumulated enough of that space to serve a downtown three times more dense. The worst part of the Old Post Office Plaza is not its location, or its design, but its timing -- it is simply too late to make a difference. The loose-knit nature of downtown has led to disconnection, visual uncertainty and diminished context for those truly good park spaces like Lucas Park. City leaders seem to see no problem with the situation, since the in-progress Gateway Mall Master Plan calls for neither treatment of the mall's ills nor of the context that makes the mall so dreary. Instead, the mall is proposed for mere remodeling and the amount of green space downtown goes unquestioned. Thus, the Old Post Office Plaza stands little chance to redeem itself.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

St. Louis Hills Office Center to be Rehabbed, Not Fully Demolished

Fans of mid-century modern design had already mourned the loss of the St. Louis Hills Office Center, that multi-story brick office building at Chippewa and Watson in St. Louis Hills. Eloquent prose and loving photographs are online at Toby Weiss' B.E.L.T. and Rob Powers' Built St. Louis. Demolition work is underway, with the parking garage heavily destroyed and the office building notably damaged. However, an article in yesterday's Southwest City Journal reports that the elusive owners are in fact renovating the office building, not demolishing it. Only the parking garage will be completely removed.

However, given the damage to the office building the new version will certainly be something less that what was there before. The eulogies may still prove apt.

Plaza Square Apartments Listed on National Register of Historic Places

From Landmarks Association of St. Louis:

The Plaza Square Apartments Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 12, 2007. Located between 15th, Olive, 17th and Chestnut Streets in downtown St. Louis, the district includes St. John the Apostle & Evangelist Catholic Church from 1860 and Centenary Methodist Church from 1870 as well as the signature high-rise apartments completed in 1961. The Plaza Square apartment complex, the cornerstone accomplishment of the city’s first Urban Renewal project, was designed by the newly formed Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum architectural firm in collaboration with Harris Armstrong—an acclaimed leader of the Modern Movement in the Midwest. Evenly divided into two different configurations with a total of 1,090 apartments, the six buildings utilized native limestone, brick, concrete and colorful enameled metal panels (most now painted tan) to create a sleek contemporary aesthetic enhanced by balconies, landscaped grounds and underground parking

Although the "skyscraper home in a garden" initially attracted urbanites of all ages, Plaza Square soon experienced increasing vacancy rates. In 1965, Building # 60 at the southeast corner of 17th and Olive Streets was sold to Bethesda General Hospital which converted it into the Town House retirement community. Now dubbed BLU CitySpaces by a new owner, Building #60 is being converted to condominiums utilizing historic rehab tax credits. Thanks to the National Register nomination prepared by Landmarks Association for that developer, the other five buildings (which have been subjected to repeated foreclosures) are also prime candidates for reinvestment.