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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Not to Board Up a Broken Window

Here is the entrance to the Fourth Baptist Church at 13th and Sullivan in Old North St. Louis. You can see that someone has broken the window at right, and that someone has very poorly attempted to board over the damage. Hint: If the broken area still shows, you haven't boarded over the damage.

In August 2007, someone threw a rock at the window and caused the spider-web-like broken lines. Neighbors tried to get the owner, a nearly-defunct congregation, to board up the broken window. I cut my hand taping the damage to stabilize the glass. Several Citizens' Service Bureau complaints led to the congregation's finally boarding up the broken glass. Then, this December, the other side of the doorway gets the same treatment -- from vandal and owner. Neighbors still haven't seen a full repair.

The church building itself is an important landmark, and deserves better treatment. The congregation does not have the funds to maintain the building; they vacated in 2002. Meanwhile, the building has become a nuisance to neighbors as the congregation refuses to commit to selling and won't make even small efforts to stay abreast of vandalism. The indecisiveness of the congregation is an affront to those of us with limited means who go without real dinners in order to rehab our buildings in Old North. The moral seems to be that the climate of decay was ready for a Paul McKee -- he did not create it.

Circumstances have impoverished and depleted congregations like Fourth Baptist. Yet circumstances are changing to allow such congregations to keep their old churches from blighting upward-bound neighborhoods. Hopefully Fourth Baptist will board up the broken window and sell their church to someone who will invest in the future of the church and the neighborhood.


Rick Bonasch said...

This is quite possibly my personal favorite building in Old North.

Every time I see it I think Ryman Auditorium, STL.

Live AM radio broadcasts of bluegrass music, skipping from here to Nashville? Well, with the www, maybe not.

Here's to a great neighborhood asset being reborn at the old church.

Anonymous said...

There are additional complications about the ownership of this property that you are not privy to. These complications make it difficult for the current pastor of the church to seek a good resolution to this building. In any case, you have to respect 4th Baptist's many, many years of service to the community, including the personal service of the pastor in the lives of many of the area's poor. It is not all about buildings, after all.

Anonymous said...

Have the small congregations of the neighborhood ever considered merging into one that could sustain itself? Just thinking out loud here, there are at least 5, right? I'm not sure of the differences in worship though.

I'm curious what kind of complications, maybe someone out here can offer suggestions... Do they want to fix it, or can't legally sell it?

Anonymous said...

I've talked to Richard Taylor, the pastor, a number of times about selling the church. They are very willing to sell to any reputable developer/individual with sufficient resources. I've toured the building and have a write-up I can send.

The 4th Baptist building committee folks still love their church. They are not interested in seeing the church get the McKee treatment, where it is consigned to brick rustlers by a neglectful owner who just wants the city to pick up the demo tab. They are looking for an owner willing to do substantial rehab work to modernize the building, as the church is concerned about liability in selling a building that is likely to need lead and possibly asbestos encapsulation/abatement (old tiles), like just about all of our 100-yr properties in Old North.

The church is generally in great condition. It has a huge, full-height, dry basement with an old community kitchen area. The sanctuary is classic midwestern style with a choir balcony. The church comes with the two homes on either side. A developer could rehab and sell the homes first -- one facing Sullivan is even already on its own separate lot. Also, the missing stained glass windows are in storage.

If anyone is interested in getting in contact with the 4th Baptist building committee, I am sure they can reach Pastor Richard Taylor through the ONSL restoration group where he has been a board member for some years -- 241-5031.

Anonymous said...

Since we're posting anonymously, why not share with us those "additional complications"?

Maybe there's a hierarchical church structure which must approve any disposition of the property?

Maybe there's a deed restriction or some other restrictive covenant governing the use of the property? If so, there's probably a mechanism to have it released?

Maybe the cost to rehab the building is so high, that perhaps if the church ownership heirarchy understood, they'd be more open to creative uses of the property?

Or would they prefer to sit on their hands or otherwise procrastinate while the costs for rehab go up and the condition of the building continues to go down?

A good first step would be for the local church organization, the pastor, and interested neighbors to sit down and openly discuss the situation.

Right now there is an air of mystery and associated uncertainty over the situation. All that does is feed the atmosphere of procrastination.

Bottom line: Does current ownership have the capacity to maintain the building? If so, please do so. If not, please look for other solutions, like, today.

For whatever reason, the building is continuing to decay. Why is that?

If its under control of some church heirarchy, then why is that heirarchy allowing one of its assets to decay?

For a more glaring example just a few blocks away, check out the Lutheran Church at Salisbury and Florissant Road.

Anyone know what the story is there?

Anonymous said...

I am curious as to why you mention Paul McKee.

Anonymous said...

Basic question: Has the church ever given a price to sell?

Basic answer: No.

That's not how to market something.

Second question: Has the building every been actively marketed, and listed with a real estate agent?

Second answer: No.

Excuses about liability pertaining to old asbestos are lame.

Until the church offers the building for sale through...

A) a sealed bid process with set timeframes
B) an auction with a set date
C) a real estate listing agreement with a set asking price

...the property is really not for sale.

In other words, anyone going through the trouble of analyzing the building and making an offer to purchase with no assurance the church will actually sell is basically giving the church a no cost appraisal and nothing more.

One other point, when they say its for sale, and then give a price, is that price realistic (probably in the $150-$250 thousand range), or ridiculous, (in the $500,000 - $1,000,000 range).

If its in the ridiculous range, then again, its really not for sale.

The real question is: are the owners of the church dealing in good faith, or wasting everyone's time, while the building continues to deteriorate?

Conspiracy theory question: Are the church owners thinking, "This neighborhood is on the way up. If we hold on for a few more years, the value of the building will double?"

Anonymous said...

What if McKee gives the highest offer?

Anonymous said...

"What if McKee gives the highest offer?"

The result wouldn't be much of a difference from the current situation. One slumlord to another.

Anonymous said...

The current pastor of this church deserves better than this posting and some of these responses. He has proven himself with many, many years of service to the neighborhood outside of his stewardship of a building. such as food for poor families, helping folks move and being with people in times of crisis or when a family member has passed.

It seems clear that most people are only interested in the building and not what it meant to the community for 100+ years. With this sort of lack of respect, it is no wonder that the complaints and entreaties to sell the building have apparently fallen on such deaf ears. I respect the fact that Barbara has a least taken the time to talk to Richard Taylor and not lobbed rhetoric from afar. For the rest of you ONSL complainers, here is an idea: instead of treating 4th Baptist as an obstructionist enemy slum lord akin to Paul McKee, why not try to show some compassion and understanding?

Anonymous said...

No one is questioning the good works of the pastor with poor people.

What people are questioning is the current and future status of the building.

The two are independent things, indeed the church is no longer even holding services in the building.

So, please, explain, what are the obstacles to simply selling the building?

An early poster in this thread noted:

"There are additional complications about the ownership of this property that you are not privy to. These complications make it difficult for the current pastor of the church to seek a good resolution to this building."

What are the complications? Maybe by raising them people might be able to help identify a win-win plan for the future of the building.

Anonymous said...

I suspect the complications are a combination of emotional, administrative and economic. If you want more information, I would suggest that you talk to Richard Taylor, as, presumably, he is open to. Frankly, a conversation might be more productive than the commentary on the travails of being a ONSL preservation advocate, the bleeding hand and all. Who knows, maybe the building can be ONSLRG's next project site...

Anonymous said...

At what point does the church and its pastor go from good will ambassador to "bad neighbor" and "problem property owner"?

No one with a long history of carrying out good deeds in the community would want to change their status to bad neighbor and slumlord, would they? That would be tragic.

How can people help?

Doug Duckworth said...

In a situation like this it seems eminent domain is appropriate. Obviously that isn't politically acceptable, but this building is an underutilized asset which is slowly decaying. Rick Bonasch makes a good point. This would be a really cool place for a bar/venue/whatever. Or imagine if something like The Grind opened here?

Michael R. Allen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael R. Allen said...

Let's stop the discussion of the pastor. The congregation owns the church -- not Rev. Taylor. Making this personal distracts from the real issues: the church building's condition, its effect on Old North and the willingness of the congregation to sell or maintain the building.

There is no doubt that the congregation and its pastor have done many good acts in the community, and those acts will surely continue.

The problem is that the condition of the church building has a deleterious effect on surroundings. The congregation's stewardship is causing problems for the community -- intentional or not.

The community rightly asks the congregation to help solve the collective problem of the church building.

Northsiders rightly cringe at the condition of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. No one wants to see that happen to Fourth Baptist, but if the church is not kept secure and maintained, those conditions will be here before we know it. Good will and rhetoric doesn't stop roofs from leaking, pipes from disappearing and adjacent property values from suffering.

My concern is that there is no long-term plan for reuse of the building and no short-term plan to deal with code violations and the nuisances the property is attracting. I have raised this issue directly with members of the congregation as well as with the Old North St. Louis Restoration group, the Building Division and my alderperson. I think everyone wants to work on a solution, but as we wait the buildings are deteriorating. A broken window may not seem like a big issue, but what that problem leads to is worse. Remember that the Nord St. Louis Turnverein was open for business only thirteen years ago. Problems with big vacant buildings start small and quickly get out of hand. Fourth Baptist needs to be a community priority now that the Mullanphy Emigrant Home and 14th Street commercial district have found plans for rehabilitation.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:22 (there are so many of you it is hard to tell you apart. Pleez develop an internet handle!)

I mention McKee because his name is synonymous with bad faith speculation. He's basically just an adjective now, as in, that's a McKee special... pointing to yet another historic building which was inhabited when he bought it and is now a gutted, brick rustled shell.

Anonymous said...

The question concerning Mr. McKee was actually directed to Mr.Allen's reference. A false rumor has been spread about the community saying that the church has been purchased by Mr. McKee. So we have an improperly boarded broken window, a building ravished by crime and vandalism and a group of people being accused of being bad neighbors and slum lords. We have hear say, opinion and speculation. I can't imagine the congregation is any happier about this than the neighbors are. Where is the attack on the other wounded properties in ONSL?

Anonymous said...

"I suspect the complications are a combination of emotional, administrative and economic."

Then maybe they need to see a therapist, a lawyer, and a financial planner.

Anonymous said...

People in the community probably suspect it is a McKee building because of the visible neglect. That is the McKee brand in north city. Also, after a couple of years of his terror campaign up here, when you see a beloved building being neglected we fear the brick rustlers. McKee's actions have so strongly encouraged this crowd, and their interests are so clearly aligned, that they might as well be working for him, and many folks believe that they are.

Also, there is no 4th Baptist congregation. They have all decamped to 2nd Baptist on Clayton at McKnight. Occasionally, they send weeding parties in the summer.


Anonymous said...

Oh, now this is getting good. The church is now based out in Ladue? And they come back to pull weeds?
While the building rots?

Can someone please get to the bottom of this? What exactly is preventing the sale of this building?

Anonymous said...

There is still a Fourth Baptist Church congregation which worships each week in ONSL just as they have for over 150 years. The relationship with Second Baptist is historical and once in a while they lend a helping hand; like pulling weeds. Decamped to Second Baptist? Simply not the truth as many other comments listed here. Don't assume that what you read is truth just because someone wrote it here. Which is it we are trying to rid our neighborhood of? A deteriorating building or a Church? Who of us would like to share our plans for the future with neighbors like us who seem to be looking for or creating a conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Look, can we stop with the shadowy references? The church is not maintaining the building. They have only a handful of members. The cycle has been seen many times before in this city.

Is there anyone who can officially state what is being done to care for the building? Does the church have any money set aside for maintenance? This is not complicated folks.

If there's any conspiracy, it's a conspiracy to keep people in the dark about the situation. Enough already. Come out with it!

Chris said...

My experiences with churches is that they often move much slower than your average company--generally church decisions are by consensus in order to assure all congregation members are happy.

The obvious problem with this system is that it can get TOO slow--to the point that things that need to be done are neglected. This may or may not be the problem with the church in question.

What if everyone in the neighborhood each agreed to donate a new window, or a package or two of drywall nails? You know, sort of have the equivalent of an Amish barn raising, except in this case it would be a historic renovation. Everyone could come out one Saturday when it's warm and fix the church up. It's been done before.

Anonymous said...

The windows should be repaired with historically accurate replacement windows. Figure $800 -$1000 apiece, times how many?

There is roof and gutter concerns. The two adjoining houses need work.

Just spitballing here, but the cost to just deal with exterior issues is probably more than $100,000.

And going higher every day.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:50
Where exactly does the 4th Baptist congregation worship on a weekly basis? I live around the corner and have never seen them. In the conversations I had with Pastor Taylor about selling the church, he said they were no longer meeting at the building, and all services had moved to 2nd Baptist. (I have no complaints about the 2nd Baptist congregation's location, I hope we can all worship in peace.)

If services are indeed happening in the 4th Baptist church again, that would be good news, except that children under the age of 12 should probably not be spending time in the building if it needs to be lead-abated. When I toured it, it had some flaky paint areas that should be addressed before kids are on site.

If the church wants to, would have no trouble rallying the community to volunteer. Many of us have already volunteered time & money to maintain the building and would be happy to pitch in again. For now, to my knowledge, the building is reasonably well mothballed and awaiting development. Though, as Michael points out, the security of the boarding could be strengthened and more active marketing could be done.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, Barbara, you are a kind and compassionate one!

With all the love being shown the church, ya gotta ask, where's the church on all of this?

In this case, their silence does not engender much faith.

Michael R. Allen said...

I mentioned McKee because he has been demonized for his neglect of properties as if he is the first or only person to neglect property in north St. Louis and as if he is the first person to be silent to neighbors on plans for a building. McKee's project should be understood in its context.

I'm willing to write about all endangered buildings in Old North; read the archives and see that Fourth Baptist is just the most recent story I've covered. Nothing personal, although anonymous posters like to make it that way to avoid the real issue of ensuring preservation of the church building.

In fairness, most comments here deal with the building and its situation and not the congregation. I see no evidence of conspiracy accusations -- just people trying to figure out if the condition of the church building indicates sure demolition by neglect, as with so many others, or a chance for adaptive reuse. Only one person has mentioned the notion of ridding the neighborhood of the church, which is absurd and no one's goal. Can we keep the discussion focused on rescuing the building? Thanks.

Chris said...

As of about 4:00 PM Sunday, the church has been boarded up much more effectively.

Anonymous said...

Now what?

Chris said...

I would imagine that it will sit in much the same condition, until perhaps the 4th of July, when some kids in the neighborhood will start shooting fireworks at it....

Anonymous said...

Well, therein lies the problem: a vacant building is an attractive nuisance.

Attractive nuisances carry civil liabilities.

Chris said...

You know, something we haven't discussed yet is the motivation of the person who broke the window in question. Were they attempting to get inside to burglarize/squat in the property? Or was it just a random act of vandalism against what is perceived as an easy and safe target?

Anonymous said...

Chris's last post shows the myriad of problems posed by vacant buildings. It's no wonder it's hard to insure vacant buildings. Just look at all the potential problems they can cause!

Speaking of problems, does anyone know if the church is insured? For how much? Against what?

Does it seem like these questions are too probing into the church's business? Well, when a building is vacant, it becomes the public's business. Why? Because a vacant building is a risk to the general public.

Anonymous said...

I would asume bored kids, while no one was looking, I don't think they even went in, maybe a brick from the water service job next door (nice pavers) that's been underway (and effectively blocks the walk) for many months.