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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Street and Sidewalk Work Started on 14th Street

Looking north on 14th Street from Warren Street.

On Friday, after long-awaited approval from the Missouri Department of Transportation, street and sidewalk work began on the two blocks of 14th Street once known as the 14th Street Mall. Work should be completed by the fall. Building rehabilitation is nearly complete. Read more on What's New in Old North.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Missouri House Bill Would Cap Tax Credits

Today Missouri State Representative Steve Hobbs (D) and Sam Komo (R) introduced HR 2399, a bill which would implement Democratic Governor Jay Nixon's proposal to limit issuance of all economic development tax credits to not exceed seventy percent of the total dollar amount of all state tax credits redeemed during the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2009 and hand over discretionary allocation power to the Department of Economic Development. The bill would implement the policy effective July 1, 2010 and would greatly limit usage of the state historic rehabilitation tax credit as well as the low income and brownfields credits.

The bill is referred to the Job Creation and Economic Development Committee chaired by Representative Tim Flook (R).

Support for Historic Tax Credits from North Side -- Of Minneapolis

On March 28th, the blog The Adventures of Johnny Northside carried the post "Historic Rehab Tax Credit Means JOBS!". Fine, but is another blog calling for saving the Missouri historic rehab tax credit worth mentioning?

Well, the The Adventures of Johnny Northside blog is published by a resident of Minneapolis, and he is calling for Minnesota to enact a historic rehabilitation tax credit. And Missouri's 25% credit is cited as a model.

Study on Missouri Historic Tax Credit: 43,150 Jobs, Most Tax Credit Projects Small

The Missouri Growth Association has released An Evaluation of the Missouri Historic Preservation Tax Credit's Program's Impact on Job Creation and Economic Activity Across the State, a 34-page report by Dr. Sarah Coffin, Rob Ryan and Ben McCall of St. Louis University.

According to the report, the tax credit is responsible for 43,150 new or retained jobs with an average salary of $42,732 as well as $669.8 million in new sales/use and income tax revenues to state and local government.

The report confirms advocates' assertions that the credit enjoys wide usage and largely benefits small developers. Coffin and company found that, as of 2009, the range of historic rehab tax credits issued goes from $399 to $20.1 million.

About 33% of the projects that have received Missouri historic rehab tax credits have used less than $50,000 in credits. Taking the number up to usage of $100,000 or less, there is a majority of 57% of projects. Less than 13% of projects used more than $1 million in credits.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Video Tour of St. Louis Equity Fund Projects

In January, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis posted this video of a bus tour of affordable housing developed by the St. Louis Equity Fund (SLEFI). SLEFI President John Wuest led a tour that included south city, the Loop, Hillsdale, north St. Louis and downtown. The majority of the projects included are rehabilitation of historic buildings that leveraged state and federal low income housing tax credits with state historic rehabilitation tax credits.

At one point during the tour, Wuest said that after several projects in one area there can start to be serious impact. That's a realistic approach that differs from the large-scale urban renewal projects that have failed again and again. Yet the project-by-project effort to create a community impact is difficult to finance, especially if the end product is affordable housing. The recession has made the work even harder, but changes to the tax credit programs that make this work possible would be disastrous.

Update on Preservation-Related Legal Cases

San Luis Apartments

On May 5, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals will hear the Friends of San Luis, Inc. v. The Archdiocese of St. Louis. (Disclosure: This writer is president of the Friends of the San Luis.) The Friends of the San Luis sought an injunction against demolition of the mid-century modern San Luis Apartments so that it could appeal Preservation Board approval of the demolition.

The San Luis Apartments (originally the DeVille Motor Hotel) in 2007.

Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker, Jr. dismissed the case with prejudice, claiming that citizens who cannot demonstrate financial grievance have no right to appeal actions by the Preservation Board! The building was subsequently demolished but the Friends decided to appeal Dierker's anti-citizen ruling. The city's preservation ordinance, after all, was enacted by the Board Aldermen for the general benefit of all citizens.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals will consider oral arguments from both sides on May 5 and issue a ruling at a later date. Jonathan Beck and Ian Simmons represent the Friends of the San Luis, while Edward Goldenhersh and David Niemeier of Greensfelder, Hemke and Gale represent the Archdiocese.

Century Building

A case now five years old, Missouri Development Finance Board vs. Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier, just took a predictable turn. The cause was set to commence trial on March 15, but the plaintiffs again requested a continuance. Judge Mark Neill granted a continuance, and trial is now set for August 9, 2010.

Vintage postcard view of the Century Building, c. 1910

The plaintiffs -- and this writer himself needed a refresher after such a long time -- are the Missouri Development Finance Board, Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, NSG Developers LLC, St. Louis Custom and Post Office Building and Associates. Their cause? Even a refresher won't quite make that clear. The allegation is that by being willing to file suit against the Old Post Office project to stop the Century Building demolition -- a Dierkerian filing predicated on injury to personal property value -- Marcia Behrendt and Roger Plackemeier somehow were being malicious. Never mind that Behrendt and Plackemeier's suit was dismissed and had no effect on the outcome of the Old Post Office project (although shoddy construction work did).

The seriousness of the plaintiff's allegation keeps getting undermined by constant requests for continuance. Is the goal to be vindicated by a jury or to harass citizens for exercising their legal rights? And why are our city and state governmental bodies still enjoined as plaintiffs, wasting taxpayer money at a time when both levels of government need every cent they can get? Time to drop the suit.


Last week Judge Dierker -- one tie that binds all three cases -- issued the following order extending for one week the deadlines for brief in the suit against the city over the NorthSide redevelopment ordinances:

Upon the request of defendant Northside Regeneration, LLC, and with the consent of the parties, the post-trial briefing schedule is hereby amended to provide as follows: Brief Due Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' briefs 3/26/10 Defendants' briefs 4/12/10 Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' reply briefs 4/22/10.

Plaintiffs can expect a lengthy, colorful ruling from Dierker. Otherwise, speculation is useless. Dierker has a narrow view of citizen rights under development law, so his basis will be whether the plaintiff have proven that their real estate is harmed or devalued under the blighting enacted by the redevelopment ordinance. Dierker has stated in trial that he is not prepared to consider condemnation that has yet to be authorized, and the ordinance avoids explicit authorization.

More St. Louis Carnival Supply Demolition Photographs

Reader Anthony A. sent me these photographs of the St. Louis Carnival Supply Company buildings being demolished. These photographs date to March 22nd and show some of the painted signs underneath the metal cladding. Since the wreckers did not remove the cladding first, the signs were never fully revealed. The buildings are now reduced to rubble piles.

Friday, March 26, 2010

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Dubious Policy Based on False Urgency"

Today the Post-Dispatch has an excellently-titled editorial on Governor Jay Nixon's tax credit proposal: "Tax credit plan advances dubious policy based on false urgency".

The editorial writer makes many good points, but a key observation is the timing of the proposal:

The tax credit debate hardly is new; the Legislature has been debating it for at least two years. Mr. Nixon has had ample time for an orderly, informed public debate on how best to proceed. But he chose to drop this complicated proposal out of the blue, with just six weeks remaining in an otherwise busy and contentious legislative session.

The timing of the proposal has led some observers to view it as a red herring designed to get the legislature to act. However, the resonance of Nixon's views with those of Republican Senators like Jason Crowell and Matt Bartle cannot be underestimated. In past years -- including last year -- the governor stood on the side lines of the tax credit debates in the legislature, frustrating many urban Democrats who has enthusiastically supported his election.

This year, Nixon has aligned with those who view tax credits as "welfare" and who view welfare -- and most government spending -- as stealing. Some tax credits are dubious, but a true overhaul would evaluate the net economic benefit of each program before making cuts. The Rutgers study of state historic rehabilitation tax credits is a model of careful analysis that should guide decision-makers. This writer doubts that every program would show a net benefit if analyzed carefully. In the absence of such study, we are left with the prospect of continued contest of interests. Nixon's proposal would amp up that contest, and create a wholly political tax credit system. Nixon is playing politics, not making policy. And Missouri's legislators should reject his proposal.

Governor Nixon can be reached at:

Office of Governor Jay Nixon
P.O. Box 720
Jefferson City, MO 65102
(573) 751-3222

Thursday, March 25, 2010

May Is Preservation Month

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has announced the slogan for this year's Preservation Month of May: Old is the New Green. That catchy theme fits the strong focus on environmental stewardship that preservation advocates have embraced as well as the necessity of thrift amid ongoing recession.

While historic preservation is a year-round pursuit, having 31 whole days to celebrate and educate offers wonderful opportunities to showcase historic buildings endangered or rejuvenated, spread information and skills, share photographs and ideas and engage the broad theme of "old is the new green."

What can St. Louis do to celebrate Preservation Month? Will you and your neighbors help organize a walking tour, street fair, art walk, house tour or other event to showcase your historic architecture? Can transit advocates and urban farmers find ways to plug in?

We'll find out!

Please send your Preservation Month event announcements to me via email (michael@preservationresearch.com) or via the comments section and I will post them here in late April.

Americans for Tax Reform: "Governor Nixon is Not a Crook, but His Tax Policy Sure is Criminal"

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's tax credit proposal is taking heat from the national conservative organization Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). Yesterday, ATR's blog carried the story "Missouri Governor Nixon is Not a Crook, but His Tax Policy Sure is Criminal", which blasted the hypocrisy of Nixon's anti-tax rhetoric and his plan to cut tax credit programs that return money to citizens and create jobs.

ATR even notes the Rutgers study on the economic benefits of historic tax credits:

Yet, according to a study by Rutgers University, at least some of these supposed "hand-outs" are in fact legitimate job-creating policies. The study shows the positive impact of historic tax credits and further notes that Missouri is one of the largest beneficiaries of these credits in terms of jobs and income. This makes sense: putting money back into the hands of the people likely produces jobs…and guess what? Nixon proposes cutting and capping these credits more than any other!

Nixon's move to court the right wing of the Missouri Senate has generated at least one right wing opponent. No wonder -- Nixon's position is already costing him allies on his own side of the political fence. Why shouldn't he also be losing allies on the side that he's trying to placate? In politics, pleasing everyone is impossible, but making everyone upset with you certainly is not.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Architect Discusses Crown Square Project Tomorrow Night

14th Street rehabilitation underway in May 2009.

What: Discussion on the Crown Square Redevelopment
When: Thursday, March 25 at 7:00 p.m.
Where: St. Louis Artists Guild, 2 Oak Knoll Park (directions/map)

The new Architecture Section of the St. Louis Artists' Guild hosts its next meeting tomorrow night.

The featured speaker is architect Rob Wagstaff of Rosemann Associates, who will speak about the challenges faced in the Crown Square project (better known as the 14th Street Mall).

14th Street rehabilitation underway in May 2009.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Chance for the South Grand YMCA?

In August 2006, the St. Louis Preservation Board approved demolition of the former YMCA building at 2232 S. Grand Avenue (built in 1936 and designed by Study & Farrar). Yet in March 2010, the building stands alive and well. This recession has led some owners to preservation by default as financing for new commercial construction is difficult to obtain. Meanwhile, the consistency of historic tax credits and the state and federal level provide a reliable financing component. The YMCA building is a contributing resource to the Compton Hill Historic District.

Perhaps the current owner of the YMCA will rethink the past plan to demolish the building and construct a new three-story mixed-use building in its place. The owner is trying to develop a large area that includes a significant parking lot and the old Pelican's restaurant building at Shenandoah and Grand. There certainly is ample room in this larger site for a smaller new building, parking and retention of both historic buildings. Advocacy failed to save the YMCA in 2006, but economy may do the trick. We'll see.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Light Post in Winfield

Winfield, Missouri occupies the far end of a flood plain ravaged in 1993 and many other years. On Highway N, behind an athletic field stands this inexplicable two-headed light post -- the last vestige of a phantom gas station.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A City Neighborhood Can Never Have Too Many Storefronts

UPDATE Monday, March 22 at 7:21 p.m.: The Preservation Board voted to uphold staff denials for both 414-18 N. Boyle and 6102 Michigan.

The little storefront row at 414-18 N. Boyle in the Central West End is one of a few commercial buildings left in the area once known as "Gaslight Square" -- but not for much longer. Owner Core Holdings LLC applied for a demolition permit in January. The Cultural Resources Office denied the permit, and the owner has appealed to the city's Preservation Board. The appeal is on the agenda for the Monday, March 22 meeting of the Preservation Board. The proposed reuse for the site? None.

At first glance, the row seems easily forgettable and somewhat damaged. Yet the little row is both a reminder of the past streetcar-fueled development of the Central West End and an asset for the surrounding area, which is full of rehabbed existing buildings and the new houses that now occupy Olive Street to the east. The neighborhood could use a few retail outlets. Anyone who has been to the strip around the Gaslight Theater one block south and around the bend knows that the neighborhood can support commerce.

The little row was built behind a large house that once stood facing Westminster. The first section was a small one-room brick carpenter's shop built at the alley in 1910; the row expanded at some point in the next decade. The Maryland Avenue streetcar line went north along Boyle to connect to the Olive Street line; this little backyard was too valuable not to build up. In fact, the owner of the house to the south built a similar row at 408-10-12 N. Boyle across the alley -- now long gone.

Sculptor Sheila Burlingame (1895-1969), whose works include the sculpture on the front of Nagle and Dunn's St. Mark's Episcopal Church (1939) at 4714 Clifton, maintained a studio in the storefront at 412 N. Boyle. The existing row's tenants were less glamorous but also indicative of a vibrant urban fabric. The 1940 city directory shows Jacob Shaikewitz offering shoe repair at 414, barber Frand Bond at 416 and Georgia Gunn's beauty shop at 418. By 1959, at the onset of the Gaslight Square heyday, 414 N. Boyle was home of the Handy Shopperdeli, 416 housed the Boyle Avenue Barber Shop (Frank Bond still around?) and 418 was now Dorothy's Beauty Shop. The row would be vacant within a few years, and later used as a church before going vacant again.

It would not take much to bring back the commercial bustle to this stretch of Boyle. The streetcar is gone, but residential density remains. Yet the demolition of the Olive Street commercial buildings renders remaining storefronts as precious resources. Judging from recent decisions, the Preservation Board is unlikely to approve a permit for an out-of-town owner with no redevelopment plan. Common sense suggests a different course of action: Preservation Board denial and a for-sale sign.

Also on Monday's Preservation Board agenda is the appeal of a Cultural Resources denial of a demolition permit for 6102 Michigan Avenue in the Central Carondelet Historic District. I'd be very surprised if any Board member votes to overturn the appeal.

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. Monday on the 12th floor of the building at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Written comments may be submitted to the Board via Adona Buford, Secretary, at BufordA@stlouiscity.com.

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Louis Centre

With work starting on the conversion of St. Louis Centre into a parking garage, I thought that it would be fitting to publish this vintage postcard from the mall's glory days. I purchased the postcard at St. Louis Centre around 1994. Back then, the light-bathed white atrium seemed pretty darn cool!

In the too infrequently-quoted guide Seeing St. Louis (1989) -- a sheer joy to read, especially for the lovely contrarian swipes -- Barringer Fifield compared the mall to an ocean liner after delightfully dismissing the green and light gray panels with one word, "infelicitous." "Nautical white, with ship's railings and prowlike balconies, it even has a blue-green body of water below," wrote Fifield. Fifield concluded: "Everything is shipshape, and a certain carefully crafted artificiality adds to the luxury-liner effect." For all of the flaws in design -- ranging from the terrible exterior design, the bizarre sloping first floor areas and the obscenely thin floor plates -- the mall had a distinct charm because of the interior. Soon it shall be gone forever.

Broadview Hotel Rehabilitation Underway

The seven-story Broadview Hotel at 5th and Broadway in East St. Louis is one of several tall buildings that anchor downtown. The 13-story Spivey Building is the tallest, the adjance Murphy Building and Majestic Theater are wonderfully ornate and the First National Bank Building is a solid red-brick corner building that is still occupied. Through demolition, the Broadview sits away from the concentration of other large downtown buildings. Through placement of the 4th Street exit ramp from Interstate 55/64/70, is the first major building greeting motorists entering East St. Louis.

Built in 1927, the Broadview has the characteristic elegance of pre-crash 1920s hotel design. The symmetrical brown brick body contrasts with buff terra cotta forming two bays and providing other ornament. Unlike some of the exuberant foliate terra cotta seen on contemporary St. Louis hotels like the Chase and Coronado, the design here is a rather sober interpretation of Renaissance Revival themes. Still, the hotel is powerful, especially through the rise of the terra cotta bays to form a temple-like top story that towers over the city.

For many years, this temple was the crown of a palace of night life, conventions, dinners and even a radio station (WTMV 1490 AM was located here). As East St. Louis' fortunes drowned in a powerful current of American industrial reorganization, so did the those of the Broadview. The Broadview ended up housing a branch of Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville (SIUE) until 2004. The first floor's storefronts, once open to a bustling business district, have long been clad in forbidding granite blocks.

In 2006, SIUE ceded the Broadview to the City of East St. Louis. The city has long been dealing with the other big vacant downtown buildings, but lacked clear title to the others. The Broadview was not boarded up for long. In 2009, East St. Louis awarded development rights to CDC Development Corporation, headed by Donald J. Johnson. CDC plans a $35 million renovation ofthe hotel into 88 loft-style apartments. Work is now underway, and many of the hotel's windows are again unboarded. East St. Louis now greets the visitor with a building under rehabilitation instead of another big vacant building.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ReStore Offers $1 Wooden Window Sashes

For the next few days the ReStore is selling all wooden window sashes (including screen window sash) for $1 each. There is quite a lot of stock right now. In fact, the store frequently receives more in donations than it can sell. That's why the cost is low. Take advantage of the sale for your project!

The ReStore is located at 3763 Forest Park Avenue (between Vandeventer & Spring). The hours are Tuesday: 8am - 5pm; Wednesday-Friday: 8am - 4pm; Saturday: 8am - 5pm.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Carnival Supply Building Demolition Underway

The weary old St. Louis Carnival Supply building -- or, rather, buildings since two buildings comprise the structure -- is being pushed into the Big Sleep. The south St. Louis landmark, located at 3928 S. Broadway in Marine Villa, is being demolished this month to make way for expansion of a parking lot serving a strip retail center next door. In December 2009, the St. Louis Preservation Board unanimously approved demolition on the condition that the owner, KOBA LP, first obtain a building permit to make facade improvements to the three-story commercial building to the north, which was originally proposed for demolition.

At this point, readers would learn very little from any further complaint about the demolition. How easy is it to take a stand against something that already happened? Oh, easier than tying your shoes -- but not as useful. There is a bigger lesson to be learned for ever-wired local preservationists: politics is still local.

When I spoke on historic preservation matters at a meeting of the Chippewa-Broadway Business Association (CBBA) in August 2009, the proposed demolition was a hot topic. Nearly all local parties were opposed to the demolition, although not simply on the basis of architectural merit or urban character. There was considerable concern that the proposed Grace Hill clinic slated to move into the retail strip center will draw patients away from St. Alexius Hospital across the street. St. Alexius has been a neighborhood fixture for over a century, and active in local affairs, including the Business Association.

The community rallied around the hospital, and the first attempt by KOBA LP to secure a demolition permit from the Preservation Board in August -- for both buildings -- was denied. Aldermen Ken Ortmann (D-9th) and Craig Schmid (D-20th) as well as the CBBA were opposed. Things changed, though, and agreements were reached. The opposition withered. the Preservation Board's action made it clear that KOBA LP would not be able to get a permit for the building at 3928 S. Broadway, so they withdrew plans to wreck it. By the time of the December Preservation Board meeting, I was the only person to speak against demolition. The game had changed, at the community level.

The demolition contractors did not remove the 1960s metal panels from the 1890s-era commercial building, so the only glimpses of the colorful older signs on the facade come through big holes. The old signs look playful and fun; hopefully there is a photograph of the building before cladding somewhere.

Of course, the buildings are both sound and without the later concrete block addition at the rear of the property, there is now plenty of space for extra parking behind the historic buildings.

Alberta Street runs between the building under demolition and the building being preserved. This intact street is typical of Marine Villa. Vernacular brick houses of varied form, height and setback create a delightfully organic streetscape. Alas, the solid frame of two corner commercial buildings will soon be gone, and a parking lot exit will spill out onto this quiet residential street.

Play on Sunday Tells the Story of the St. Louis Riverfront

Plate showing central riverfront from Pictorial St. Louis, 1875.

What: "Voices of the Riverfront"
When: Sunday, March 21, 2:00 p.m.
Where: Old Courthouse
Cost: Free

Voices of the Riverfront will bring to life some of the characters who shaped and chronicled the development of St. Louis' riverfront -- from Auguste Chouteau to Ernst Kargau to Hubert Humphrey. Written by sisters Nini and Sheila Harris, the play will be performed as a radio-style reading. The cast includes Jennifer Clark, Charlie Clark, Bill Hart, Doug Dunphy, Bob Officer, Jennifer Halla Sindelar, Craig Schmid, Jenny Heim and Michael Allen. Jim Mayhew will provide instrumental accompaniment.

The play lasts about one hour. Refreshments to follow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


From its founding in 1857 -- just a few days ahead of the Supreme Court's decision in the Dred Scott Case -- through 1950, Laclede Gas Company was named Laclede Gas Light Company. A few sidewalk service entries, like this one in Tower Grove South, retain metal covers with the old company's initials. Bill Beck's volume Laclede Gas and St. Louis: 150 Years of Working Together, 1857-2007 (St. Louis: Laclede Gas Company, 2007) is an invaluable source of Laclede Gas' corporate history.

Say What, Mr. Governor?

Tim Logan at the Post-Dispatch reports that Governor Jay Nixon (Democrat) is ready to put tax credit programs under the budget axe. That's not all bad, of course, but here's the shocker:

When pressed on what programs he might go after, the governor mentioned historic and low income housing tax credits, both of which are widely used to fund development in the City of St. Louis and its older suburbs. But any specifics would likely need to be negotiated with lawmakers, some of whom have been targeting the historic tax credits program for years.

Of all of the tax credit programs in Missouri, Governor Nixon singles out the two most used in urban areas and one -- the historic rehab tax credit -- that average people can actually use. Hello?

Monday, March 8, 2010

21st Ward Real Estate

Citizens often complain that St. Louis aldermen are in impediment to selling Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), but Alderman Antonio French (D-21st) is actually trying to help. French has launched a 21st Ward Real Estate website with information about available LRA-owned property in his ward.

Why do people complain? LRA requires a letter of aldermanic support before selling a parcel to an interested buyer, and aldermen often have parcels removed from the sale list when they are needed for community development corporation or private development projects.

LRA also has maintained a rather old-fashioned website with only a handful of properties having photographs. With no dedicated funding for marketing, LRA cannot do more.

That's fine. Alderman French is showing us that LRA marketing is possible without additional appropriation to LRA. Other aldermen or community groups can -- and should -- do what French is doing.

Talk on Missouri Barns This Friday

Barn Again: Efforts to Document and Save Elements of the Rural Missouri Landscape

Noon, Friday, March 12 / Lecture Room / Architecture St. Louis / 911 Washington Avenue, Suite 170

Since joining Missouri Preservation as its Field Representative a little over a year ago, Bill Hart has been advocating for Missouri’s endangered historic resources. His position as Field Representative, a first for Missouri Preservation, is assisted by a Partners in the Field Challenge Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. One of Bill’s outreach activities has included calling attention to the plight of the barn. Realizing that this is one of the most endangered building types not just in Missouri but throughout the nation, Bill has been photographing barns throughout the state (several hundred so far), keeping an eye toward at least providing quick photographic documentation of those that tenuously cling to the rural landscape. Bill has also been instrumental in organizing our state’s first barn alliance, which recently held its first meeting in conjunction with Missouri Preservation’s annual conference in Independence.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Next Wave of NorthSide Ordinances Delayed

While the thunder of a showy trial on McEagle's NorthSide project has marched along, the next round of redevelopment ordinances specific to the four phases of the project apparently have not. The Board of Aldermen was supposed to consider those ordinances before April 1, but they may not come for some time longer. At least, that's what Jerry Berger tells us:

Most City Hall observers expect McKee and his partners will let the date slip by while the McEagle team continues to acquire properties and wait for answers to his requests for federal and state assistance.

Dale Singer has a sold analysis of the trial in the Beacon. Read it here.

On the matter of federal and state assistance, the city lost its bid for a federal TIGER grant to reconfigure the Jefferson/22nd Street exits downtown. McEagle needs that reconfiguration and a land swap with the Missouri Department of Transportation to start one of the first-phase components of the project.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Brick Thieves and Brick Dealers

After this week's spate of fires in JeffVanderLou, Alderman Sam Moore (D-4th) proposes changing city ordinances to force brick thieves to pay back the amount of damage that they cause, instead of the current maximum of $500. Moore's proposal makes sense.

The commercial building at 2538 St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, destroyed by brick thieves in August 2007.

Yet a new ordinance should go further. The thieves are only the first -- and least compensated -- beneficiaries of the money generated by the stolen brick. Penalties for dealers who buy stolen brick are the same as for the thieves. Those should be increased too.

The commercial building at 2538 St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, destroyed by brick thieves in August 2007.

What if dealers caught buying stolen brick permanently lost their business licenses?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fires Plague JeffVanderLou

Last week, on the way to a meeting in JeffVanderLou, I noticed a recently -- judging by scent -- fire-ravaged house on Bacon Street, shown here.

Then, early this week, I learned of a two-night wave of four fires. These fires hit vacant buildings in a small area. The buildings lost to the firebug share two characteristics: all were historic buildings in decent repair and all were vacant and unboarded. Since the location of all but one of these houses is within the footprint of McEagle's NorthSide project, the press has been quick to report these fires, and the loose tongues of conspiracy have been wagging.

The sad fact is that arson claims vacant buildings across north St. Louis every month, and mostly the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its cloaked comments-section pundits take no notice. The culprits in many of these cases are never caught, let alone charged. Neighborhood residents, who know best, generally suspect brick thieves.

Arson on the near north side also is an old problem. In the 1960s, some white property owners fleeing the near north side torched their own homes to collect insurance money. As time moved on, and buildings went vacant, assorted firebugs, vandals, bored teenagers, firework-launching revelers and brick thieves have done more damage. In 1997, Old North St. Louis suffered a rash of arsons that included a massive fire at the five-story former Peters Shoe Company factory just south of Jackson Park (since demolished).

A building on the 1800 block of Bacon Street lost this week. I could not find a pre-fire photograph.

Then there are the fires that never happened. Neighborhood patrols, starting in the evening and sometimes going to the early morning, have kept many buildings standing. Rarely do neighborhoods get the assistance of owners of the vacant buildings, or the busy police department. Still, many people have taken action to prevent senseless destruction of their neighborhood fabric.

What gets lost through arson are indelible parts of city neighborhoods. The brick piles and half-collapsed buildings are easy picking for brick thieves, and not enticing enough to those who enjoy arson. Most targets are buildings in sound condition, that are stores of community wealth. Negligent ownership is definitely a root cause that must be addressed systematically, but the arsonists aren't going to be affected by scorn heaped upon McEagle or the Land Reutilization Authority.

Robbing neighborhoods of community wealth is a base crime. The police and the circuit attorney need to step up efforts to send neighborhood arsonists away for as long as statues allow.

Two houses on the 1900 block of Bacon Street before last week.

Two houses on the 1900 block of Bacon Street this week.

The house at 1721 N. Grand Avenue last week.

The house at 1721 N. Grand Avenue this week.

Two row houses at 3508-10 Cozens Avenue in 2007. The configuration is unique -- the two houses adjoin at the back with a center gangway leading to secondary entrances.

The two row houses this week. The house hit by fire is owned by McEagle.

RFT Looks at Bloggers; Happy Hour Today

The Riverfront Times was gracious to include me in this week's feature article "Blogger's Baker's Dozen: a sampler of St. Louis' must-read contributors to the blogosphere". This is not a predictable list, either -- there were bloggers included whose work I had never read.

As part of the feature, the RFT asked me to select my three favorite posts. Selecting three -- a more padded number like five would have worked -- was a difficult task. What do you think about my selections? I tried to choose something poetic, something short and something deeply critical.

The other fun part of the feature gets underway in a few hours -- a happy hour at Blueberry Hill starting at 5:00 p.m. I will be there, and hope to meet a few readers there.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kiel Opera House Looks Good Inside

Landmarks Association of St. Louis sponsored a tour of Kiel Opera House on February 27. This rare peak inside of the old opera house -- which I once took without being allowed to take photographs -- is captured through photographs found here. The photographs reveal the remarkable degree of integrity Kiel has maintained despite nearly two decades of vacancy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

1967, 1974 and 2010

Whenever the Roberts Tower on Eighth Street downtown is completed, it will have been a long time since any new residential buildings have been built downtown. There is no need to state the obvious, that no tall residential buildings have been built, because there have simply been none. The last new residential building to be built downtown was any one of the three towers of the Mansion House Center on Fourth Street, completed in 1967. Over forty years later, we await the next installment in the very limited and erratic story of downtown apartment building construction. (Our last tall building, the maligned Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse, arrived in 1997.)

The Roberts Tower's architects are unheralded, and I cannot draw any name when asked who she or he is, or who they are. All I know is that the design is a suitable modern building, disgraced only slightly by the oh-too-silvery reflective glass being used to clad it. While I appreciate the break from the minimalist humdrum that inhibits contemporary architects, I am not impressed with the awkward reference to 1980s postmodern glazing trends. I'll admit that the greenish reflective glass shown in early renderings of the Roberts Tower would have been no better. At least views of the rear elevation of the Old Post Office will be enshrined in the wall as well as -- unfortunately, for the most part -- any elements of Old Post Office Plaza that catch the mirrored surface.

On the matter of Old Post Office Plaza, there is no denying that the block is playing out very much like the vision shown in the 1974 Downtown Plan produced by PGAV for the Downtown Partnership. While we did not get the sunken plaza shown in the rendering, we did get a plaza and a narrow concrete tower in line with the south elevation of the Orpheum Theater. Alas, the 1974 plaza looks to be far more humane than what was built. Hopefully the Roberts Tower outshines the tepid hulk envisioned by planners back in the day. Architecture, supposedly the realm of innovation, is more often the repetition of concepts through new expression. That is, it may have been 1967 when downtown's last high-rise residential building was completed, but forty-three years later have seem to have progressed to 1974. That's not terrible -- Mansion House is still lovely despite some recent muddling.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

That "G" Word

This Thursday, I will moderate what should be a provocative City Affair panel discussion on the "g" word: gentrification. I volunteered to moderate because I lack a hard and fast definition of the word, and have been challenged and amazed at the wide range of connotations the word has attained. I'm eager to learn more about the cultural definition of the word, and look forward to the discussion.

Here's the event description:

What is meant by gentrification and whether that word is a positive or negative can vary depending on who uses it. Panelists will talk about the dynamics that they perceive as contributing to gentrification: real estate purchasing, property improvement, demographic change, perception of inclusion and other forces of city life.

The panel consists of:
Steven Smith - Owner of the Royale and activist

Minerva Lopez - Past President of the Cherokee Station Business Association

Alex Ihnen - Regional Director of Development at Washington University, blogger at St. Louis Urban Workshop

Alycia Green - Advocate at The People's Advocate St. Louis

Michael Allen will moderate the panel discussion.

Following forty five minutes of panel discussion we will open the floor to audience questions.


MARCH 4, 2010
7:30-9:00 PM
STYLEhouse (STL-Style)
3155 Cherokee Street
Saint Louis, Mo. 63118

State Court Ruling on the Admiral Hull

The state appeals court ruled today that the Missouri Gaming Commission acted "without sufficient process" when it ruled that Pinnacle Entertainments could "neither repair nor replace" the President Casino, better known as the S.S. Admiral. After considering plans as drastic as scrapping the modernist boat, Pinnacle has explored repairing the aging hull and possibly moving the Admiral to another location.

Model of the S.S. Admiral, collection of Antique Warehouse.

The Gaming Commission currently is trying to shut down the gambling boat by July -- an effort not affected by today's ruling. Still, the ruling helps Pinnacle make the case for repair. Hopefully today's action helps keep a unique landmark afloat. Despite years of interior alteration, the exterior of the Admiral (built to current form in 1940) is as streamlined and sleek as ever. A little rehabilitation would make it shine! A new casino box built in a wetlands, after all, could not hold a candle to the swanky downtown Art Moderne riverboat.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Illinois Legislators Trying to Create a Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit

On February 11, Illinois State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) introduced SB 2559, a bill that would create a state historic rehabilitation tax credit modeled on Missouri's.

Since then, the bill has gained two co-sponsors, Senators Dale Risinger (D-Springfield) and Michael Noland (D-Springfield). However, the Senate Commerce Committee has postponed a hearing of the bill.

Meanwhile, a similar bill introduced last year by Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) in the Illinois House of Representatives (HB 586), has attained five co-sponsors but has yet to receive a committee hearing.