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Mississippi Bluffs Project To Destroy More Than the Doering Mansion

Before I attended last Monday’s Preservation Board meeting my main problem with this develop was that it called for razing the derelict, but salvageable, Doering Mansion. During the meeting I got a closer look at the details of the final project and I didn’t like what I saw.

From the marketing literature:

“Compromising fifty-six townhouses on eight acres, Mississippi Bluffs is offered by Mississippi Bluffs, L.L.C. On the east lies the Mississippi River; to the west, a beautifully landscaped park. The townhouses have been thoughtfully designed, using the colors of nature with respect to this unique site. Two tiers of homes allow for the greatest embrace of the spectacular view, one built on the natural bluff, the other on a massive bluff extension.”


This glosses over a couple of problems, the “beautifully landscaped park” and the “massive bluff extension.” The open green we are used to seeing along the site will basically be reduced in half as the 32 “Hilltop” units will be much closer to Broadway. The new “bluff”, better known as a pile of fill dirt, will raise the grade substantially. This will necessitate the removal of many existing trees.

At left is the proposed site plan with the river along the top and Broadway along the bottom. The gray roofs shown in the middle are the “Hilltop” units built on top of artificial fill. A drive runs along the West side of these buildings to serve all 32 garages. Guest parking is provided along this drive.

Alderman Villa testified at the meeting that other developers such as Balke-Brown had proposed “affordable” apartments for the site while retaining the Doering Mansion. But Villa didn’t want apartments. A few neighbors & some folks buying into the project spoke that having townhouses was better than more apartments. Some noted problems down the street with current section 8 housing. They all spoke as though the only alternatives to the current proposal was going to be apartments. Hardly true but effective.


The irony is that when built this will look like an apartment complex.

The elevations from Broadway do two things. One that only show you one of the four identical buildings — you never get the full effect of all four. Second, they omit the 32 staircases that get you from the drive to the main level above the 32 garage doors.


Let me explain the section shown at left. Broadway is on the far left, the river on the right. The shaded section toward the right is one of the existing old nursing home buildings on the site while the other buildings shown are the proposed. The dashed line is the existing grade line. The “Hilltop” is the artificially raised area in the middle of the site. The new building at 3 levels is taller than the existing 4-level building due to the changes in grade. From this view you can see how the large open expanse we now know is going to change dramatically. Pedestrians walking by on Broadway will see guest cars parked up high on the drive, 32 stairs and the undersides of all the balconies. This, proponents argue, is a better solution than a 5-6 story structure. I respectfully disagree. I prefer to see a 5-6 story building built over structured parking at the rear of the property — with or without the Doering Mansion. This would allow the existing grade and trees to remain unchanged.

Another problem with this project is that it has no pedestrian connection, it is an auto-only development. Shouldn’t we expect developers to connect new residences in the city to the public sidewalk?

The entire process at the Preservation Board was politically influenced in my view. Without influence the staff would have recommended to the board they not approve the request for demolition on the old building. They also would have said the bluff, which is protected by a historic district, should not be so altered. But the recommendation was to give preliminary approval with a few trivial conditions (read full report here). The board approved the staff recommendation by a vote of 6-2. The Preservation Board, in my view, completely ignored the criteria set forth in the Preservation Review Ordinance. The two dissenters were saying they thought a compromise was possible. I agree. Both who thought a compromise was possible are architects.

One member of the Preservation Board really pissed me off. I had explained how the Doering Mansion had never been available on the open market and that people had tried to buy it separately but that the previous owner, even though they could not maintain it, would never sell it. Later in discussion she dismisses these facts of this particular case and says people have bought properties from other nursing home owners. Okay, maybe in other cases that was true. In this case Good Samaritan refused to sell. The end result is we never tested the market to see if a potential home buyer was out there willing to restore the Mansion — a consideration the Preservation Board has given other properties when less political pressure was applied to approve the current proposal.

Some neighbors I spoke to, that are opposed to the demolition, suggested they may take legal action to challenge the decision of the Preservation Board. Given some of the testimony such as Alderman Villa saying the mansion could likely be renovated doesn’t bode well for a judge reviewing the transcript and ordinance.

Instead of trying to work on alternatives that respect the trees and grade and perhaps retain the old mansion we’ve pushed through another half-baked project in the name of progress. This is really a pity since the site is so spectacular. We could have a great restored mansion and 60-100 owner-occupied units on the combined 8.2 acre site. Such a compromise would more respectful of the history of the bluff as well as providing much needed density for the future.

– Steve


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. anonymous says:

    Is this part of a relatively new historic district?

    A brochure from the City of St. Louis that lists and maps eligible tax credit historic disticts makes no mention of any sites along S. Broadway in this vicinity.

    If so, when was it listed and who did the nomination? Anyone idea?

    [REPLY – Much of the city is in what is called a “Preservation Review District” whereby the Preservation Board must review requests for demoltion permits for main structures. That is the case for the Doering Mansion. The bluff itself is also part of a local historic district aimed not at the structures but the bluff. – SLP]

  2. anonymous says:

    Interesting thoughts on the Preservation Board. There have been instances in the past where they have operated less than professionally. They seem to like to pick and choose when to follow their own rules or codes. I have a feeling I know which member you are talking about, and I’m not surprised.

  3. anonymous says:

    Based on Steve’s reply, rehab of the Doering Mansion would not be eligible for historic tax credits.

    Local historic districts alone do not qualify for historic tax credits. Case in point: the Ville.

    In other words, the historic district is all stick and no carrot.

    If preservation is a goal, someone should push for National Register status.

    [REPLY – Yes, and noted historian Esly Hamilton indicated at the meeting that this property could be eligible for individual listing on the National Register and would then be able to have tax credits for its renovation. Many St. Louis properties have been renovated through this process. – SLP]

  4. Brian says:

    I thought Preservation review was due to the site’s proximity to a park. What’s this about a bluff-aimed district?

  5. james says:

    the preservation board and its predecessor, the heritage and urban design commission, often has been a less than stellar example of representative democracy. but the board seems to have gone completely degenerate since slay’s first appointment in 2001. everything is a farce now, and serious testimony from comcerned citizens is mocked. it seems that some members are trying to discourage public participation through behavior at the meeting and outside of the meetings (often using cyber-missives aimed at individuals to do so). on top of that, the meetings were moved from evening hours to 4:00 p.m. when a lot of us are still at work.

    it’s shameful that the slay administration has such contempt for democratic discussion of development and design in the city. is everything just a business matter now? the public must be a nuisance for these developers and their paid guns. it’s not enough to own all of the real estate — they have to own the process itself. wish we had a mayor who would let them know that the civic sphere ain’t a piece of real estate for sale.

    thank you steve for your efforts.

  6. shot down says:

    Posters on liberal websites are constantly hammering the Slay administration over much of what they disagree with in the City.

    Exhibit A: the Old Post Office development.

    No one ever points the finger at the Board of Aldermen. No. Even though we have a weak mayor form of government, everyone blames the mayor.

    Back during the heyday of the failed Advance St. Louis charter reform movement, a weakness cited in city government was a so-called “dispersal of authority” situation, which begins at the ward level with each alderman (functioning as a mini-mayor of his/her ward…read-ward/state), and filters all the way to the top of city government.

    Hence, one of the main goals of the failed Advance St. Louis Charter Reform movement was an effort to strengthen the mayor’s office to create stronger leadership combined with accountability in the position of the city’s top elected official.

    Advance St. Louis progressives promoted a concept of increased accountability and professional management, all of which was shot down by political opponents, much of the opposition coming from the entrenched democratic machine in the city of St. Louis, the elected officials of the City’s “county offices”, and a majority of the Board of Aldermen.

    As Steve notes, what we have in the city is a lack of leadership and vision.

    Now what do we see coming out of the Board of Aldermen when it comes to Charter Reform? Efforts making it more difficult to recall alderman! Hah!

    Pointing the finger at Mayor Slay for development policies we don’t like indicates a lack of understanding of the “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” twin systems of aldermanic courtesy and feifdom/democratic control in St. Louis.

  7. james says:

    does the board of aldermen appoint members of the preservation board?

    the preservation board demonstrates the lack of accountability & responsiveness of appointed officials. the aldermen have their installed officials, too, mainly through patronage. the mayor has direct control over the most powerful appointments in the city, including those to deliberative boards.

    the real issue with the doering mansion, though, isn’t the f-ed up board of aldermen or the putz mayor — it’s the behavior of preservation board members.

    that’s the topic at hand.

  8. so says:

    Had the preservation commission denied the demolition request, would the developer have an appeal option?

    Would that appeal wind up in a committee of the Board of Aldermen? The Housing Urban Development and Zoning (“HUDZ”) committee?

    Don’t all development projects requiring aldermanic approval go through the HUDZ committee?

    All this happens before anything goes before the mayor, right?

    [REPLY – Based on the Preservation Review Ordinance, the appeal of a decision is court. Thus, in your question the developer would have had to file an action with the court to have a judge review the facts of the case and how they relate to the relevant ordinance. This is the very process neighbors may take to appeal the decision to basically permit razing the building. Of course, I’d rather spend the next 9-12 months working on a compromise design rather than wait for a judge to render a decision. – SLP]

  9. yowza says:

    If the final step before possible denial of a development decision is at a preservation commission, with no appeals to another city board, then isn’t that progress?

    If residents sue to overturn the Preservation Board’s decision, will Curran abandon the project?

    Apparently the local neighborhood organization doesn’t have an opinion on the matter.

  10. yowza says:

    Good article in the South City Journal, with a nice plug for Urban Review StL and many significant quotes from Steve…

    Nonetheless, however, the majority of sentiment reported, including that from a number of immediate neighbors (one exception), seems to favor the demolition.

    And the proposed development is already about 50% presold…

  11. seller says:

    “And the proposed development is already about 50% presold…”

    and millions of americans shop at wal-mart, too. popularity is no trump card — but it’s a great way to undercut a serious argument against a project’s flaws.

    [REPLY – Exactly!!!

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