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Roddy Ready to Hand Over 12 Acres to St. Louis’ Largest Employer

As most everyone knows, BJC Hospital is seeking control of 12 acres of Forest Park located East of Kingshway. Many are content letting BJC lease this land through 2096 in exchange for roughly $2 million a year to help offset maintenance costs in Forest Park. Currently maintenance costs are in the $4 million per year range.

I attended the meeting last night conducted by Alderman Joe Roddy and, as you might expect, have some opinions.

Current Lease

BJC has had a lease on 9 of the 12 acres since 1973 when they constructed an underground parking garage. The current lease payments are only $150,000/year according to the St. Louis Business Journal. Under the 1973 lease, which expires in 2050, BJC is responsible for maintaining the 9 acres of parkland and does not allow them to construct any buildings on the site.

While much of the park looks great the Hudlin Tennis Courts are in poor repair with the exception of two courts that were resurfaced last year. See park photos on Flickr.

Park Usage

At 7pm last night I saw about 25 people in the park. Some were playing racquetball & tennis, one woman was just sitting along on a bench reading a book while several families were at the playground. I asked Ald. Roddy if a usage study had been conducted on the park and he said he was not aware of any. When I parked on Clayton Road last night to visit the park the first I thing I realized is that due to the terrain I couldn’t really tell if anyone was in the park or not. It was not until I was walking through the area that I could see people in all parts of the park.

It seems highly negligent to take away park space without first determining who uses the park, how often and at what times at the day. At the very least you want to know where the users come from so that as alternatives sites for the facilities are considered these could hopefully continue to serve the existing user base.

Clayton Road

While I have zero proof it is my suspicion that BJC’s ultimate goal is to close Clayton Road West of Euclid Ave. If done, this would create a very large parcel for them to build on. Ald. Roddy said closing Clayton Road was not part of the plan and that doing so would require amending the Forest Park Master Plan again. Pressing the issue he conceded that, in the future, that was entirely possible.

Closing Clayton Road would give BJC about 13 acres (assuming 1 acre for the current road right-of-way) in this area. I can just hear it now, “In looking at our logistical needs to serve our patients we’ve determined we need to close Clayton Road.” Then I can hear Ald. Roddy like he did last night, “BJC is the area’s largest employer.” Translation: what BJC wants, BJC gets.

If this goes forward I’d like to see language that prevents the closing of Clayton Road during the duration of the lease. Ironclad off the table language that a lawyer can’t get around in the future.

The Money

Wow, BJC to cover nearly half of the maintenance of Forest Park. Sounds like a good deal. But what will the maintenance costs be in 20 years? Or fifty years? Ninety years is a very long commitment. Citizens of St. Louis that are not even born yet will have to deal with the end of this lease. Does it renew automatically? I say the lease payments need to keep pace with inflation or the cost of park maintenance. In 2096 $2 million will probably just buy you a starter home.

The Money Part II

Through a 1/10th cent sales tax in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County we’ve funded the Great Rivers Greenway District to the tune of about $10 million annually:

Great Rivers Greenway work for a clean, green, connected St. Louis region. To achieve its mission, the district is developing The River Ring, an interconnected system of greenways, parks and trails. Through the creation of The River Ring, Great Rivers Greenway will provide economic, environmental and social benefits across St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County.

Big plans are underway to create the Chouteau Greenway project that will connect Forest Park to the riverfront. With $10 million annually you’ve got to get it spent right? So, the City of St. Louis is struggling to maintain its existing park lands and we are looking to create more green space we can’t afford to maintain? Someone please tell me the fiscal logic in all this.

The Process

Ald. Roddy said that BJC’s lawyers have been working on this for about a year. We get weeks to react. You may have read that the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation, partially funded by BJC, had a letter of support for BJC taking this land for development. Well, it turns out that isn’t exactly true. Forest Park Forever and BJC asked FPSEDC Executive Director Irving Blue penned the letter of support without the consent of the organization’s board of directors. Neighborhood residents at the meeting were visibly and vocally upset.

Blue’s answer was that he had to respond quickly and did not have a board meeting scheduled until next month. How very convenient. Also convenient was the fact Ald. Roddy didn’t bring any of the drawings or maps of the area due to the short notice. I’ve been to enough of these meetings now that I think the Board of Aldermen have a secret manual on manipulating citizens on done deals. It might go something like this:

Step 1 – Never bring any documentation to a meeting since you don’t want them to actually know anything concrete about the project.

Step 2 – Apologize at length about not having materials. Good reasons for not having them are coming from another meeting, they are still being finished for a future meeting, or it was just short notice you didn’t get them together.

Step 3 – Let them have their say. Be sure to listen and nod. Go along with what they say but offer a counterpoint that supports the deal. Never, under any circumstances, let them know the deal is done and their input doesn’t really matter to the final outcome. See Step 4 for more help in this direction.

Step 4 – Since the basic deal is already done your job at this point is to act important and go to bat for your constituents by “leveraging” the deal. Get them to make a list of trivial concessions that won’t blow the done deal. Don’t promise anything but that you’ll do your best for the ward. Make it sound difficult even though you know this is easy since this low-hanging fruit stuff has already been assumed as part of the PR strategy.

Step 5 – If anyone brings up valid reasons why the deal can’t or shouldn’t be done go back to things like it is hard to tell the Mayor and others no at this point in the process or mention how important they are to the city. Make sure the individual citizen feels small relative to the project.

Next Steps

The Forest Park Advisory Board is meeting next Thursday afternoon at the History Museum at 4:30pm to consider amending the Forest Park Master Plan. I’m not certain if public input will be taken. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on amendments to the Forest Park Master Plan as well as the City’s Strategic Land Use Plan. The hearing, where the public may offer input, will be May 3, 2006 at 5:30pm in room 208 of City Hall (see public notice).

What I’d Like To See Happen

The lawyers have had a year to get everything in place and now it is rush, rush rush. While I’d prefer the city to tell BJC a big firm “NO” I’m willing to give this some serious thought. Say about a year? I want BJC to fund an independent usage study of the park space so that we all know how and when his park area is being used. The Forest Park Advisory Board and the Planning Commission need to tell BJC, “we’ll let you know.”

– Steve

 

Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    It’s always easier for a politician to vote for funding for new projects (like the Chouteau Greenway) than it is to find money for on-going maintenance expenses. Politicians live for photo ops and ribbon cuttings. There ain’t no glamour in a new roof, keeping the grass cut or the trash picked up.

    That said, a new revenue stream dedicated to ongoing maintenance in ALL city parks is not a necessarily a bad thing. Neither is spending money on developing new parks or greenways. The challenge comes on the budget side. Is overall parks funding being cut as dedicated streams are created? Or is the pot getting bigger?

    I agree that a usage study is likely appropriate, as is a public process to reach a fair resolution. And while I like to think that parkland should be sacrosanct, there are occasionally times when the tradeoffs make looking at alternative uses a viable option . . .

     
  2. I can’t imagine any usage study not being the least bit unbiased, particularly if BJC pays for it. I don’t trust the city either. I have been a part of such “studies” and they ALWAYS favor the point of view of those who paid for them.

    Thank you Steve for bringing up the not-so-obvious points. The two things that really irked me since this was announced are: the city REPLACING its maintenance funding with the BJC money so there is little net gain, and the fact the lease does not adjust for inflation. I mean, 90 years is a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time.

    That being said, if there were no other slippery slope issues I would love to see another high-rise line the park. One of my favorite views in the whole city is looking out at the buildings along Kingshighway from inside the park.

    Besides leaving Clayton open indefinitely we should stipulate that for this deal to move forward they must REOPEN Euclid to vehicular traffic. And while we are at it, how about — God forbid — allowing at least limited uses that are other than medical-related? The area is far too homogenous and has become WAAAY too campus like. I can see the gates going up now…

     
  3. Brian says:

    In other words, BJC is willing to pay more than 13 times what they already annually pay for only a third more in land than what they already lease.

    Last I looked, there were more uses than medical along Euclid amidst BJC’s buildings, including a bookstore, restaurant, and hotel. Buses will soon no longer travel Euclid south of Children’s Place, once the transfer center (base of new parking garage) at the Taylor end of the CWE MetroLink station is completed.

    And for cycling into Forest Park via westbound Clayton, I doubt Park Rangers would ticket a wrong-way cyclist, though they do ticket wrong-way and U-turning motorists.

     
  4. The “bookstore, restaurant, and hotel” were recruited by BJC to fill spaces that they planned. These businesses didn’t answer “for rent” ads on prime storefronts.

    Why the resistance to re-opening Euclid? Does BJC want to stunt the wonderful spontaneous growth of the CWE?

     
    • rick says:

      The St. Louis city Park Rangers are merely city security guards. They are not actual licensed police and are violating the law by stopping vehicles and ticketing drivers ( with the city's knowledge ). They are not P.O.S.T. certified. I worked there and then quit, for that very reason.

       
  5. jefferson says:

    It’s great for St. Louis to have one of the biggest hospital complexes in the Midwest. In order for it to retain its position, it’s going to need to expand eventually. As this area is already extremely dense, I don’t think building upwards is an option…it makes sense to let them lease this land that is already used for parking and cut off from the rest of Forest Park. As I understand it they will pay for the relocation of the racquet courts.

    It seems maybe your opposition to this is more for the secretive way it was carried out than the land transfer itself. If that’s the case I can see your point, but I still think the deal should go through.

    Good idea about indexing the payments to inflation though. Or possibly one lump sum payment. 90 years at 2 mill./year is $180 million. If we could get one lump sum payment of 90 million, it would be a 50% cheaper for BJC and create a nice endowment for the park, generating around $3 million a year in interest for park upkeep.

     
  6. Drew says:

    First of all, I really like that park there, it sets off the impressive mai n pavilion nicely, and provides a great place for employees, patients, families, and students to get a breath of fresh air. I would hope that any building built on the area would include some park space. Either that, or there should be a tunnel or skywalk to the other side of Kingshighway, with a more pedestrian friendly park created in Forest park on the East side of the rink.

    Second, BJC’s never going to close clayton road, because it would completely mess up the traffic flow out of the parking structure, and create all kinds of problems on Barnes-Jewish Place. The way it is now cars can come out either side, and get onto Kingshighway from either side of the intersection.

    While they won’t be closing Clayton, I can definitely see them building another smaller building on the South side of the road, probably for the Central Institute for the Deaf. This would become even more attractive if they’re allowed to use the land freed up by the demolition of that massive off-ramp from I-64, which will not be needed with the new interchange.

    I frequently get annoyed by the closed-off section of Euclid as well, but it does have its charms. Coming up from the Stlcop’s quad to the hospital’s plaza there is a really nice walk. You didn’t hear it from me, but Euclid north of Barnes-Jewish place will be closed off as well. The whole point is to make the campus more pedestrian-friendly, and more like a campus. I think the road closures, new bus station, and new construction do a good job of that. When that big hole where the parking garage used to be is filled in, the whole thing will look really nice, and be orders of magnitude more pedestrian friendly than it used to be.

     
  7. JOn says:

    I have already made clear my support for this project, but it is clear some tweaking is not a bad idea.

    First, yes the money should be tied to inflation or increases in the cost of running the park.

    Secondly, closing Clayton would be a bad idea, however with the new Kingshighway 40 interchange, maybe the BJC campus could close off the current Barnes Place street and replace the main enternce with an intersection at Clayton and Kingshighway. It would make for a nice compromise, esp. if they ever chose to keep Euclid open.

    Finnaly, as I has said before, reqruing BJC to improve the streetscapes along clayton rd in the area to fit in with the greenway master plan would be a nice thing to add, as it would help replace some of the park land being lost.

     
  8. Shaun Tooley says:

    Compromise:

    Residential highrise facing Forest Park.
    BJC high-rises on north, east, and south sides with a massive parking garage in the center of the block.

    The roofs of all the buildings should be equal height or clse to for terraces and a park built in the sky. Park terraces on square corners of block at floors five and ten? Someting similar to San Francisco’s park/something building across from their convention center and Museum of Modern Art.

    Decent wide pedestrian friendly connection between Forest Park and future greenways.

    ????

     
  9. LisaS says:

    Thanks for the information, Steve. I couldn’t go to the meeting and appreciate your giving us a report on it.

    As I said before, it’s a done deal. While I’m not in favor of it, I understand that the hospital needs to expand. They’ve been expanding to the east and I expect them to continue to do so. I’d rather them have that 12 acres than expand anymore than they already have across Forest Park Parkway. I’ll have to write a piece about their parking garage on Laclede.

    –lisa

     
  10. Chris Grant says:

    An article in the Post-Dispatch on Sunday suggested that the hospital’s yearly payments would be tied to an escalator. Is this inflation?

    I’m no real estate agent, but 2.1 million does not seem like that much money.

     
  11. This controversy involves the same problems the City of St. Louis has had with numerous development plans, i.e., there isn’t a commitment the City makes to the public that it cannot break! And then the City doesn’t understand why the public has so little trust in its public officials. But then, the public officials involved do not really care about public trust.

    Here is the counterproposal to the deal BJS has proposed:

    Step 1 – determine the real value of the land which BJC wants to take over

    According to a parcel under 1 acre at the corner of Lindell and Euclid, now under contract to the Opus corporation for over $7.million dollars, the park parcel location, adjacent to the park and Highway 40, etc. is worth a tidy sum. Have a real estate broker with no ties to BJC (preferably from a national firm) do an appraisal and then decide the land lease cost tied to projected increases in land value over time.

    A good actuary and a financial expert would be able to figure this price in a heartbeat.

    Step 2 – Get able negotiators who can spar with the likes of BJC.

    After all, BJC has the financial folks with the sharpest pencils. We need negotiators on the people’s side with equivalent acumen. We would be fooling ourselves to think that the City of St. Louis has anyone equal to BJC on its team. Moreover, most lawfirms in town have some connection to BJC, after all. Hey people, get smart and get some good expert advice and not just opinions from ordinary folks who can’t or don’t even do their own personal financial management or investing.

    Step 3 – Identify the fiduciary duty the public officials have to the city’s assets. Just ask the City’s Comptroller, Darlene Green.

    The park land is a city asset and belongs to all of the folks, and to those folks in the county, too. Government has a fiduciary duty to take good care of these assets. And if we don’t get any reliable advice, how can we tell if the City is dealing too low?

    Step 4 – Consider the alternatives

    Please wake up, everyone. BJC can continue to move east. But maybe they would they have to pay private property owners a fair price. It’s easier to “take” the property over from the City…less resistance from the City and Alderman Roddy.

    Can’t the City of St. Louis recognize and identify its real estate assets??? Is there not any shame?

    Step 5 – Determine the impact of a breach to the Forest Park Master Plan.

    Last of all, what about the Forest Park Master Plan? Does it have any meaning at all? The citizens must say, Stay the course, keep to the Plan. As Steve Patterson has said, Clayton Road will be closed, no doubt about that.

    BJC does not want any ordinary folks wandering through its campus and has not done anything along its Kingshighway boundary to provide a pleasant or safe pedestrian experience…no place to walk, no place to sit, no place to cross the street safely from the park.

    Get serious, everyone. Get a real expert and because if the Forest Park Master Plan is compromised, you can expect more broken commitments.

    BUT if you do change the lease terms, at least do it with dignity and don’t take a beating on the price.

    Good luck to the City of St. Louis, the perpetual underdog.

     
  12. LisaS says:

    In the interest of providing more information for discussion, I’ve decided to start posting an informal count of the people in the park whenever we go over in my blog . . . just click on my name . . .

     

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