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“Blairmont Scheme” Is Fulfillment of Official City Plans

February 9, 2007 North City, NorthSide Project, Planning & Design 61 Comments

Much has been written lately about the sinister plot, known to many as “Blairmont”, to bulldoze North St. Louis (specifically the St. Louis Place neighborhood). The focus has been on various straw companies such as Blairmont Associates, LLC and part owner Paul McKee. McKee is a founder of well known commercial contractor Paric, an officer in McEagle Development and current Chairman of BJC Healthcare. In other words, a prominent citizen for all that’s worth.

The major issue has been these companies are buying hundreds of properties, including some very historic structures, and letting them sit empty and decaying. A few have had some devistating fires. Nobody has been able to track down any more information on the motives & intention behind these purchases. Interestingly, the answer was under our noses the whole time.

This is all part of a public plan, one of many actually.

The city’s 1947 master plan highlighted many areas immediately south and north of downtown, indicating they were obsolete. You know, places like the trendy Soulard neighborhood. This plan called for it to be wiped clean and given a fresh start with cul-de-sac streets and lots of the much touted “open space.” Subsequent plans have followed along this same theme with the “Team Four” plan, a reaction to an early 70s research report from the Rand Corporation commenting on the conditions in St. Louis, calling for reduced services to parts of North St. Louis so that people will leave.

In 2002 the city’s Planning Commission adopted the 5th Ward Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan. It should be noted the boundaries are the old 5th Ward, not the boundaries as changed around the same time as the plan was being adopted. Anyway, in the plan a large swath of land just north of the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site is shown hatched out with the designation “Proposed Large Land Use (for further study).” In other words, level anything remaining and start fresh. There it is, fully adopted after numerous public meetings and everything.

zoning1201

[Above: 5th ward zoning proposal shows large white area with red diagonal lines as a proposed large land use]

McKee’s various companies own many properties within the large land use area as well as areas surrounding it. Much has changed since the first public meetings where held in the Fall of 1999, adoption in April 2002 and today. In places the change has been good — new infill construction (some of it actually attractive, the rest not so attractive) as well as strong renovation efforts. In other parts of the ward, however, people have left and buildings have continued to deteriorate and be razed.

In the Spring of 2005 the city adopted a new Strategic Land-Use Plan. For the most part it was simply a recording of uses already in existence but in places the plan does call for changes. Also, the city has failed to follow through with the next step which was to be new zoning which cooresponds to the land uses. In this land-use plan, however, we can see the large area from the 2002 5th ward plan designated as “Neighborhood Development Areas (NDA):”

Residential/non-residential areas with substantial amounts of vacant land and abandoned buildings suitable for new residential construction of scale/associated neighborhood services, respecting stable properties that may be considered as part of any new development. Opportunities for new housing construction/replatting at critical mass scale defining a new neighborhood character over time.

The land-use plan goes further than the 5th Ward plan, calling out additional land as “Opportunity Areas:”

Key underutilized locations where the use of the land is in transition. Location and site characteristics of these areas offer particular challenges/opportunities that could be advantageous to a range of development activity. This designation is intended to be flexible and specific development proposals will be entertained as they present themselves.

Stable areas such as the Old North St. Louis neighborhood and the area immediately surrounding St. Louis Place Park are designated as “Neighborhood Preservation Areas:”

Areas where the existing housing and corner commercial building stock will be preserved and augmented with new infill residential and corner commercial development physically integrated with, and primarily serving the immediate neighborhood. These areas generally consist of stable residential areas of the City, including but not limited to historic districts, where the character of the neighborhood is currently well preserved with relatively few vacant lots and abandoned buildings. The plan contemplates continued preservation and improvement, with quality rehabilitation and infill new construction that is sensitive to the character of existing residences. Commercial and institutional uses catering to the immediate needs of the neighborhood are acceptable and reflect the traditional role such activity has played in the history of the City.

So, in keeping with officially approved plans I expect to see some large-scale reconstruction in the area just north of Pruitt-Igoe as well as lots of infill housing in surrounding areas such as Old North St. Louis.

Local architectural firm Arcturis has been mentioned by others as being involved in whatever the plans are for the area. I asked Arcturis COO Vernon Remiger about “Blairmont” earlier this week and he declined to comment. This tells me their firm is most likely still involved. Of course, the bulk of this area does need large quantities of new housing. In places like Old North St. Louis the neighborhood itself is working with developers and they have been building attractive new housing and rehabbing other buildings. Numerous vacant lots remain throughout the neighborhood.

For me my concerns are several. In areas where large-scale redevelopment is proposed will it simply involve possiblly replatting the lots to be slightly wider or do they want to screw up the highly functional grid of streets & alleys? Furthermore, do they want to build a bunch of similar looking single family detached housing or will we see a mix of housing types such as townhouses, live/work spaces and condos/apartments over storefronts? What about new alley houses like we used to have and like those being built out in New Town at St. Charles.

The problem with building most new construction next to one of our older houses is no matter the condition of the old house it almost always looks more graceful than the new. The materials and proportions are better, the detailing is stunning. New housing, next to old, just pales. This, I believe, is why many suburban developers seek to raze existing properties.

For further reading check out the “World of Blairmont” on The Ecology of Absence webiste. They’ve compiled a list of their own posts on the subject as well as from other sources, including the RFT.

 

Currently there are "61 comments" on this Article:

  1. Allen Boyer says:

    I noticed that map had the original plans for the New River Bridge @ Existing I-70 three-quarters stack interchange. I thought that interchange was off the table.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — At the time those were prepared that was still on the table.  Due to funding reasons from the state level that has been scaled back.  Forces on both sides of the river are still pushing for a new bridge.]

     
  2. Jason says:

    Thanks for finally bringing this up. Blairmont bought an old hardware store on St. Louis Ave from an acquantance a few years back for a price I thought was way too much. As resident at the time of ONSL I had already seen the ‘condition’ of buildings that Blairmont owned and was disappointed that he sold to them. Blairmont doesn’t even bother to secure their buildings which not surprising has led to fires of some of their properties. We need to stop this land grab by St. Chuck developers.

     
  3. mike says:

    I’ve been reading about this I don’t like on ecology of absence. While I think it’s terrible that they let their properties rot, I think the idea of razing a huge plot of land and starting new is a good one. Of course I’m sure the design and layout will be more suburban-like than anyone who posts here would like. But I’ve believed for years that this is one way to get a large number of families to come in from the suburbs. Rehabs, lofts and new builds with just a handful of houses only appeal to so many people. Something like this is an opportunity to build a diverse neighborhood.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, they let the properties rot (or burn) so that when it comes time to clear the area they can justify razing more old structures.  For me it is the design & layout that has me more concerned.  Much of the city needs massive new infill construction — no doubt.  But I don’t want to see it all be cookie cutter single family homes on cul-de-sac streets.  I’m looking for a mix of housing types on our existing street grid.]

     
  4. That is hilarious!

     
  5. Jim Zavist says:

    I need to take exception with one statement: “The problem with building most new construction next to one of our older houses is no matter the condition of the old house it almost always looks more graceful than the new. The materials and proportions are better, the detailing is stunning. New housing, next to old, just pales.” One, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Two, to many prospective buyers, an old house looks, well, old! Some people simply want something new, something they won’t need to spend every weekend working on, something that’s well-insulated. Should these folks (and their money waiting to be invested) be relegated to the ‘burbs just because they lack “vision”? Unfortunately, a lot of old homes around here, especially in the “economically-challenged” parts of our town, are simply too far gone to be “rescued” in any sort of financially-sensible manner. With sweat equity maybe, but not in the “real” world of paid labor and current sales prices. I don’t condone demolition through negelect, and I’m not familiar with the properties Blairmont may own, but I am a pragmatist. For development to happen in areas where the market is depressed / moribund / scary, it’s going to take more than a few small-scale renovation project here and there. Obviously, Blairmont has a plan and a vision, otherwise they’d be investing in property elsewhere. And, yes, whatever plan they bring forward should be subject to some degree of public scrutiny. But, bottom line, they’re the one taking the risk, investing (and risking) real money, so whatever they propose needs to appeal to enough buyers for them to turn a profit. If “we” (urbanites, planners, architects, pundits) think we can do better, Show Me The Money (this is the Show Me state, after all)! These properties are changing hands because the sellers think they’re receiving a fair price for their property. If “we” think a building (or a neighborhood) can be saved economically (as in buy low, fix up, sell at a profit), “we” need to write some checks! Until then, we’re just sitting on the sidelines, pontificating and throwing “bombs” at those people who are actually doing something! We may not like it intellectually, but in the real world, money talks . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Sorry Jim, it simply doesn’t work that citizens do not have a voice in their city unless they are willing to pull out their personal checkbook. Land use planning and zoning are all about the public interest, not the interest of those writing the checks.

    I completely agree that people want new housing, and I’ve stated we have plenty of room for new housing.  No dispute there.  My point is the developers often seek to raze a good structure not because it needs to but because their crappy little house with fake brick siding will look horrible next door to something with some class.  Where good building can be saved we simply need to look at what gets built next door and perhaps architecturally transition down to more modest infill housing.  

    To say “Blairmont has a plan and a vision” is giving them way too much credit.  Until recently McKee was denying any connection until others found proof of his ownership in these companies.  Many are asking simply what is the plan?  What is the vision?  

    If you are suggesting the only persons with a right to have a stake in the physical outcome of our city are those doing the building we have a seriously different perspective.  But, your view may well be the view at city hall and among developers.  If that is the case, it certainly helps explain why we continue to lose the very people we need to retain.]    

     
  6. mike says:

    Jim,

    I Agree, as long as Blairmont does shoulder the risk. Right now, it looks like they are trying to get a bill through the state legislature to provide funding. And you know the mayor is going to try to get taxpayer provided assistance. So, I think it is not yet determined if they will be putting up enough of their own money to make sure they do a good job.

     
  7. Bill says:

    This smacks of the TIF that the Cardinals are working on for Ballpark Village. They let the piece of land go to hell by not maintaining it, then claim that it is “blighted” and watch the tax dollars roll in.

     
  8. john says:

    Clearly the WORD is out… need subsidy, come to St. Louis! As quoted, housing subsidies begets more susidies: “It needs to be followed by subsidy after subsidy after subsidy” Kinder said. But do companies like Centene and Express Scripts NEED more subsidies? Or do they just know how to play state/local politics better than their competitors?

    Already Centene has convinced Clayton of the need to blight property in order to use ED to build for executives’ preferred new office space. It helped that the high school football field needed some improvements and CNC was happy to have the stadium renamed for $400,000. CNC also donated $9.5 million for renovation of the arts building in StL. As one of the nation’s largests Medicaid HMOs, CNC generated $1.5 billion in revenue last year. Some of that is used to maintain the CEO’s corporate jet that features an expresso machine.

    With such money and connections, the CEO Neidroff claims “I call a governor, I usually get a call back within 24 to 48 hours”. With the rapid growth in Medicaid costs, he’ll probably have to wait less in the future.

    Yesterday Express Scripts raised its earnings guidance to Wall Street and earnings for the quarter rosed to $147 million while revenues were $4.5 billion for the three months. Also the NY Post reported that the company enriched senior executives with options at unusually opportune times.

    Operating margins in these businesses aren’t high so every advantage needs to be utilized. Anyone want to talk about BJC’s, Blairmont’s, etc. needs for financial help?

     
  9. Travis Cape says:

    Blairmont seems to be “investing” in the area and has enlisted help in getting state funding. Hell, I think I’ll buy some more property if I can get some large subsidy on it. The main problems seem to be that Blairmont hasn’t communicated their plans, been reachable, or provided even minimal maintenance of their properties. All of those problems should have been punished by local government officials.

    Now, if they do raze much of the area involved, they should be required to rehab what is salvageable. They should not augment the existing street or alley grid and should follow historic guidelines.

    I’ve got serious concerns over where the residents of this area will go. If you’re low income, you have to go somewhere cheap. Are we setting up another neighborhood to take the fall in ten or twenty years? I guess we can wait for another Blairmont LLC” to form and buy out that new blighted area also. This is all sickening and I suggest that we all write our elected city and state officials about this. Tell your families that might be outside of STL as their officials might just vote for the bill and go along with it.

     
  10. urban reader says:

    To all the City/Cardinal TIF haters…(you know who you are!)

    People bemoan the idea that the city can’t “attract families” for any number of reasons (indicative of a distressed community), however, the same complainers would deny the city the use of economic development tools like TIF.

    I think it’s cool living in a city where you have outsiders criticizing your community, then denying it access to important revitalization tools! Nice.

     
  11. Jim Zavist says:

    True, citizens are (should be?) a part of the process. But a real challenge for citizen advocates is expecting / demanding too much (as well as demanding too little). Not everything old is better than everything new, and not everything new is worse than everything old. We agree that the urban grid should be maintained (and most new residential in the city seems to be doing that, with the exception of barricaded streets). We agree that some old structures probably deserve to be recycled and revived. And we agree that, as citizens, we should push (by electing people who care!) for better quality design. Where we diverge is in our view of the “market”. We have a boat load of older buildings in St. Louis. As our “low” / “static” / “depressed” real estate prices continue to show (compared both to the rest of the country and even adjacent counties), there’s a limited market for our real estate in many parts of town (the old law of supply and demand). There’s also a finite limit, at least for the forseeable future, in how much the market will appreciate (especially in this part of town), thus, there’s little upside for the development community. So, as idealists, we’re stuck somewhere between what we “know” should be happening versus having nothing happening at all. I, for one, can accept “crappy little house with fake brick siding” when the alternative is vacant land interspersed with derelict shells and boderline slums – at least they’re not vinyl and at least it looks like the area may be starting to improve! Too many parts of town simply have no momentum nor any appearance of momentum (as eveidenced by the previous posts on MLK). But the only way to really “save” our older buildings is to create a demand for them. There was a time when Miami Beach wasn’t cool – look at it today. And if Blairmont (and our elected officials) can’t be convinced of our collective wisdom, we need to do more than just talk about the “problem”, we need to figure out how to best put our money where our mouths are . . . talk is cheap.

     
  12. mike says:

    Travis,

    (Assuming you live there) I do think the city has given you the shaft by not forcing them to maintain the property. I don’t agree that they should have to communicate their plans when they are buying the property on the open market. Now, when they are trying to get tax subsidies, then they should have to communicate their plans.

    I do expect that they will want to change the street grids and save few buildings. Perhaps they will try to create one of these new urbanism communities and maintain the street grid. It’s also possible (I know naive) that they will provide some housing for moderate income people. They might have to if they want to sell them.

     
  13. Travis Cape says:

    I don’t live in north city, I live in south city. I do feel that this affects all city residents as the same situation could occur anywhere.

    What I meant by Blairmont not communicating their plans is that I was told numerous residents had tried to contact them in regards to their properties. Not having communication with your neighbors is wrong. It shows that you’ve got no concern for the neighborhood. This obviously is the case since all they want is the land in that area.

    Instead of offering assistance for the destruction of this area, the state could just as easily provide more assistance to rehab existing structures. Why don’t we clean up some of what’s there now and then build some infill housing? This type of redevelopment could just as easily happen in south city also. The problem here is lack of owner occupied housing and lack of code enforement to help maintain the quality of housing stock. While I believe it’s a free market. I don’t believe that it’s proper to have absentee owners line their pockets at the expense of the neighborhoods that their investment properties are in.

     
  14. Will Winter says:

    JZ, the most telling sentence of your first post is that you are not familiar with any of the properties talked about. Presumably, then you are not familiar with the area being discussed. Then comes the oft-repeated line about economic reality, etc., etc. However, it is not as if there are other models of redevelopment in these areas–not just the big buck, subsidy hogs for hard to do projects but the lean and mean mom and pop (in two cases, moms only) businesses that are able to produce 10 to 20 houses per phase with little public subsidy than tax abatement. The reality is that large-scale redevelopments are not just the bane of the urbanistas or the preservationists, but of the developers who apparently have already found not the mechanism to creating markets–yes, not 5,000 units at time, but markets proportional to the needs of these communities at this time. It sounds, JZ, like a tour is needed in order to give you a better than bird’s eye view.

    Just my two cents.

     
  15. Barbara says:

    Jim, I live in the area slated for demolition, where McKee’s companies have been buying for going on 3 years now, and I have seen many neighbors illegally evicted. Illegal how? Classic stuff like cutting off utilities to tenants whose rent is current, not giving any notice and suddenly thugs appear on the doorstep, buying the property and leaving the tenants in the dark so that they keep paying rent to the wrong landlord and then evicting for non-payment, etc. Pathologically nasty stuff, when most low-income tenants would accept a resale eviction without much protest anyway.

    Is this your idea of a plan and vision? Are you aware you live in the 4th most segregated city in the nation and you are advocating to worsen that division? You do know that McKee himself has been witnessed standing in our neighborhood and making loud comments about “bulldozing the ghetto”? You really want to check out what *exactly* you are endorsing before you find yourself in a strange little corner with some eugenicists, white-power guys and the Ghost of Strom Thurmond.

    We *want* development in North City. I say bring on the vinyl siding if that is what it takes! We also want a transparent process which respects the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Title VIII, Chapter 42, which says private citizens cannot act to further segregation by denying access to housing, and that the government is required to act to prevent segregation by ensuring access to housing. I am particularly fond of 42.3617 which says you can’t intimidate or coerce people into leaving their homes. In addition, we have this thing we call the 14 Amendment, which states (I paraphrase) that if some south city or west county folks get the courtesy of an eminent domain notice and a legal eviction process, some north city folks, whether black, white, martian, whatever, should receive the same courtesy. This is called “due process and equal protection under the law”.

    I don’t think it is a radical, preservationist, elitist hope that “we” could agree as a community to uphold our Bill of Rights. As a matter of fact, the me part of “we” thinks it is our duty as citizens to act to preserve the rights of all citizens when we see those rights threatened as they are in North City today.

    If you would like a tour of this area, please call me at 314-238-4032. I will meet you at Crown Candy, buy you an ice cream, and show you the area including very successful financially-feasible market-rate multi-home rehab projects, as well as pretty new housing developments built by Vatterott, EM Harris, Raineri, Clayco, etc, which were planned and built without breaking any federal, state or city laws. I know it is radical of me, but I like my development clean like that.

     
  16. Mike G. says:

    Jim,

    I disagree with your statement “I, for one, can accept ‘crappy little house with fake brick siding’ when the alternative is vacant land interspersed with derelict shells and boderline slums. I got into new residential construction because I am tired of seeing the crappy, cheaply built and poorly designed infill projects being thrown up. Good design and quality materials does not necessarily equate with expensive and they can be built for all income levels. I rather see vacant land than a poor plan, because a poor plan will take us right back to the same problems we have had before- nobody with means will want to move into them and therefore you cannot recreate a sustainable neighborhood. Sustainable design has to be incorporated into all aspects of redevelopment; from the buildings to the streets to the businesses and so forth. If you throw up 3 blocks of poorly designed crap boxes- well, that is all you will ever have. You have set a precedent. A bad precedent.

     
  17. GMichaud says:

    This is the same pattern of politicians who receive favors, donations, bribes or whatever you want to call them. The wealthy, influential types pretty well have aldermen and other political officials bow to them as servants to do as they ask. Over and over it is the same: Ballpark Village, new bill, no time to read, pass it anyway. The Pyramid giveaway at St. Louis Centre: pushed through quickly, within a week, even though it mortgages the whole city for millions of dollars to benefit a private corporation. The BJC proposal, attempts to move it through quickly, before a vote for citizen participation in determination of park status. Finally Blairmont at the state level, asking for tax credits that can only apply to them, push it through quickly, before the dumb ass public has a chance to comment.
    Who do you think these politicians work for? It is not the people. They know it all, give to the rich, and screw the poor and middle class, that’s the way to success.
    This discussion does not even consider the proper design of cities, or the possibility that initiatives at smaller scales will work.
    It is welfare for the rich, pure and simple, hell with capitalism, there is no such thing, except at the street level.
    The political types along with their corporate masters make laws and run everything for their benefit.
    When changes occur through actions by the people, then the City of St. Louis will begin to reach its potential.
    Make no mistake, many; many people understand what is going on. With the cooperation of their partners in the media they fool many people also. But they know they are being watched. That is why everything is being shoved down the throats of the citizens as quickly as possible. They realize democracy may break out and they’ll have to have a decent discussion of alternatives.
    Get out of Iraq! Create democracy in America first!

     
  18. Lovely Day says:

    Let the design and construction community know what is going on in our city.

    Let your voice be heard here: http://members.boardhost.com/AIASTL/
    http://www.aia-stlouis.org/

    contact the editor here:
    http://www.stlconstruction.com/awards/
    http://www.stlconstruction.com/

    Contact Bill Burke and the other “designers” here:
    http://www.arcturis.com/about/about.htm

    What about Urban Land Institute:
    http://stlouis.uli.org//AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home20
    ~~with a “designer” on the Executive Board? wtf?
    http://stlouis.uli.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Board_Members3

    And:
    http://stlouis.missouri.org/landmarks/why.html

    I assume you know how to get a hold of mc-eagle.

    ***

    What is the point of my email? I don’t know. I just like my city.

     
  19. Hear! Hear! says:

    Right on Will Winter, Barbara, Mike G., and GMichaud! Hear! Hear! “If you throw up 3 blocks of poorly designed crap boxes- well, that is all you will ever have.” You can’t polish a turd, but you can polish one of the many beautiful old buildings in OldNo! And you can build a new gem on one of the lots. Something human. A building that says it cares, it’s here to last. It’s committed. Not a building that says “I was built as cheaply as possible. I care not of craftmanship.” A building should be built for people. The people that live or work in it. The people that live or work around it. A building should inspire or evoke something. Evoke some sense of humanity and human potential. It should announce that the people who designed it and built it were proud to do so. Why can’t the public funds be used to attract and aid renovators and socially concious developers? Also, the people can’t protest or change what they don’t know about. Why do we allow these backroom deals to be pushed through so quickly? Can we, the people, demand more transparency? A more democratic process of public approval? Can we put more blame on the “leaders” that allow deals like this to go through? Aren’t they supposed to be listening to us, speaking to us, and then speaking for us? Representing us? Why do we allow this stuff to go down? Is it because there aren’t that many of “us” to speak of? Is it because St. Louis has been broken and abandoned for so long it suffers from urban atrophy and can not be trusted to make healthy decisions for itself? Sorry for my naive ramblings…

     
  20. LisaS says:

    While I agree with the principle of LD’s post above–contact the press & government officials first, and skip the AIA message board & the designers. Why?

    One is a practical consideration: the AIA Message Board is absolutely the deadest forum that I’m a member of. No one discusses anything. It’s a waste of your time. Focus on other places.

    I understand the frustration with the silence of the AIA, but right or wrong, there’s as great a split among architects on these issues as there is among the public in general. Some architects understand and appreciate the value and potential of old buildings, some don’t. Some architects are died-in-the-wool urbanists, others see suburbia as the ultimate expression of American independence and free market success. And we all have to respond to market forces to eat, some more than others. I’m lucky to be able to turn down commissions for new suburban strip malls and housing; others have made their own luck by going into development. Maybe part of the reason we don’t discuss these issues is because it would be openly hypocritical to do so while continuing to work for our typical clients. And frankly, if a local firm didn’t do it, they’d just hire someone out of town, like BJC did very quietly in doing schematic planning exercises for the Forest Park site.

     
  21. MH says:

    This is the EXACT same thinking that went into the Mill Creek wholesale demolition, and look where that got us. We have an “architect” on here saying it is for the better good of our city. What decade are we living in here? Developers such as this have brainwashed “architects” that work for them and the general public into believing that the great white world of the suburbs is only respectable lifestyle. The north side has tremendous potential and the ONLY thing holding it back is fear. Fear is why people left…..they did not like being around others who are not in the same class or race. So now, the only “acceptable” solution to bring more people back to the near north side is to tear down that area’s character and start over. Any new development there MUSTI for one have had enough.

     
  22. MH says:

    something happened to my last post……the last sentence was to read….

    Any new development MUST respect the history of the neighborhoods. Starting over isn’t the correct method and I for one have had enough…….

     
  23. Jim Zavist says:

    OK, folks, I agree the best outcome would be to build on what’s in place already (infill housing). I disagree with bullying tenants and I hate deteriorating structures, no matter who owns them (althogh my bet would be on slumlords / absentee owners – most owner-occupied properties are maintained). I also agree with all the concerns about Blairmont living behind a curtain of secrecy. But, the reality is, whatever their motives, they ARE investing in an area where most other investors, both large and small, seem to be avoiding like the plague! The real challenge, especially in “the 4th most segregated city in the nation”, is working around all the racial stereotypes when it comes to redevelopment proposals, espcially on the north side. To see any area rebound takes more than just throwing public subsidies at the problem – it takes nurturing a market that’s willing to buy whatever is being produced. That includes balancing the quality of the product with its cost. In theory, you could build very nice, $300,000 loft condos here, but would you have any buyers? Could you even arrange construction financing? Or to put it another way, would you be more willing to invest in a $250,000 mortgage here, on the south side or in O’Fallon? Until a lot of people’s perceptions change, the existing market for residential properties here is in a much lower price range. At that price point, you can either a) buy an existing, rundown, but architecturally-interesting and “solid” (all-brick) property and slowly add new windows, new furnace, new roof, new kitchen, new plumbing, new wiring, etc., etc. (and hope that your neighbors do the same), or you can b) buy a new suburban-style tract house with a partly-brick veneer front and vinyl siding – anything else simply costs too much to build today given current labor and material costs! Is it “fair”? I don’t know, but it is reality. Racism is a tough obstacle to get around, but eventually, if you’re lucky and the real estate market gets hot enough, even areas that were once considered slums do start to turn around (Five Points in Denver, parts of Oakland, CA., parts of Newark, NJ., parts of Houston, TX., even parts of Chicago). This area is geographically positioned for this type of renaissance – I’m guessing that Blairmont is betting on this eventuality. Should they be left to their own devices / given carte blanche when it comes to urban design? I don’t know – Wing Haven ain’t great, but it’s better than some other developments I’ve seen. What I don’t see is strong leadership from our elected officials in pushing for better-than-average urban design anywhere in the city. Part of this “picking your battles”. Part of this is apparently just how things have been done for the past few decades. Part of this is a lack of leverage (not much of a market for these projects). And part of this is a serious lack of long-term vision. It gets back to my perception that something, even a cracker box, is better than nothing. With a moribund real estate market, a vacant lot is likely to stay vacant for decades. Besides generating little in the way of taxes, it creates / maintains the visual image that this is an urban wasteland, reinforcing the viscious cycle of limited reinvestment. The only way I can see to break this cycle focuses less on urban design than on creating jobs, especially ones that would be considered to be “middle-class” ones. Downtown is what it is, as are the areas around Wash U and BJC. But there are vast areas of the city where our industrial base has vacated, and without an employed middle-class, there’s not going to be much of a market for middle-class housing of any sort. Sure, some folks will choose to live in the city and work in the county (as I do), but others, especially those with jobs in the growing office parks in St. Charles County will choose to live closer to those jobs. Changing perceptions will be tough, but hopefully they will . . .

     
  24. Jim Zavist says:

    As for architects – we are essentially indentured servants. We have to live by the Golden Rule, as in “He Who has the Gold, Rules”. We try to educate our clients about better design options (in theory, that’s why they hired us), but it does ultimately boil down to giving our clients what they want, even if it isn’t as great a solution as we had originally envisioned. I’m not independently wealthy, so I try hard to keep my job. If that includes specifying stucco-textured Masonite, so be it. As a profession, we’ll keep pushing, but, for the most part, it’s those hated developers and corporate types that ultimately determine what our world looks like . . .

     
  25. Lovely Day says:

    LisaS “skip the AIA message board & the designers. Why?

    –Not to get off subject lisa, but posting on the AIA Message Board is exactly what you need to do. The architects need to know that razing neighborhoods is bad, running people from their neighborhoods is bad, replacing beautiful buildings and replacing them with vinyl pieces of shit is bad. I understand the moral dilemma – people need shelter so what does it matter if vinyl is inserted all over. I counter with a simple – renovate the existing and provide help for the needy in those distressed area. As you can see, razing north st. louis is not only an architectural and planning problem it is also a moral one.

    two more contacts:

    aia st. louis president:
    http://www.fox-arch.com/People/
    **What does Mr. Berendzen, AIA President, have to say about this topic?**
    aia national:
    http://www.aia.org/about_contact

     
  26. Will Winter says:

    Alot of architects make a living building parking lots for K-marts. Other architects eek out an existence rehabbing old buildings. Activities in many parts of the city show clearly that you can do meaningful community development, have fun, and make a halfway decent living. You have to make your choices. In my view, when people talk about economic reality, in many cases they are just talking about a lack of imagination. If every developer working on the near northside said there is nothing that we can do, I’d be willing to pull up the tent, but that is not the case. People are still pulling permits up here. It may not be WingHaven II but it is good enough for me.

     
  27. bubba says:

    Anyone care to compare and contrast Lewis Reed and Jim Shrewsbury on the Blairmont situation? How about the Century situation? Do we have a choice? Or are they both the same?

     
  28. Kara says:

    The fact that old brick buildings are more affordable than brand new quality construction is exactly the reason we need to keep them. The middle and lower classes should be able to live in solid buildings too. There is no good reason for building a vinyl shanty town with tax dollars. It is wasteful, irresponsible, and shows a lack of respect for those who inhabit them and the area (meaning all residents of St. Louis).

     
  29. Mike G. says:

    For more insight into attractive and affordable housing, check out:

    http://www.designadvisor.org/

    There are quite a few attractive structures in the Gallery section.

     
  30. Jim Zavist says:

    “Architects [who] eek out an existence rehabbing old buildings” either are acting as both architect and developer or have had the good (and rare) luck of finding a client willing to, like them, work harder for less total return. As a profession, we’re held prisoner by our clients – they pay the bills, so they call the shots. If we, as a city, truly believe that the design of our built environment needs to change (a.k.a. “be improved”), we need to a) go through the tortuous process of defining what constitutes “good” or “appropriate” design, b) establish standards to force everyone (large developers, small developers and individual home and business owners) to build to these standards, and c) (most critcally) grant few, if any, waivers from these standards. If our clients know that they’re playing on a level playing field, they’ll be more inclined to “toe the line”, use appropriate massing and materials, and comply with urban design standards. But, hey, this is St. Louis, so one size won’t fit all, not citywide and not even in one ward. We’re much more interested in dropping new “turds” anywhere we can in the name of development at any cost. While it’s easy to blame the architect, we all need to take a look in the mirror. We elect the aldermen who support and approve these projects. We’re the ones that shop at or live in these new developments. And we’re the ones who consistently fail to approve any meaningful charter changes, meaning that the way we do business fails to change. Cities that do have strong design controls are blessed by a combination of a thriving real estate market and a mindset that good design is something to embrace. Cities with a strong design ethos also tend to be a lot smaller than St. Louis, so reaching and maintaing consensus is easier. This doesn’t mean that it can’t happen here, but it’s likely to have to include a lot of baby steps and an increasing use of district-specific design requirements, either through historic districts and overlay zoning districts. I watched it happen in Denver. It took a strong commitment from the mayor and city council, it took a planning director willing to stand her ground and to keep pushing, it took a planning department that was both adequately staffed and adequately funded, and it took respect of neighborhood organizations who provided and staffed the many citizen committees it took to put the basic standards in place. Is it perfect? No, of course not! But it IS a work in progress, so the baby steps keep happening. We don’t seem to have even reached the discussion stage yet (at the city level, not at the blog level), so it looks like it’s gonna be a long haul . . .

     
  31. LisaS says:

    Agreed, JZ.

    Two steps we need to take to improve–and retain–our urban environment:

    Find and elect politicians who support reforms–such as form based zoning, encouraging context appropriate development with public money (and discouraging types of development we don’t want by witholding it).

    More importantly, we must build the demand for responsible development by supporting it with our dollars. Like many of you, I rarely shop outside the City. But even our shopping habits inside the City limits make a difference–I realized yesterday that every time I visit PetSmart, I validate the suburban style strip center. I have to stop patronizing those business, and I’m sure many of you do the same sorts of things.

    So far as Blairmont–I firmly beleive there is a third way–not razing everything and building WingHaven, not continuing to exist as it is. New development and old buildings can coexist–it’s just not commonly done because it takes more creativity and a willingness to buck conventional thinking.

     
  32. mike says:

    I’m probably too naive or optimistic, but I doubt seriously whether Blairmont intends to build Winghaven II. Remember they have to sell any houses they build and fill any office space. I just can’t imagine many people want to move to north city to get the suburban experience.

    I’m definitely interested to find out what they are planning. Is the development going to try to attract families? If so, how will they address schools and basic shopping needs? Is it possible there isn’t going to be much, if any, housing and that this is going to be a business park of some kind?

     
  33. mike says:

    I forgot to add something. I am very concerned that, based on the bill in the state legislature among other things, this project is going to be so heavily subsidized that Blairmont will not have enough of their money on the table to force them to create a quality product. In that case, this could be a real disaster.

     
  34. Jim Zavist says:

    I kinda thought the same thing about the viability of what’s happening north of I-44 and west of Grand, but that redevelopment project seems to be succeeding . . .

     
  35. Will Winter says:

    Armchair pundits, including myself, are found of speculating about how the legacy of local population loss, disinvestment, and regional sprawl requires “x.” 10 years ago, some real estate professionals around the St. Louis 2004 initiative predicted that many northside St. Louis neighborhoods would not come back with large-scale land-banking and clearance funding. Similarly, professionals had to be convinced that downtown had a market for lofts. There are no givens in development in our region; who knows, maybe the triumph that are the exurban new urbanist communities will look like over-valued crap in another 20 years. Markets change in unpredictable ways; tastes are built and then transformed. However, if you examine developments in the City of St. Louis, particularly those occurring in a stretch of neighborhoods alongside the central corridor, you see a number of models–from the heavily subsidized HOPE VI projects to niche single family developers–including the large scale buyout, although these are rarer than the oft-cited mentions of Mill Creek and the 1947 plan would suggest. In most cases, where there are already developments building markets, I think that the more prudent course–in political, social and economic terms–is to encourage work of a more modest scale rather than hope for the pie-in-the-sky buyout.

     
  36. outsider says:

    As an outsider to the northside, I do wonder, for how long should we wait for something to happen. I think small scale projects, a few houses at time are great. What I don’t know is are these projects reversing the population loss or just slowing the population loss. If there is a lot, or any, of money to be made doing the small scale projects, I imagine a lot of rehabber types would be renovating. I don’t know what the market is saying, there is no money to made on the northside or more money can be made elsewhere. If the small scale projects are so profitable on the northside, why isn’t there a bandwagon to jump on?

    Also, this may be incendiary, but wouldn’t the new development decrease racial segragation in St. Louis? I surmise that the new Blairmont homes would be marketed to both whites and blacks, and some whites would probably move in, decreasing the segragation in the largely black northside. I may be missing something.

     
  37. Will Winter says:

    Well, nothing beats talking to people who know something. If anyone would like a couple of these names, I could get them. Absent that, it just a bunch of pixels on the computer screen.

     
  38. joe b says:

    Density is the key issue in this area of St Louis. They will prob throw up some nice mixed use stuff for certain. I doubt a developer like McEagle would purch props like this and leave them wide open.

    Folks, it’s like a basic Mononopoly game. Baltic and Mediterranean Ave are slum props. Get the whole side of the board and now you’re talking something.

    Throw in some tax issues and there you go.

    The history of modern civilization has been throwing out poor people in favor of rich people. It’s no different now than it was in the past.

    Right or wrong, it is what it is.

     
  39. Barbara says:

    Outsider, you are missing something. There is no plan to integrate new buyers with old residents. You don’t seem to get the vastness of the area that McKee has ALREADY cleared. The plan is to simply remove the largely African-American community from a defined geographic area. Starting at Washington Ave, clear out the existing residents all the way up to Natural Bridge. Do not supply replacement housing. Buy it all up and run them out. They will have to go where there is affordable housing, which is largely going to be outside the city. (Since you are an outsider, you probably don’t realize that we have a housing shortage up here. Buildings are vacant because absentee owners have not maintained them in rentable condition, not because of a lack of renters.) So, with the existing community relocated further north, west and possibly to parts of Dutchtown, you have a nice blank slate. Start with an echoingly empty landscape, get your eminent domain enacted if necessary and pick off the holdouts. Now you are ready to build WhiteHaven on the northside.

    I am not a political person. I am a neighbor who has personally helped people move who were illegally evicted. The Fair Housing Act is in tatters up here and the 14th Amendment has shrunken to the size of a fig leaf over our collective shame for allowing this to happen.

    Please stop being an outsider and come up and see for yourself. St Louis is not flat. You will not fall off if you head north across Delmar 😉 Email me, I will give you a tour.

     
  40. mike says:

    Barbara,

    That is terrible about the fair housing violations. Who in the St. Louis area has mainstream credibility and influence, and works to help the african american community? I can’t really think of anyone.

    I have to disagree with you that they are looking to build Whitehaven there. Even if they are able to push all of the people of color one neighborhood to the north and west, I just can’t see where there is a market of any size in that neighborhood for upper or uppermiddle class white suburbanites.

    My guess is the project is either related to the bottle district project and/or they are looking for a large amount of land for commercial use.

     
  41. please... says:

    Mike-

    There’s a long list…

    ACORN (not so mainstream)
    SLACO
    Urban League
    Local community organizations
    Aldermanic Black Caucus
    NAACP
    US Dept of HUD
    St. Louis Housing Authority
    St. Louis Civil Rights Enforcement Agency

    Just to name a few. Say, Mike, please keep posting anonymously, and for the benefit of the readership here, let us know, have you heard of any of the above organizations?

     
  42. mike says:

    Please,

    Number 1. I wasn’t the one stating that I’ve seen civil rights violated while no one is doing anything about it, so the question was somewhat rhetorical. I’m well aware of those organization (SLACO excluded). You might want to try to get the point before you go all smartass.

    Number 2. I don’t see any need to tell people conversing on the internet who I am. And apparently neither does Steve, or about 99% of the rest of internet message boards. When I know exactly who I am speaking to, then I have no problem letting them know who I am.

     
  43. please... says:

    Mike-

    I take it all back. There are no organizations in St. Louis that help black people.

     
  44. mike says:

    What the hell are you talking about. The point is many people are upset about what is going on in that neighborhood, but no one is stopping it. Barbara states that she has personally helped people move who were illegally convicted. I’m taking her at her word, despite the fact that she is anonymous. Now one would think that would be right up the alley of some of the agencies you referred to (St. Louis Housing Authority maybe), but apparently these people are falling through the cracks. So, the point is, if all of these groups who are supposed to help, haven’t been able to, who do you turn to?

     
  45. keep it moving says:

    If this area was a national historic district would this stop a full scale demolition? Do you think we should work together to make this a Historic District so we may see any alterations and additions before ground breaking?

    http://stlcin.missouri.org/history/policies.cfm

    How is an historic district created?

    For a National Register District to be formed, a nomination form must be completed. The application must be submitted to and approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer and then by the National Park Service, acting on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior. For information on nominations, contact the staff of the Cultural Resources Office at (314) 622-3400.

    The process for local historic districts is somewhat different. A petition must be filed by the staff of the City of St. Louis Preservation Commission, the alderman of that ward, or by the owners of 10% or more of the land within the proposed district. After numerous public hearings, the Commission, the Community Development Commission, the Board of Public Service, and the Board of Aldermen must approve the petition.

     
  46. ^

    I would recommend an architectural survey of the area first to determine likely boundaries of any district.

    Clearly, many of these properties are parts of eligible districts but the loss of building stock probably means that several small districts are necessary rather than a few large ones.

     
  47. So, how do we get an architectural survey? What is the full procedure for nomination? There are many people who will help you in the metro area.

    We need a leader (preferably in the areas affected by it) that will lead this cause of preserving the urban fabric and ensuring responsible redevelopment.

    Time is ticking.

    We perservered and stopped irresponsible development at the South Grand McDonald’s site. This is our biggest test as a community. Can we come together and “help” Blairmont redevelop this site in a responsible way?

     
  48. LisaS says:

    Given, I don’t know my North St. Louis geography very well, but aren’t many of these buildings within the limits of existing historic districts?

    For example, the Clemens House–Columbia Brewery District– Roughly bounded by St. Louis Ave., N. Florissant Ave., Maiden Ln., and N. Twenty-first and N. Twentyieth Sts. or the Murphy-Blair District–Roughly bounded by I-70, Florissant Ave., Chambers and Branch Sts.

     
  49. bubba says:

    No, most are not part of historic districts.

     
  50. Barbara says:

    Mike and friends,
    This is should not be a black-vs-white issue, it is more a poor-vs-not issue. However, there is a strong African-American majority in neighborhoods north of Delmar, so if you start turfing people out up here, you are always affecting a protected minority. Add to that McKee’s track record of unfortunately biased language, and you start meeting all the criteria for a decent challenge based on Title VIII.

    Let me repeat, on my corner, boy oh boy do we want development. All of us — Harold, Kathy, Scott, Susan, Carmella, Milo, Janet, and for sure Carole! You are welcome to buy the lot across from my house and build anything you like on it that you can get past restoration group review. Frankly, what I want is neighbors. Show up with a backhoe, bring in a truckload of vinyl siding, and I promise to appear with a housewarming gift and a gang of slightly thuggish but very enthusiastic helpers.

    My mantra in this argument is that it is more important to love your neighbors than fight your enemies. I am dismayed to see neighbors hurt and driven out of the neighborhood. I personally doing everything in my power to reverse this situation — directing people to Legal Services, callilng EHOC and fair housing lawyers that do pro-bono work, talking to the city attorney and now actively looking for a low-income displaced renter willing to file a lawsuit. Not to mention writing and calling every elected official in state and local gov’t plus newspapers, etc. I am also throwing myself into these debates to try to refocus the conversations away from the “what if” to the “right now” and from a discussion of development politics to a discussion of basic human rights.

    I am about the least anonymous person out here. I’ve offered a free ice cream cone at Crown Candy to anyone who wants to meet up. You are also welcome to join me in boarding up Blairmont buildings, relaying old brick sidewalks, listening to a little cheerful hiphop with the local kids and other wholesome northside neighborhood pursuits. My name, address and phone number appear regularly in posts, including in this thread, but I don’t bother to retype every time because I’m the only northside Barbara posting.

    Barbara Manzara
    314-238-4032
    3202 N 19th St
    North of Delmar and Love it!

    See a pic at —
    http://www.builtstlouis.net/northside/old_north011.html

     
  51. Perplexed says:

    Barbara,
    We share some of the same ideas for your area. Though I don’t live in the area you speak of, I am a part of your city and want to see it thrive. So feel a little awkward about giving my opinion and dabbling with your area.
    What I do like is that you are trying to “refocus the conversations away from the “what if” to the ‘right now’ and from a discussion of development politics to a discussion of basic human rights.”

    Right now, McKee is letting your neighborhood fall apart. Right now, he is not taking care of his buildings. Right now, he is not engaging with the community you live in. Right now, only McKee, his co-investors, and ARCTURIS firm know what is going on. Right now, they should be conducting town meetings to address the crime, living standards, buildings, and even “human rights” in your area.

    The “what if’s” are endless. What if, they wipe out most of your history/your community? What if, he does come in with a truck load of vinyl siding? What if he doesn’t whant your help, your backhoes, or your housewarming gifts? What if, the prices are so high that the people can’t afford to buy into it? What if, continues to neglect your neighbors after his plan is complete? What if he does a great job and turns North St. Louis around?… that would be nice…

    I believe we can’t control the future – the “what if’s”. I believe we can control the present – the “right now’s”. Right now McEagle, the developers, ARCTURIS, the designers, and all the investors need to engage with the north St. Louis Community. They need to know what we (you, Barbara, and the rest of your neighbors) need. They need to know people don’t buy houses they buy into neighborhoods and right now we need to make sure they don’t wipe it out. Right now, I hope a coalition forms.

    http://www.mc-eagle.com/aboutus.html
    http://www.arcturis.com/about/about.htm
    http://www.katarxis3.com/Duany.htm – interesting article but long.

    I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. -George Bernard Shaw

     
  52. anon says:

    The proposed Mississippi River Bridge on the map above would really change the landscape. I have read and seen Mayor Slay push for that bridge. I can’t help but wonder if Blairmonts’ plan/success hinges on the building of the Mississippi River Bridge.

     
  53. Jim Zavist says:

    Historic districts – be careful what you ask for . . . typically, ANY exterior changes need to be reviewed and approved, and usually require using historically “correct” / “accurate” materials and methods of construction. There are two issues here, old does not equal historic, and if it truly “is more a poor-vs-not issue”, you have to factor in the economic constraints a district would bring. Historic districts are great if you want to “restore” every property to its original, pristine condition from a century ago, but it also usually means higher costs and more on-going maintenance since plastic (yes, vinyl siding and vinyl windows) is usually a no-no. This is not so great if you’re poor and just trying to weatherize a structure to reduce utility costs or to replace an exterior door that’s been kicked in. The unintended consequences, especially until an area starts to gentrify, is that a district will encourage more deterioration, not less, since many of the existing poorer residents simply won’t be able to implement the “Cadillac” standards! Historic districts also make it much more difficult to expand existing structures, unless you’re willing, again to use historically-accurate designs and materials. And if, you’re interested in encouraging more retail, the businesses, both new and old, end up saddled with more-restrictive sign regulations. I also put “make it a historic district” in the same class of knee-jerk response of “make it a park”. Yes, any older area has a history, but does it make the area “historic” and worthy of special designation and limits on private property rights? If so, then why not designate the entire city as a historic district? We’re approaching our 250th birthday. Little new has been built since the 1950’s, and anything over 50 years old can be considered to be “historic”! As both an architect and a property owner, I would object strongly to any sort of designation in my part of town (even though it’s probably both appropriate and deserved). Government’s role is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. Its role is not to dictate good taste. Telling me that I need to replace broken windows is appropriate. Telling me I can’t use vinyl windows, that I must use wood ones, is NOT an appropriate use of governmental powers. While I probably should use wood windows, and probably will get wood windows, I should have the option of picking what works best for my property. Yes, I know about tax credits. Bottom line, that’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Governments need taxes to function. Anytime someone gets a tax break, it just means someone else has to pay more to make up the difference. And as a designer, I object to limitations on the use of non-traditional design solutions. Every great architect (and I don’t claim to be one) was (and is) “pushing the envelope” of traditional design. If we want to be great city, we can’t (continue to) live the past. We tried that. It doesn’t seem to be working! Yes, we risk getting schlock and “turds” without “more architectural controls”, but we also risk not getting cutting-edge architectural design – see “Gateway Arch” for our biggest local example – perhaps a copy of the Champs d Elysee would’ve been both “better” and “safer”?!!!

     
  54. please... says:

    Michael,

    I think Jim just gave you your cue…

    As a prelude…Jim all the hoopla you describe only applies for demolitions or projects using federal funds or historic tax credits or in so-called local districts like Soulard and Lafayette Square.

    A National-Register only district has all the carrot without the stick.

     
  55. Yes, Jim Zavist’s points on restrictions only apply to local historic districts, the use of federal funds for projects in national historic districts and the use of state historic rehab tax credits for projects in historic districts. And, of course, any national historic district falls under local preservation review per our ordinance. There are many misconceptions about historic district status and what “restrictions” they bring.

    The biggest benefit to national historic district status is that owners who choose to do historic rehab projects can receive state tax credits if they submit their project to a reasonable review process. That’s a great incentive, and one I would love to see implemented in the affected area. After all, if there is going to be an acquisition credit for the big-timers, there should also be something for the owner-occupants.

    Otherwise, how will it be financially feasible for existing residents to remain in their historic homes — or to sell them to others who want to rehab them? Without historic district status in areas like St. Louis Place and JVL, a “Blairmont” is inevitable. Sadly, I doubt that a lot of the remaining historic buildings are elgible for such designation, but a lot more are. Careful study would help clear up the confusion, and enable listing that would allow smaller, community-building efforts to exist alongside larger big-picture redevelopment.

     
  56. Barbara says:

    Jim, you seem like a thoughtful person who stays engaged with a debate and is open to new ideas. I know this sounds weird, but historic preservation tax credits are a nice little moneymaker for both the developer AND the state. It is win-win. It is not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is Peter starting a business, making a profit, and paying Paul to help.

    This is from the AIA of KC
    “According to studies by Rutgers University, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Missouri Preservation, and accountants Rubin, Brown, Gornstein & Co., the State Historic Tax Credit is a revenue-generating program that returns to the state far more in direct benefits than is spent in credits. For every $1.00 granted in State Historic Tax Credits:
    $1.25 is returned directly to state coffers through taxes.
    $1.78 in state personal income taxes, sales taxes, corporate income taxes
    and other revenue is generated.
    $4.00 is invested in each project and the state’s economy from private
    sources before any credits are issued.

    I am a non-pro rehabber who is getting state historic credits in my national-but-not-local district. I’m in Old North, and my local neighborhood group is getting credits on rehabs which included vinyl siding. I’ve also seen it approved in local districts.

    But here’s a good explanation of the difference:
    http://www.bentonparkwest.org/ResidentsInfo/HistoricTaxCredits.aspx

    I went through state approval, an did not have to change my first off-the-top plans one single bit in order to qualify for the credits. One little known detail of the state approval process is that they take into account the state of the building pre-acquisition. One look at the vulnerable state of my building and SHPO said, “Go with God, just save the building!”

    Also, you make the local CRO review process sound really oppressive, and it is not. There is a lot of context going on there as well. Yes, if you come up with a plan your neighbors don’t like and try to get it through the Pres. board, or, god forbid, build it without a building permit, you will absolutely come a cropper. But if you talk nicely to one or two neighbors, get your Alder or neighborhood group to sign off, or if you are working on a vulnerable building in a fragile area, Pres board generally plays ball. Sometimes there is a loooong conversation about it, but waivers are issued all the time when the work to preserve/maintain the building or neighborhood is determined to be more important than a particular standard.

    Have you been to a Pres board meeting? Come on Feb 26 after work and join the fun. It is a real old-fashioned democratic process. Old Northers are likely to turn out in numbers for the next to object to a proposed demolition on Hadley, usually there are a couple of smaller developers with interesting projects, and a contingent of L. Square folks are guaranteed. It is a little Slo-Mo, but kind of fascinating. Anyone can testify. Just sign your name on a proposal by the door and have your say.

     
  57. keep it moving says:

    ^Perhaps we should work towards making north st. louis into a national register of historic places? Maybe it would make it harder to do full demolition of those buildings. Maybe then we could keep the older buildings for renovation. While adding new infill. I’m willing to help.

     
  58. Jim Zavist says:

    Barbara – my exposure to historic districts has been outside St. Louis, primarily in Denver. My views are colored by a bad experience with local review of a “non-contributing” structure in a historic district. I agree that tax credits are a great deal if you can make them work for you, if you’re a small-time rehabber and if you like/agree with the designated architectural style. My main point was that many poorer owners don’t have the extra resources it takes to spend the money it takes to qualify for tax credits (“it takes money to make money”). My other point, probably not all that well-articulated, is that most neighborhoods contain multiple architectural styles, so picking an arbitrary point in time and freezing design in that vocabulary may not be the best answer. A lot of Denver’s housing stock in the core area dates from the 1890’s and was primarily built in the Victorian style. In the 1950’s, it was just old and nobody wanted to buy it. In the the 1970’s, it found favor with the “hippie generation”, and in the 1990’s, a lot of people invested a lot of time and effort “restoring” these homes to their original glory and pushed to designate those neighborhoods as “historic”, something that would have never happened in the 1050’s, with or without tax credits. Ratchet this scenario forward by 20-25 years, and the preferred style shifts from Victorians to Craftsman-style bungalows (and bungalow neighborhoods are now getting designated around the country). Ratchet forward another 25 years and you find Mid-Century Modern / California Ranch style starting to gain traction, with a few designations in places like Palm Springs. Getting back to St. Louis, yes there are some areas like Lafayette Square that are cohesive enough to warrant a historic designation. But the real issue with designating neighborhoods (as opposed to individual, significant structures) is not a need to preserve every historic detail, but a need to preserve the “feel” and the “fabric” of the neighborhood. Take South St. Louis – all the brick houses from the 1930’s and 1940’s are essentially tract housing, reflecting the tastes of the time and the availability of both local brick and talented masons. Should thes areas be designated as “historic”, or should another mechanism be put in place to preserve the wonderful “feel” of these areas? These neighborhoods are successful because of many details, including consistent massing, setbacks, materials, and the proportions of both structures and individual elements (such as window openings). It’s less critical to “preserve” each “mini-Tudor” than it is to maintain the existing “rhythm” of the street. As an architect, I’d rather see a new structure that combines these elements in a contemporary way (“using the same vocabulary”) than to to see a new structure that tries to look “traditional”. That’s why I’m more willing to support a well-defined and well-thought-out design review process than I am to support a “historic-review” process that dings owners for choosing vinyl replacement windows since they’re not made of “historically-correct” materials. Wood was the best choice in 1890 – that doesn’t make it the best choice today (we have more, arguably better, options). It’s also why so much of our suburban housing stock looks so bad around here – a brick veneer front with poorly-detailed, plastic, “colonial” trim details can’t compensate for the other three sides of a plain, vinyl-sided box . . .

     
  59. A comprehensive design review process in St. Louis?

    Why, that might result in more than mediocrity. How dare you impose your radical views on our compalcent hospitality!

     
  60. Barbara says:

    Old North neighborhood is mostly already on the federal register of historic places. We have 3 National Register districts. We have no local ordinances. That means if you are working on a contributing resource, you can *opt in* to doing a historic preservation credit-worthy project, or you can do it your own way, resurface the front of the building with your button collection and some hot-glue and forgo the credits. If you are working on a not-contributing resource, you are on your own.

    Did you know we don’t even have occupancy permits up here? When I say on your own, I mean it! You of course are supposed to get building permits but there is no unavoidable inspection at time of occupancy.

    Doing a rehab the preservation-worthy way has cost me exactly $250 for the application fee on a 3-year project with a $250,000 budget. Cost of acquisition was negligible, so I’m looking at over 60K in credits back in another couple of years. Yes, historically appropriate replacement windows can cost more than vinyl, but I am rebuilding my original sashes to save money in any case. Yes, paying a consultant to file your app for you can cost money, but sealed drawings are not required, so you can pic up a disposable camera and some graph paper and do it yourself.

    Local districts have design review for rehabs and new work. Yes, sometimes the model time period is restrictive. Yes sometimes the review process is a big pain. BUT, first of all, Blairmont ain’t buying in any local districts, and second, even that one little fact PROVES that a local district is a protection of housing stock.

    Jim, I beg you, please drive on up here and see for yourself. You are way too smart to be talking without context! This is not Lafayette Square where folks are talking about paint colors. We are in a pitched battle up here to keep three neighborhoods standing for the health and welfare of their residents. Historic tax credits have made it possible in Old North. Even better would be proper funding for the Neighborhood Preservation Act. But, not sure why I am still talking, as it hardly matters, now that the State has greenlighted Paul McKee to obliterate us, and offered to pay him handsomely as well.

     

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