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City Owns Land For Proposed City Hospital Square Retail Project

February 28, 2007 Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, South City 34 Comments

Recently sprawl apologists have defended the proposed City Hospital Square (aka Georgian Square) as a property rights issue — the developers should have the right to build what they want on their land (see prior post). I, however, contend the community has the right to set the bar for what gets constructed where through tools such as Land Use & Zoning policies. These tools, like eminent domain, are valuable to municipalities to maintain the health, safetey and welfare of a community.

But what about when it is the community itself that owns the vacant land in question? Yes folks, with the exception of a few parcels, the City of St. Louis through the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) and the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) own the land in question for Phase 1 of the project. Some of the land on the southern edge is owned by the State of Missouri. A few small parcels are owned by individuals in St. Louis and out of state — none in the names of the principals of the developers.
So how is it that we already have an announced project on predominently publicly owned land? Given that agendas for these various boards are only posted in the lobby of 1015 Locust it is entirely possible I missed the announcements of the Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking developers for this land. I suppose it is also possible that I missed the meeting(s) in which the city selected Guilded Age and their associates. But maybe, just maybe, it is possible that a few key steps were omitted in order to give this a “done deal” appearance so that owners of the adjacent blocks would simply roll over and accept the city’s offer to buy their homes from them.

This is the city, through various boards and Ald. Phyllis Young, actively participating in the deliberate demolition and threat of eminent domain without public input. Public input should have been solicited early on as the city began acquiring property across from the long-vacant city hospital. Instead it appears we have an end-run around the public in order to plop down an auto-centric suburban model between two very dense neighborhoods.

Why not have an open RFP to see if a more urban-minded developer would come to the table to bring a decent mixed-use project to the site that works with the existing residential to the East? What about a design charette to get the community interested in the future of the site? Maybe a competition where local architecture & planning professionals (and students) might form teams to develop concepts for how to creatively use the site to enable Lafayette Ave to reconnect the Lafayette Square and Soulard neighborhoods?

I will be making a formal request to see if indeed a RFP was issued and Guilded Age selected as the designated developer for this site.


Currently there are "34 comments" on this Article:

  1. LisaS says:

    Property rights arguments aside–many of these developments are receiving public funding in one form or another–tax abatement, TIFs, tax credits. Citizens should expect a higher standard–design that reinforces, not detracts from, the character of our neighborhoods–when public money is involved.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — So true, when you combine publicly owned land with public subsity we should have no excuses for accepting low-density sprawl.  Open it up and see how many developers want to build on that site without taking the adjacent block of existing structures.]

  2. anon says:

    Think how similar this situation is to so many other city development initiatives. It always seems like alderman and developers are way ahead of the public on these processes. How can we change that?

    Steve, in an urelated, yet interesting twist, your spam avoidance codes seem to have some kind of esp.
    The one for this post was “participate”.

  3. awb says:

    I really think the City should have opened Ballpark Village up to other developers when the original developers changed their minds about including residential units.

  4. ^Different situation. The Cardinals already own the land, they are just wanting TIF. There never was, and never will be, and never should be an RFP for BV. And residential was not removed, it was just made more of an option so office or other uses could conceivably replace it. Why does no one understand that?

    As far as Bohemian Hill, I’m very interested to see what you can find.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I get what you are saying but lets stop and think about this for a second — but only a second because I don’t want this to become a BPV thread.  Yes, the Cardinals own the land but how did they get it in the 1960s?  This was St. Louis’ China town up until “renewal” and like many areas targeted by renewal it was likely a thriving mixed use neighborhood that included residential.  St. Louis could have used the eminent domain tool they like so much and reclaimed this land as part of the stadium deal.    OK, back to City Hospital Square.]

  5. anon says:

    For anyone who has ever worked in the western part of the country, they know first hand how devleopment plans are thoroughly reviewed by the public before they ever get off the ground. The process can go on for years
    It seems like this is more a midwestern or eastern cultural thing that so much back room dealing goes on.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Think about how long the city has likely spent obtaining these properties and razing buildings.  This must have been started a good 10 years or more — long before the new houses were built to the east.  This back room process is just as long or longer — it only appears shorter because they spring it on the public at the very last moment possible expecting the public input to be a say in which shade of red for the decorative brick.  Sorry, that will no longer cut it.  I fullly intend to block/change each and every such project I can until the powers that be learn times have changed and they must get with the new program of good community planning first so that individual projects that fit within the community plan can sail through approvals.]

  6. Rob says:

    My understanding is that LRA and LCRA properties exist to be made available to developers and are different from city-owned properties. City-owned properties require an RFP while LRA properties are purchased for a nominal sum after a redevelopment or rehabilitation plan is approved by the board. After approval or contracting, city-owned remain city-owned, LRA or LCRA become property of the developer.

  7. anon says:


    The difference is when there is a redevelopment plan involved providing public benefits such as TIF or tax abatement. That is when the LCRA must go through a public process to advertise and publicly select a developer.

  8. planning_student says:

    This is more evidence that the city needs to get its act together and write a new, appropriate zoning code and interact with the public more. While I’m not blind to the fact that most people will probably drive there, that doesn’t mean a large surface parking lot at the front of the property is appropriate or neccessary. Some kind of deck parking should be required. Living in Atlanta, I’m no stranger to auto centric development (everyone drives everywhere and parking is generally abundant and usually free), BUT, there have also been two brand new grocery stores developed near my house that have only underground and street parking. Additionally, in the more dense neighborhoods, almost all developments, commercial and residential, have some sort of deck parking and generally lack surface parking. It is possible to design a project that is pedestrian friendly, improves the urban fabric, AND supports automobiles. If the demand is there to support a development and make it profitable, better design can certainly be done, but local gov’t and the public must demand it. Since most of the land is public, there should be significant public involvement in the project (where’s the neighborhood meeting?) and rfp’s seem appropriate and should be partly evaluated based on a the developers commitment to a high level of urban design. I’m not terribly familiar with City of St. Louis government, but it seems like something has got to change…

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    Unfortunately, what the city really needs is a much higher demand for both jobs and real estate. When the city ends up being the owner of last resort of the many, many parcels it now controls (thru LRA & LCRA), it’s a really big clue that private developers are choosing to do business elsewhere. If these parcels had both value and potential, the private sector would be fighting each other for the chance to develop them (and not demanding city incentives). What we have here now is a developer “with a pulse” who’s willing to take a few percentage points off the public (non-tax-paying!) rolls and try and convert the assemblage into a tax-generating development. Will it work? Who knows? Would an RFP elicit more and better proposals? Possibly. The reality remains that there is limited demand for most of the parcels the city owns, and even less demand for parcels with anything other than basic zoning constraints attached to them (No, a pattern book and/or requiring higher densities won’t make these sites any more marketable!) In a perfect world, we could demand that our leaders exert more design control and to wait for “better” / “more acceptable” projects to come along. But we don’t live in a perfect world. How long can we wait? Take a step back – how long will East St. Louis have to wait? Another 20, 40, 60 years?! There are parts of St. Louis that aren’t much better off. We’ve already “waited” since the ’60’s (or longer) in many of these areas for things to “improve”. It simply ain’t happening to any great degree. And since our leaders’ mindset seems to be that a bad project trumps no project any day (and those damn residents be damned), we all see what we’re getting (stuck with). Yes, we’re “bottom feeding”. Bottom line, we simply don’t have clout as either a city or as individuals because we’re too willing to cave on design issues to get something built.

    And as I’ve said before, it is all about the money. The city runs on taxes. Residents are net tax consumers, businesses are net tax generators. As individual citizens, we don’t want to pay higher property taxes and we certainly don’t want to pay higher income taxes, and we let our aldermen know as much. Many city residents are either government employees or union members (or both), so the concept of efficiency in the delivery of city services gets equated to fewer city and/or union jobs and/or (lower) wages (that might actually reflect the reality of what people make in the private sector doing the same types of jobs) and we continue to have too many folks on the city payroll drawing artificially-inflated salaries. To keep this house of cards together, the city needs to feed that tax habit. They’re less and less able to stick it to commuting workers (businees are voting with their feet and moving their workers and their payroll taxes outside the city), so they’re left with fighting with the rest of the region for a slightly bigger slice of the finite sales tax pie. New retail developments typically generate more sales tax revenues than older ones – we can all name the usual suspects, both newer and older. It may not be what we want to hear, but it’s fact. Until that reality changes (and it won’t be happening overnight), we’re stuck beating our heads against the same old wall, doing the same stupid things over and over and over and over again . . . (yes, I am a bit cranky today).

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    And to repeat a previous post of mine: There are few places in the city, including this site, that qualify as “a tight land market”, and when we have allies like those in city government that delight in assembling parcels at bargain-basement prices through condemnation, there’s even less reason to think “urban” or “dense” or “structured parking”. We can build at suburban scales and still make money, so why go further and think “outside the box” – pun or no pun? Until land values reach a point where it makes financial sense to construct structured parking, surface parking will continue to be the de facto “solution” in 90-95% of the city!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I generally agree with your point except that land values just don’t magically go up on their own.  Land use & zoning policies as well as other practices affect land values.  If I were an urban minded developer I wouldn’t give St. Louis the time of day because I’d know that even if I did a really pro-urban project that the developer of the parcel next door might do typical suburban sprawl.  I’d take my money and time to cities like Denver & Portland where land values are higher because they’ve taken steps to ensure land values remain stable and warrant quality development.]

  11. maurice says:

    Well I’m not in the best of moods today either so I will keep it short. Alderman Young should have engaged her voters more and longer, in addition I agree with Steve that both the LRA and LCRA do not do a good job at engaging the public for discussion. It seems too often things are vetted afterwards. Perhaps some of the candidates in the various seats care to address how they see the process and are they willing to work together to get LRA and all other groups to open the discussion processes BEFORE hand, thereby negating the need for voters to get upset and feel left out, abused, cheated, etc.

    I do agree that the city owns too many parcels of land and this hopscotch gridwork makes larger development deals very difficult, but…BUT…I don’t have a problem with them redeveloping them as long as they include the long term view of the immediate neighborhood, and the city.

  12. GMichaud says:

    While the demand for real estate in the city may be low (except for numerous speculators), this is a prime site. If it was put out for an RFP, I am sure there would be a number of interested developers. In fact I may know a few qualified developers that could be interested, including one out of Chicago where urban solutions to city building are common. In fact they take pride in their architecture in a way St. Louis should learn from.
    The failure to consider anything but a suburban development at this site will be tragic. I hate to put it in those terms, but if an urban solution is not built here, where is it going to be built?
    Surrounded by two historic districts this site screams for an urban solution. Anything less will probably turn it into another Foodland in a few years.
    Nor do you need parking structures to make this site people friendly. There are many ways that cars and urban needs can coexist.
    This second rate proposal by Gilded Age should in fact be put into a competitive situation. Good old American competition, several competing solutions could be arrived at easily, revealing the mediocre flaws of the Gilded Age proposal.

    Mayor Daley of Chicago has been reelected again, this is in part because he has fostered quality design such as Millennium Park. He understands what a city needs to be successful. And compared to St. Louis, Chicago is successful.

    You would think that the political types in St. Louis would learn from our neighbor to the North. Quality design is important; it is a major reason that Chicago is so dominant over St. Louis in every area but baseball.

    I might add these LRA properties, the quality ones, seem to be held back by aldermen for their personal favorites. Sites such as along Lafayette are not listed as available to the general public. This is true of sites all over the city. I’m not sure how many pieces of LRA land and buildings are being held out, but it is substantial. Since this is city property, i.e. the property of the citizens, it seems this practice may be questionable. It certainly eliminates the small time developer or builder from anything but the less desirable sites. If all of this property was available for public purchase, the city could look much different than it does now.

    Which brings up the question of whether or not it is necessary to keep assembling these mega properties? Small scale can work; Soulard and Lafayette Square were small scale efforts that succeeded.

  13. James says:

    Can someone please tell me what Guilded Age is thinking? It’s not like they don’t know what urban design is. Look at Soda Fountain Square, their proposed Union Club and their new housing at Mississippi and Lafayette. While I don’t think all of those are great, they certainly aren’t suburban. Those guys live in Lafayette Square, they should know better. They should certainly want better. And I wouldn’t think it’s simply the almighty dollar, unless they completely lost their shirts on the Abbey and Eden Lofts.

  14. Stephen says:

    And don’t forget that Goodson is an LCRA commissioner. This is all a huge conspiracy.

  15. Stephen says:

    After checking my sources I think Guilded Age has the ground under contract — it was part of their original purchase of City Hospital.

  16. keep it short says:

    Jim Zavist,
    Please keep condense your reply’s. I value your opinion but sometimes when I see your posts I have to skip them because they are way too long. I am certain that you could state your opinions in a clear and *concise* manner.


  17. Jim Zavist says:

    I’ll try . . .

  18. Keep it Real says:

    Nonsense Jim. State your (valued!) opinions as only you can state them. Lazyminded individuals with short attention spans should deal with it.

  19. GMichaud says:

    I agree Jim, forget shorter opinions. I’m not sure if people watch too much TV or play too many video games or what the problem is. It takes a certain number of words to express ideas.
    I can just imagine if the Federalist Papers were written so “keep it short” could manage to get through them, or the writings of Thomas Paine truncated to fit a limited attention span, this country wouldn’t exist.
    I guess “keep it short” doesn’t bother with newspapers either, since many articles, and most editorials are as long and longer as anything you have written.
    Keep writing, I don’t always agree, but you add an important perspective.

  20. Rob says:

    No, those properties are as of the February 2007 Assessor’s update, owned by the LCRA. There is no reason there to be an RFP here. Go demand an answer as to why there was no RFP and you’ll get “because there doesn’t need to be.” Any contract Guilded Age is under is related to project approval from the LCRA to be eligible to buy the land, which is more to make sure you have money than anything design related.

  21. robbed says:


    Is Gilded Age getting TIF or tax abatement? If so, city ordinances require a competitive, advertised bidding process to select the developer.

  22. Rob says:


    Well then how come Ballpark Village didn’t require an RFP, as mentioned by Matt F and Steve above? I thought the issue here was ownership of the land. Like I said at first, this is just my understanding. I’m trying to figure out stuff for myself. Someone out there ought to be able to set the record straight on this one.

  23. Jim Zavist says:

    Actually, I agree that brevity is a virtue, and I do, at times get wordy. While I’ll try to be brief, I’m also not shy about trying to provide detailed opinions about complex issues . . . and like talk radio and cable TV, no one is held hostage to anyone’s opinions here – that little wheel on the mouse is a great tool for skipping over items that have little or no interest . . .

  24. robbed says:

    Because the developer of Ballpark Village was developing privately owned property. Selling public land into a publicy subsidized development requires advertising for developers.

  25. Rob says:

    But it is LCRA land, not exactly public land – there is a difference and that is my point.

  26. robbed says:

    How is LCRA land not public land? LCRA is a state not-for profit, under the umbrella of SLDC, with commissioners appointed by the elected officials. The organization is wholly controlled by the city of St. Louis. There is little doubt that the funds used to purchase the properties were approved via a budget line item of the board of aldermen, and most likely with public dollars. So how this not a public entity spending or awarding public resources? Further, even with approval by LCRA, all TIF and tax abatement projects require approval of the Board of Aldermen through adoption of a redevelopment plan and ordinance. LCRA is a step in a public approval process.

  27. A. Hamilton says:

    I agree that something should be done to prevent this really unique site from turning into a souless suburban strip mall. However that land has been sitting there for years, and by years I mean decades. Nobody moved on this land (including unnamed chicago developers), even in the last seven(!) years since the demo of the Darste-Webbe projects, the implementation of a HOPE VI project, the development of the OCH into really high end residential use, and the proximity to retail starved and wealthy Lafayette Square & Soularde. Now that a developer has finally stepped up to the plate it is not fair to say there should have been an RFP. We have all had the same opportunity, lets see what this guy(girl?) comes up with.

    Steve you really have got to get Zavist to keep those posts shorter they can kill a thread and he is really depressing.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, that land has been sitting there as the city slowly razed properties along Lafayette.  In the meantime, work has been happening in the block proposed for demolition under phase II.  So, it really doesn’t matter does it — the developer still wants eminent domain to take away properties from private owners and raze valid structures.  

    But let’s assume for a moment they drop Phase II and leave that block alone and intact.  How do we know other developers have not approached Ald. Young expressing an interest in that land?  Based on an earlier comment it sounds like Gilded Age may have had this area in limbo this whole time, preventing someone else from stepping up the plate.  I can’t believe nobody else has failed to express an interest.]

  28. GMichaud says:

    I think the idea that this land has been assembled for some time by the city is what is interesting. Assembling the land presupposes some sort of plan; an idea of what is to be done with the land has never been publicized. An developer who is not on the inside has to assume this land is owned by many individuals.
    This area was full of buildings in the early eighties; it has been under attack since that time. To suggest that everyone has the same opportunity is true folly. Many desirable city owned properties are unavailable to the general public; the properties in question have not been on an available list for instance.
    It would be fine for Gilded Age to proceed, however the debate that is missing once again is what is the future of the city? What kind of city should St. Louis be? If a balanced transit system were a goal it would suggest a certain style of urban planning. If building on and enhancing Lafayette Square and Soulard areas is the goal then that would encourage another type of urban planning. (Compare how dreary the Foodland site makes the entrance to Lafayette Square from the West, another dreary entrance from the East would be harmful and perhaps slow future progress) The point is there is no planning or goals other than allowing the city to fall into anarchy of development which serves neither citizens nor the developer well.
    The true irony here is that a well developed piece of property across from Gilded Age’s Georgian Complex would do a great deal to make that project highly successful. It is clear that from their proposal they don’t have a clear understanding of urban dynamics and issues.
    There is no question a failure by Gilded Age at this site will degrade and drag down the surrounding community, much in the way Foodland has.

    If they can’t do the job, then competition for the property is in the cities best interest. That way a through vetting of the issues surrounding this site can occur and the best solution arrived at. What is proposed is nothing more than a St. Charles style Disneyland. Those types of developments should stay in St. Charles.

  29. a. hamilton says:

    “I can’t believe nobody else has failed to express an interest”

    1. Poorly structured sentence. 2. Did you? Did I? Did G’s unnamed Chicago developers? Judging from your past comments about the developers in this town it doesn’t seem like you would put it past any of them to miss something staring them in the face. (Neanderthals, wasn’t it?)

    Lets see a site plan and then rip them a new one instead of just yelling down the well. Hopefully some of the light that you’ve helped shine on this will make sure they really think it through and reconsider certain aspects, particularly ED and demo-ing the really spectacular buildings along Tucker. Unless they really are Neanderthals (there is a Geico commercial here somewhere), by now they understand they have a fight on their hands and are going to do what they can to avoid it. If they drop the ball I will be the first signature on the petition/recall/whatever.

    [UrbanReviewSTL —- Agreed the sentence is poorly structured, but you got the idea.   Here is the thing, Ald. Young already dropped the ball by negotiating with these developers and giving a back room approval to razing the remainder of Bohemian Hill.  By the time the public gets word of these things it is hard to change or stall a project.  It may well be too late already unless we have  really strong show of force.

    Finally, developers in this town are not that bright when it comes to urban design but they are all on top of trying to get prime parcels of land.]

  30. Jim Zavist says:

    Depressing? Maybe. Realistic is more like it. It’s not my fault that St. Louis has lost more than a third of its population (and jobs) over the last fifty years. (I actually chose to move here a couple of years ago, so, if anything, I’m more a part of the solution than part of the problem.) Should we aim high? Push for quality redevelopment? YES! Should eminent domain be used here to displace the existing residents? To demolish some fine-quality residences? NO! Absolutely not! But, as a city, we need to figure out what the disincentives are that are driving development outside of the city and work to change them. (I see them as including the public school system, the city income tax, a city payroll that can probably be reduced, perceived or real racisim, perceived and real fears about crime and, apparently, the “back-room” way development “happens”.) Like the proverb says – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Until we see a stronger local economy, we have little leverage to improve our urban/built environment.

  31. Rob says:

    OK “Robbed” (I appreciate how clever this is more each time I type it), just make sure to let me know why there was no RFP issued for the sale of LCRA or LRA land in this case. It will have less to do with anything “backroom” than the fact that the LCRA and LRA exist to streamline the redevelopment of the most run-down parcels of land. Everyone else go back to saying obvious things about how things SHOULD be.

  32. Jim Zavist says:

    Density is our friend. This project is not dense. A great colmun on this issue can be found at http://www.governing.com/articles/3assess.htm. Parts of Chicago, like around Wrigleyville, “work” because they’re dense. The Washington Strret loft area is “working” here because of its growing density. Ball Park Village has a good chance of “working” because it’s dense. This will only work (for a while?) because it’ll be a) new, b) have some highway visbility, and c) fill an unmet need for retail services in the local area. It all gets back to supply and demand. When land is both relatively cheap and available, and housing isn’t very dense, you’re gonna just get more of this type of “infill” development. The risks are low, they’re subsidized by the city, and the payback is relatively quick – in other words, just take the money and run!

  33. Jim Zavist says:

    A related observation on this and other projects starting to happen (or not) around here – there’s an unholy alliance between emminent domain, tax increment financing (TIF) and the perceived need to maintain and grow local sales taxes that drives local governments to try and rewrite economic reality. While the traditional commercial strips (S. Kingshighway in the ’50’s & ’60’s, Manchester Rd. in the ’70’s, ’80’s & ’90’s, Kighway K these days) suck, they are at least primarily the result of private investment – private developers paid farmers what they agreed was a fair price for their farmland. Yes, the local goverment approved the projects and built/widened the highways, but they weren’t active “players”, just willing beneficiaries. What’s really scary/troubling with certain types of projects now (this one, the failed one in Sunset Hills, the one under construction in Rock Hill) is that governments think/hope they “know better” than the private sector and/or can influence outcomes through massive “investments”. Combine that with residences being tax consumers and businesses being tax generators, and the dynamics become one of no person’s home being safe from government seizure. In theory, the best outcome for any government would be to be like Sauget – very few residents, very many businesses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauget,_Illinois). Developers aren’t stupid. They risk their own (borrowed) money and will only build if the “numbers pencil out”. Cities are much more prone to “throwing money at the problem” and “hoping for the best”. Combine that with the underlying panic that there just ain’t that many project proposals coming through the door around here, it should be no surprise the residential units, even in large numbers, are “expendible”/”blighted”. And the developers and the big retail chains are willing to “play along”. They get pre-assembled parcels at significantly-reduced prices. Their infrastructure costs are subsidized with tax dollars. They can recover their (limited) investment in a relatively short time, while the center’s the “new kid on the block” and doing its best business. In many cases, it’s all “smoke and mirrors” – the promised future sales tax revenues are never fully realized and the cycle continues. In the meantime, we residents get some new stores for a few years but no real gains, combined with throw-away “architecture”. The likely outcome here – fewer residents (to support the retail!) and the existing nearby retail taking a big hit and becoming more vacant and blighted! Bottom line – no net gain, after a lot of angst and pain!

  34. Rob says:

    I think that the ideal situation for a municipality is lots of wealthy residents and few businesses– this is when service costs are lowest. However, since this is the ideal and everyone “votes with their feet,” municipalities compete for these residents. To get them, you need good services. If you don’t have the wealthy residents paying their taxes, the easiest way to get some revenue for the goal is to get some big destination retail. With over 100 municipalities in the immediate region, there is of course some intense competition, which is why municipalities offer TIF and other benefits to lure these developments– and so as long as one is, they all will, and St. Louis is part of this game, too (although I would argue they have other things going for them as the central city and CBD that they shouldn’t have to). It isn’t the fear that the developments aren’t coming around, its that they might go to Richmond Heights or Jennings or whatever instead and holy shit we better give them $10 million so they come here. We’re locked in vicious cycle

    Sauget is an extreme example, but I think that once some cities realize they have no chance in the game, they turn to “adult” entertainment and 24 hour bars to get the revenue they need.


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