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Ville Phillips Estates Latest Victim of Decades Old Feud in City’s 4th Ward

February 4, 2007 History/Preservation, North City, Politics/Policy 18 Comments

For decades the history-rich Ville neighborhood has struggled to retain residents, fight off crime and rebuild decaying properties. The same can be said for most St. Louis neighborhoods and the city as a whole. What seems to be different, are the very deep political factions at worth within the 4th ward.

Current Alderman and former State Rep, O.L. Shelton recently appeared on camera as the focus of an Elliot Davis “You Paid For It Segment.” Now I know many of you out there are probably rolling your eyes but I don’t know that anyone who saw this segment had any sympathy for Ald. Shelton. At issue is an unfinished housing development known as Ville Phillips Estates. Click here to watch the segment. The video was brought to my attention by two sources, one was the blog known as Brick City and earlier the same day via email from a frustrated resident of Ville Phillips Estates.

So basically O.L. Shelton is washing his hands of a project started by his predecesso and political rival, Peggy Ryan. Ryan, you may recollect, was recalled by 4th ward voters in 2005. But the real story goes back much further, roughly 1973 when Daisy McFowland was appointed alderman by the committeepersons after then alderman Joe Clark became the city’s director of public safety. I’ll attempt to explain the three decade trail of aldermen in the 4th ward later in this piece, but first let’s get back to the Ville Phillips Estates.

At the ground breaking on June 26, 2003 everything was all smiles. Below is from the city’s press announcement:

The caption reads:

June 26, 2003 — Mayor Slay participates in the ground breaking ceremony by Mary “One”/Taylor-Morley for Ville Phillips Estates, a new housing community in the Ville neighborhood. Ville Phillips Estates is Taylor-Morley’s first City housing project. (Photo by Charles Morris Jr.)

The project team included suburban home building Taylor-Morley and well-known REALTOR® and developer Mary “One” Johnson. I’m not sure why Elliot Davis didn’t question either the Taylor-Morley firm, Ms. Johnson, the city’s Community Development Agency or the mayor’s office as to why the project has not been finished. All received good press early on and apparently none of the bad press now that things have gone wrong.

The St. Louis Business Journal joined in the praise on June 26, 2003:

City officials and developers kicked off construction of a new housing development in The Ville neighborhood Thursday that will provide 50 homes in the city’s Fourth Ward.

Ville Phillips Estates is a joint housing development of Mary “One” Johnson and Taylor-Morley Urban Development LLC. It is Taylor-Morley’s first development in the city.

The next month, on July 24, 2003 the Business Journal ran a puff piece on Mary One Johnson, referencing the project which is now listed as 100 homes rather than 50 homes the month before:

In 1999, Johnson was recognized as the first minority woman to own her own development company in the St. Louis area, according to the St. Louis Minority Business Council. That company, Mary 1 Enterprises Real Estate Development, is building more than 200 homes in St. Louis city, including St. Louis Place Estates, the Gate District, and the Ville Phillips Estate, a 100-home development.

The Business Journal ran another story on Mary “One” Johnson as part of a series the ‘Most Influential Business Women in 2005.’

Some of the largest projects pending in St. Louis include the construction of 100 homes in St. Louis Place Estates at 2716 N. 21st St., 200 homes in Ville Phillips Estates at 1926 Whittier, and 60 homes in the Gate District, which is bound by Jefferson, Chouteau and Grand avenues and Interstate 44. Johnson said the support from city officials has been tremendous. “It takes a village to rebuild the city.”

Several of the developments Johnson took on were at odds with people’s belief that they could be done, one example being the Ville Phillips Estates. Initially, real estate in the area was appraised at $5,000, but is now $160,000, she said.

Now the year that Peggy Ryan is recalled the project, in the Business Journal at least, has grown from 50 homes to 100 homes and now to 200 homes. Keep in mind that only the first 10 were ever completed at a reported cost of $2.4 million to tax payers.

The City Development website for the project, not updated since July 2005, still reads:

A major initiative is underway in the historic Ville neighborhood for a new housing development called Phillips Estates. Taylor Morely Simon is teaming with Mary One Johnson to construct at least 10 new for sale homes annually. The long term vision is that up to 200 homes will be built.

The city’s CDA (Community Development Agency) 2004 Consolidated Performance and Evaluation Report talks about the project getting started. One could possibly suggest the project was a failure and that it shouldn’t be finished, better to cut & run? However, the 2005 Consolidated Performance Report goes further, proclaiming the project a “resounding success”:

Investment in site assembly for large-scale residential redevelopment continues to be an important use of CDBG dollars. Acquisition and site preparation continue in the Near North Side, the Ville, the Garden District, the old Gaslight Square, and along Delmar on the north edge of the Central West End. The resounding success of CitiRama, Botanical Heights, Ville Phillips Estates, North Market Place and Mullanphy Square attest to the importance of this program, as does the commitment of the St. Louis Homebuilders to a second CitiRama.

However, the CDA’s ActionPlan2006 does recognize the project was unfinished, indicating an intent to “focus on the next phases”:

CDA will continue construction of several large subdivisions in minority communities. In particular, attention will focus on the next phases for Ville Phillips Estates. This new single-family development, aimed at low and moderate income households, is the first newly constructed for-sale housing in the Ville neighborhood in many decades. The Ville is the historic heart of the African-American community in St. Louis, containing many of its premiere institutions and landmarks.

Keep in mind the above “ActionPlan” was prepared after Ald. O.L. Shelton won the special election. In what looks like an example of cut & paste, the CDA’s current ActionPlan2007 sounds much like the year before:

CDA will continue construction of several large subdivisions in minority communities. In 2007 CDA will launch a new Major North Side Initiative designed to provide financial support to affordable and mixed-income homeownership projects of scale on the City’s North Side. CDA will also work with the neighborhood housing corporation and elected officials in the Ville neighborhood to continue the new construction of owner-occupied units there that began with the first phases of Ville Phillips Estates. This new single-family development, aimed at low and moderate income households, is the first newly constructed for-sale housing in the Ville neighborhood in many decades. The Ville is the historic heart of the African-American community in St. Louis, containing many of its premiere institutions and landmarks.

What a mess huh? It is a shame this project has gotten caught up in a political fight, but like I said earlier this is nothing new for the city’s 4th ward. Here is a little history lesson for you. Pay close attention because this one has lots of twists and turns and many repeat players.

So Daisy McFowland was appointed in 1973 to finish out the term of Joe Clark who left to take a city position. McFowland was re-elected in 1975 but defeated in 1979 by Clifford Wilson, Jr. In 1983 she ran again for Alderman and won (and again in 1987).

However, in October 1990 Ald. McFowland passed away. Following her death were eight candidates to take her place, including ally and committeewoman Bertha Mitchell as well as her son, Ed McFowland. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2/24/1991:

All the candidates promise to mend the ward politically. But it’s likely to take more than a needle and thread. Bad blood between Daisy McFowland and Shelton, which dates back to about 1980 when Shelton became committeeman, led to Shelton forming a splinter group. Since McFowland’s death, committeewoman Mitchell and committeeman Shelton have been unable to come together. When Mitchell, who was aligned with McFowland, told Shelton she would run for the seat, he did not react favorably. Shelton is supporting Pointer, a 25-year-old student at Harris-Stowe State College who also works in his father’s appliance store on North Grand Boulevard. Pointer has worked as Shelton’s administrative assistant. Pointer said that if he is elected, the ward’s alderman and its state representative would be working in tandem for the first time in a long while. He said the split had hurt residents. ”In dealing with getting things done in the ward, it came down to whether you were a McFowland person or a Shelton person,” Pointer said. ”Most times the ward in general lost out, because a lot of people didn’t want to get in the middle of it,”he said.

For the record, most people in the ward still don’t want to get in the middle and they are still losing out. Back to the article, former one-term alderman Clifford Wilson was among the eight candidates seeking the office:

Wilson, 60, unseated Daisy McFowland in 1979 and served as an alderman four years until 1983, when the tide turned and McFowland beat him. He said he wants to finish several development projects he started and was urged by leaders of several community-based groups to get in the race.

So in 1991 Wilson wants to finish projects he started somewhere between 1979 and 1983? That is a long time for project to go unfinished. As I mention above, McFowland’s son was also among the 1991 candidates. First time running for office, oh no:

Ed McFowland, 34, mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Shelton for his House seat in 1988. He recently quit his $21,000-a-year job as an assistant manager at the St. Louis Housing Authority to run for his mother’s seat.

Yes, the McFowland-Shelton feud is a family affair with Ed having tried before to unseat Shelton, and now seeking to become alderman. And while Wilson wants to finish projects from the early 80s, apparently projects started by McFowland herself were up in the air following her death:

Jack Saunders Sr., a consultant for the non-profit Greater Ville Historic Redevelopment Corp., said a redevelopment plan for the Ville hangs in the balance in the 4th Ward race. The plan includes construction of single-family homes, creation of a light-industrial corridor and a movie theater for the old Homer Phillips Hospital complex. Saunders said city officials already have vacillated on their commitment to the project since Daisy McFowland’s death. He said to get it back on line, the ward’s alderman would have to support efforts to get incentive money for homebuyers and money to rehab the buildings. Most of the candidates said they supported the plan or some variation of it.

Bertha Mitchell, the committeewoman at odds with committeeman O.L. Shelton, won the election in 1991, and re-election in 1995. In becoming Alderman she would have had to resign as committeewoman. In 1996 she passed away while serving as Alderman.

Upon her death O.L. Shelton brought back 1991 candidate Sam Pointer, who was now nominated as the democratic candidate in the special election. Bertha Mitchell’s son, Mike, ran as an independent to fill the vacancy due to his mom’s passing. Mitchell won.

I need to explain something here which I just learned. When a special election is called the winner doesn’t necessarily finish out the balance of the 4-year term. The special election is only until the next municipal primary. So, if a term has say 3 years remaining you’ll have a special election which will be good for a year as municipal elections come around every two years. However, when you are after a mid-term municipal election the winner will finish out the term. Make sense?

So in 1997, the next regular municipal election only a year later, Mike Mitchell won again but this time as a Democrat. In 1999, the normal year for even wards to hold elections, Mitchell was re-elected. All the while, O.L. Shelton was serving as the state representative and ward committeeman. But even that was about to change.

State level elected officials and even those holding “county” seats such as License Collector and Recorder of Deeds can be committeeman or committeewoman. However, those in city offices such as Alderman, President of the Board of Aldermen or Mayor, cannot. Despite this fact, 4th ward Alderman Mike Mitchell runs for committeeman against O.L. Shelton in August 2000. Sources tell me that then President of the Board of Aldermen Francis Slay and others warned Mitchell that if he won he would be forfeitting his aldermanic seat as a result. Well, he won the election to become 4th ward committeeman and the Board of Aldermen immediately notifed the Board of Elections the 4th Ward Aldermanic seat was now vacant and to call a special election. Interestingly, as the newly elected committeeman Mitchell gets himself nominated as the democratic nominee to replace himself, winning back the seat in November 2000.

Remember that Mitchell was elected in 1999 for a 4-year term. However, because a special election was held to fill the vacancy he created winning the race to be committeeman, another election was held during the next municipal primary in 2001. In March 2001 he lost to Peggy Ryan, just a few short months after winning back the seat in November 2000. Again, had he not ran and won as committeeman, he would have been in office at least through April 2003 (unless he was recalled).

Ryan was re-elected in the regular even-ward election in 2003 but in 2005 she was recalled. In the recall election O.L. Shelton, now presumably termed out of the Missouri house, ran for the office himself. Ryan also ran again but she came in third, behind Sam Moore with Shelton winning the seat. Despite the city’s ActionPlans, work on the Ville Phillips Estates seems to have stopped after Shelton finally took charge of the aldermanic seat he had tried for decades to control.

Now it is 2007 and time for the even numbered wards to select their alderman. This year we have incumbent O.L. “Get a Lawyer” Shelton and his runner up from the 2005 special election, Sam Moore.

While the Ville Phillips Estates remains unfinished, other housing developments are slated to begin soon. Additionally, separate local groups are working on an open-air produce market and business incubator for the Ville. As has been the case for a good thirty years, it seems future development projects may hang in the balance of the March 6th election. This is what happens, or doesn’t happen, when you allow aldermen to operate their own little fiefdom.


Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. That’s quite the interesting history you compiled for us there Steve. And people wonder why nothing ever gets accomplished in this city.

  2. built says:

    Thanks Steve for showing how important the role of alderman is in development in wards. This is what happens in a weak mayor city.

  3. john says:

    Oops, another photo-op goes wrong? Sad but truly indicative of what is to be expected when government, especially one that is corrupt and incompetent as ours, has too much authority and power. The solution is one set of rules, a level playing field, a coherent and clear set of zoning objectives, and other measures designed to enhance organic growth. When government is given too much control, inevitably there is disappointment and destruction. Steve, how does one get $2.5 million to do this? How is this accomplished?

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Unfortunately, it’s also an example of what happens when a city tries to create a market for real estate where none exists – a lot of money gets spent, some new homes get built, but the inherent value simply isn’t created or sustained, especially without sustained public investment. Sure, 20 families were able to purchase new homes at favoarble prices, but will they appreciate in value? Or will the barren neighborhood that now surrounds this enclave result in a real inability to sell at a profit in the future? Bold moves only make sense when they’re matched with a sustained effort toward a coherent vision. This appears to be a classic case of wasting limited tax resources simply out of political spite – a combination of “pork barrel” and a real lack of follow-through!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — A market can’t exist where nothing is being offered.  Sales of homes in North St. Louis have actually been good.  The issue, as you indicate, is the lack of a vision.  These projects are done without a master plan for the area along with good zoning to match.  It truly is a formula for failure.]

  5. let’s talk says:

    This unfinished project in the Ville gives us the opportunity to seriously analyze how things work – or don’t work – in St. Louis. One questions how $2.5 million can go to a project (in an area that is generally not on most people’s radar screen). Others inaccurately yell how the northside gets no resources. While others still might respond that this Ville debacle is “Exhibit A” as to why the northside shouldn’t get any funding.

    Not understanding how St. Louis works, too many point to the easy target of the Mayor’s office as the primary cause for all the bad planning and development decisions. Remember that many so-called progressives were opposed to charter reforms which would have establish a strong Mayor form of government.

    For a little background, the Ville is a small neighborhood in the heart of North City, which takes us most of the 4th ward. There are at least 5 different housing development initiatives in the planning stages in the ward. The alderman has established these housing projects and hand-picked the developers. Most of the “opportunity” is being driven by the availability of vacant land, LRA properties, abandoned buildings, or sites slated for demolition.

    The vision is established by the alderman. Developers and neighborhood groups all follow the alderman’s lead. The alderman controls land resources, ordinance making power, and funding to support local initiatives. He also has major say in demolition and the placement of capital improvements.

    Being a lay person on such issues, I would love to hear the thoughts of planning and architecture professionals when it comes to working in the current Ville.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — We do need charter reform but the lack of a strong mayor system is no excuse for how the process works today.  The aldermen, however, love this f*cked up system they have control over.  As you indicate above, the alderman sets the tone and people can only follow or get pushed to the sidelines.  It is no wonder we’ve lost so much of our population and our city looks the way it does — what other outcome could we possible expect?  The aldermen can change this is they like, but alas they have no desire to change that which has served their personal needs so well.  To hell with the best interests of the city.  Comprehensive planning and zoning are the tools to establish the vision — not the whims of 28 individual aldermen.]

  6. New Markets says:

    Going on fifteen years ago there was “no market” along Washington Avenue. That has totally changed, thanks in large part to government intervention.

    The city helped establish a market by creating a historic district, supporting state efforts for the establishment of a state historic tax credit, getting buildings out of the hands of obstructionist owners, establishing powerful redeveloment plans and installing major new infrastructure.

    The strategy was planned in advance, sustained, and successful. Seeings how the next wave of revitalization needs to spread to neighborhoods, how can we replicate the successful downtown model in distressed neighborhoods?

    Banks and major corporations like a strong downtown. Who will be leader for neighborhood renewal? The mayor was pushing one of the buttons with a strategy for the public schools. A strong mayor could do a lot for neighborhood renewal too.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Washington Ave is a good example, the vision and plans for that area have continued through different mayors and changes of aldermen.  The process was about vision, not politics (although you can never fully remove politics).  We need to look at our commercial cooridors such as Dr. King Drive and work on a good long-term master plan for the street as well as the adjacent residential blocks.  Without good planning you will end up with our piecemeal approach which as we can see by our population, schools and financial picture hasn’t served us well.]

  7. Margie says:

    It’s a side note, but not unrelated: in the middle of this debacle, as Mary One was getting the ongoing love-up from the Business Journal (aka best friend of Steve Stogel), I attended the ill-fated Preservation Board hearing in which the Century Building’s historic value was addressed.

    Mary One showed up AFTER all of the testimony, but didn’t let that stop her from voting just as the mayor instructed.

    And anyone who thinks this isn’t all connected isn’t paying attention.

  8. Dot says:

    How do you make the connection between the fierce independence of the current 4th ward alderman and Mary One’s vote at the Preservation Board? Mary One is a laissez faire entrepreneur, favoring business over bureacracy, and a real estate sales dynamo.

    With her proven ability to build and sell homes in diverse neighborhood settings, Mary One was a favored developer selection of numerous alderman, including the previous alderman for the 4th ward alderman for the 4th ward. However, even with city-wide and local ward support in other wards, she’s on the outs with the current alderman of the 4th ward, so she’s out of business there.

    To the chagrin of preservationists, the current alderman in the 4th points to derelict historic houses needing demolition. Ward residents would probably not disagree. Residents of Ville Phillips estates look across the street from their new homes and see abandonment, so they probably would favor demolitions as well.

    Historic preservation vs. demolition? Neighborhood planning versus aldermanic control? Infrastructure improvements? A lack of basic services? Heck, the challenges facing 4th ward neighbors make downtown development look easy.

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    A market takes nurturing. One project with no follow-up and with no parallel efforts won’t succeed on its own. To use a well-worn cliche, it takes a village. Washington Avenue is a success because many things collided successfully, including tax credits, tax incentives, changing tastes in housing (lofts became cool) and they’re still relatively affordable (compared to many other parts of the country). My concerns with spot reinvestment in the city are similar to my concerns about New Town St. Charles – is one “good” project enough to effect a “sea change” in both perception and the market, or will they just become islands of good intentions in otherwise mediocre real state markets?

  10. love it says:

    This is good discussion.

    As desolate as some of these neighborhood appear to outsiders, they are home to our neighbors.

    Jim Z is a professional, a market responsive architect, and a developer advocate.

    He sees raw challenges and huge obstacles in places like the 4th ward, and his islands of hope paradigm rings resonant with the rationale behind the despised Team Four plan for the northside.

    Remember, the Team Four plan was created by some of St. Louis’ leading development professionals.

    Who’s got love for the northside? Billions for neighborhoods in Iraq, but no help for our neighbors in North City?

  11. built says:

    Toby Weiss (BELT Fame) just did a post about one of the mixed use buildings facing Fountain Park. Fountain Park is one of the coolest settings in the city, and the building Toby features is one of the best, abandoned, slated-for-demolition, buildings in the city.

    Not sure the ward (maybe 19?, whatever), but regardless-left to the devices of current one-ward:1/28 resource split, the future of this building is grim.

    A strong mayor, with the ability to direct development priorities, could target the preservation of the environment around Fountain Park.

    Without one, the “built environment” around us is melting.

  12. I was part of a class that cranked out a major volume of work in the form of an Economic Development package for the Martin Luther King corridor a year ago. Our client was the Historic Ville Alliance. We presented our package to the guy from Smurfit Stone who are doing a new construction business incubator in the area. In opposition with let’s talk’s comment though, this neighborhood group was operating without assistance or recognition of O.L. Shelton. In fact, as we had our own charrette with the residents, O.L. had immediately followed suit by planning his own. His received some press (not the least of which was here on UR) but did not need to reinvent the wheel. Why was he working a parallel line to this established community group?

    When I last spoke with the Saunders’ they were getting the document we made copyrighted because there were apparently others who wanted to control it.

  13. LisaS says:

    Fountain Park is in Terry Kennedy’s ward #18, and if I understand what one of the guys at SLDC told me, Roberts has the redevelopment priority on that whole area. I just posted about that building on my blog too–I’ve had my eyes on that area for a long time.

    While the current system obviously doesn’t work, I don’t know if a strong mayor, with control of everything (including the schools) is the ultimate solution. What I see happening is an even more arbitrary pattern of development, and considering that only one of the four mayors who have held office in my 14–almost 15–years here lived in North St. Louis, I don’t see that benefitting the part of the City that has the most undeveloped potential. But that’s beside the point, because the BoA isn’t going to vote to increase the power of the mayor. They aren’t going to vote to decrease the number of wards even though 10 aldermanic salaries = ~$300k per year, which would be a nice of money for any number of issues the City faces.

    The reality on the ground is the one we have to deal with. Somehow we have to convince our “leaders” that working together for a few years at a time will benefit everyone–maybe developing areas that overlap ward boundaries is the way to start. Incidentally, the 18th and the 4th are adjacent wards, and Fountain Park and Ville Phillips Estates only 2 miles apart. That’s next door in suburban scale.

  14. let’s talk says:

    The Mayor of Affton makes an interesting point. His group was working with the Historic Ville Alliance, but the Historic Ville Alliance was not the group supported by the alderman.

    Over the years, there has been the Greater Ville Historic Development Corporation, the Historic Ville Alliance, and today the Ville Area Neighborhood Housing Association, working in the Ville as, nonprofit, community development corporations.

    These groups depend on aldermanic support in order to be effective. However, to be true community development corporations, they must also engage community residents in the revitalization process.

    In the 4th ward, most residents see the alderman as the key to all development potential. Developers also curry the favor of the alderman. A few powerful individuals, such as Adolphus Pruitt, weigh in on the situation, but the level of their influence depends on aldermanic cooperation.

    The idea of empowering community residents to step up to drive a community redevelopment is the most powerful. However, in a low-income community which has suffered years of neglect, it’s hard to get locals to prioritize community development over personal, day-to-day necessities.

    And, to Lisa’s point, as far as empowering the mayor, or cutting the number of aldermen, those ideas were presented to voters during the Advance St. Louis effort, only to be undermined by a dirty campaign of misinformation and racism.

  15. Brent says:

    What I find interesting about the story is the economics involved in this debacle. The amount of taxpayer funds involved (for the first 10 homes) include a total of 2.4 million dollars spent to build half of the 20 proposed homes at an average of 240k each. According to the story these 10 homes sold for not less than 100k each. Thus, each home likely sold for approximately 100-140k less than the cost to build. In other words, these homes were being built at a loss.
    What private developer(s) will build homes for a loss with their own funds or investors money and are still in business? Which banks will fund housing developments where the cost to build exceeds the anticipated sales price? What St. Louis County or St. Charles County developer expects to operate with similar economic expectations?
    Why do people continue to believe that government funds are a panacea toward enlightened development? The death knell of this project was apparent from the day that no private funds were earmarked for redeveloping this sad tract of land in North St. Louis. Is it any wonder that the backers of this scheme ran out of funds without completing the project? I think not. Their money was not at stake and thus it was too easy for the developer to stop their work leaving half built sidewalks and the pieces of a fence to rust on the ground once the gravy train of city tax dollars ended. The extent to which private funds are willingly injected into a development is the extent to which it is likely to succeed.
    One can not escape economic reality forever. If the cost to produce goods exceed the sale price you go out of business in the real world. However, since the taxpayers were footing the bill the threat of bankruptcy along with the need to comply with market realities were both absent here.
    Ironically, part of the reason for the residents of Ville Phillips Estates dissatisfaction is that economic reality intruded upon the city wasting further millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize their hoped for 10 additional homes to the tune of 100k each. Presumably this was due to a change in alderman. If only the city would be so generous to all of us I can only imagine masses lined up outside of city hall to receive a 100k housing subsidy. How long would it take until reality intruded upon such a scheme?
    I sympathize with the crime problem described in the piece but could not help but laugh when the woman described how she failed to replace the electronics in her home while Elliott Davis was interviewing her with a flat panel computer screen sitting on the kitchen counter behind her for all to see. In fairness to the woman, it may have been a neighbors house but still, it seemed that thieves who had targeted the neighborhood before were being given a sneak preview of their next thefts potential bounty. Did these residents contact their local police about a neighborhood patrol? What steps are the residents taking to help improve their neighborhood?
    The problems of St. Louis inner city development are many and varied but as a basic principle unless there is a profit motive involved the product will be substandard and leave citizens disappointed. I suspect that the individuals who originally backed this proposal were not hard nosed capitalists willing to risk their own money, but individuals who use their connections to manipulate tax payer funds for their own or their associates self aggrandizement with predictable results.
    The aldermanic system in which nothing can be purchased and redeveloped from city owned (LRA) parcels without approval from the alderman should be scrapped as it leads directly to these types of boondoggles where the alderman can reward loyal supporters and hold the parcels in their district hostage is the antithesis of a free market system and explains why economic growth in the city has lagged the overall region for decades.
    Steve believes the lack of a master plan along with a lack of vision were in part to blame–however once upon a time the “master plan” for the city called for the whole sale bulldozing of Lafayette Square and the Soulard neighborhoods. Who among us would prefer such visions and master plans found fruition? In actuality, there was a vision for the Ville development–building a suburban neighborhood within the city while bulldozing whatever remnant of remaining buildings from the previous century survived in the area.
    Master plans are overrated and rarely applicable to the real world. Unless one is building a city from scratch like Washington D.C. or New Town in St. Charles the ability of master planners to control private decision making is quite limited in this private property based society absent wholesale eminent domain. In addition, early in our own city’s history what may to modern eyes appear as examples of brilliant master planning such as the inclusion of Forest Park on the city/county border and Carondelet Park were created through the foresight, not of master planners, but concerned civic minded entrepreneurs who recognized the need for public spaces such as these and donated the land for such purposes. I always get nervous when I hear people touting master plans. Those who advocate master plans which call for the wholesale dismantling of the past should at least question the wisdom of such plans which may be viewed with horror for their shortsightedness by subsequent generations.
    I think the “vision” for this Ville development should have included rehabilitating the abandoned buildings in the area. In addition, the developer should have been required to invest their own funds into the project with any government assistance (tax credits/tax abatement etc.) being provided only after a sale for each parcel thereby giving them an incentive to complete their work on time and on budget. If no company stepped forward to accept on those terms then the project never should have begun.
    In a similar vein to the Ville Phillips Estates, Michael Allen has done a wonderful job piecing together the story behind the buying up of large tracts on land and buildings on the north side by a group of companies known as Blairmont at http://www.eco-absence.org/ in what may also be considered a “vision” of development that many believe threaten the very fabric of their close knit north side community. Despite repeated requests by concerned citizens seeking a dialogue with Blairmont, the nature of Blairmont’s “vision” has yet to be revealed. However, Blairmont has made little to no effort to maintain or improve the historic housing stock they now own which may portend further shortsighted destroy and rebuild suburbia plans on their part. Yet, unlike the Ville Development, private funds are being utilized to fund the Blairmont purchases so market forces will ameliorate their ambition to some extent since the area involved is large and some land owners are unwilling to sell. To succeed in a wholesale “vision” which drastically alters the landscape, Blairmont will undoubtedly need governmental assistance in the form of eminent domain and economic development incentives. Thus, citizens must be engaged with their elected representatives and hold them accountable for their actions.
    Whatever Blairmont’s ultimate master plan is for the north side, the idea of bulldozing the past and reconstructing suburbia within the city of St. Louis will have a very limited appeal in my view since what makes the city unique and distinct from the suburbs is the age and quality of its predominantly brick structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If Blairmont intends to interject suburbia to the north side while destroying the old housing stock they have already purchased I expect a similar result to the Ville fiasco but only time will tell.

  16. let’s talk says:


    Wow, awesome post.

    So much to respond to…so I’ll only address one point and hope others chime in for further discussion.

    Regarding the idea of project costs exceeding sales prices, this is the stuff of real world, urban revitalization. The same practice was key in revitalizing Soulard, Shaw, Lafayette Square, and downtown lofts.

    The developer and other private investors (banks, equity partners) fund the private market-supported portion of the budget, sometimes with the help of creative tax credit programs, and the final piece of financing is made by public partners.

    The public sector portion is the last leg of the financing, and not committed to the project until all the private dollars are secured.

    The goal of the public investor is to make sure that private investment is maximized, and public dollars minimized. Typically, public investors seek to find as many other creative sources of financing as possible to make these tough projects work.

    However, without the commitment of private investment, public resources are not offered. Thus ends the dream of so-many late night infomercial, airport sales pitch, “free government money” real estate investment pitches.

  17. Gina says:

    I fear the same fate for the Millennium project at Arsenal and Jefferson.

  18. I think it is a money situation when it came down to renewing 4th Ward. I think that we we’re cheated out of our neighborhood and they bought the property from the owners in 4th Ward for a very low price and sold it back for Double, maybe even more. They told us that it was only worth $5 dollars a square foot and it came out to be more than $65 dollars a square foot. I think that we should be given back something for our losses. For the record i hate those WHITE people that step all over and us and take advantage of our uneducated(ex:elderly people that did not even get a middle school education,migrators from Mexico and others) 4th Ward will always live in my heart in my soul and in our families …


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