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Stimulus funds helped with renovation of building in Marine Villa neighborhood

June 8, 2010 Education, History/Preservation, South City 18 Comments

Yesterday afternoon the ribbon was cut on a newly renovated property in south St. Louis. The handsome 4,932sf building at 3500 Illinois Ave was renovated with the help of federal stimulus funds.

ABOVE: Corner of Illinois Ave and Potomac St

I couldn’t check out the 2nd & 3rd floors but the first floor was nice.  The building was in very poor condition when the project started.  This was the 8th renovation project on this block where the city helped out to get the project done.

ABOVE: Rep Russ Carnahan and Ald Ken Ortmann
ABOVE: Rep Russ Carnahan (left) and Ald Ken Ortmann spoke briefly

I saw a number of the contractors and suppliers who were present.  The stimulus was about jobs and getting money flowing.  Using the money to continue to target a once run down block is a good strategy.  The house has already sold — it closed last week. This is a key difference from what we might see in other areas.  Alderman Ortmann (D-9th Ward) and Alderman Craig Schmid  of the adjacent 20th Ward both focus on owner-occupied single-family homes. So what had contained 2-3 units is now a massive single family property.

Their bias against multiple units and rentals means buildings wait for renovation until a pile of money is available to make a project work as a single house.  I question the wisdom of creating such massive single-family homes.  How will such homes do when resold? Wouldn’t more units help support local businesses?

I did like that the rear entry to the home was level — no steps at all from the new sidewalk to inside.  The bathroom on the first floor featured a small shower without a step — another good touch for the accessibility. The many residents from the Marine Villa neighborhood were pleased to see the building finally renovated.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. samizdat says:

    Tea Party response to stimulus funds news: “Dammit, why are my tax dollars being used to house a bunch of hood rats? And my Social Security check is late this month…and…and, my Medicare reimbursements aren't going through…and…you kids get off of my lawn!”

    • Matt Kastner says:

      What a constructive and appropriate comment. I have been in this project during all the stages of development and can tell you that the turnaround is impressive. They did a really great job. I'm with Steve on questioning the single family approach though. It really is too much house. Its almost 5000 sq ft. And did I mention that one person will be living in it? I actually had a developer client who wanted to buy a couple of LRA shells in Benton Park recently, but was turned down because he was going to keep the buildings as multi-families. One of the properties has since burned down and the other looks like it might cave-in any day. I agree that owner-occupied single family units are generally preferred, but when a large project comes along, or the economy is bad (both in play here), there has to be more flexibility.

      • samizdat says:

        Mr. K, let me introduce you to a little-known concept: Sarcasm. Fine building, well done, and someone will immediately occupy the first two floors, with a third floor “white box” space. What's not to love? FWIW, I agree with regard to the issue of single v multi-family housing. What would neighbors prefer, derelict shells, vacant lots, and weeds, or an occupied building? If the nabe is worried that the rentals may be occupied by less than desirable individuals–a valid concern, considering the numerous times I've had to call the Police on at least two rentals on my block–then the developer should be required to participate in the City MAP (?) program. Let me remind you, my comment was meant as humorous response to those who look upon any gubmint money going to private hands for this type of development as “socialism”. Though why no one complains when multi-Billions of dollars go to wealthy “farmers”, corn ethanol producers, coal, oil, and gas corporations, Wall Street banks and their Ponzi schemes is beyond me. Have a better one.

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  4. aaron levi says:

    i've lived around the corner from this property for 6 years and my wife and I walk by it at least 3 times a week. the improvement this development has made to that block is unreal. it feels like an entirely different street.

    but i will agree. that is a HUGE house. especially if it's true that it will be occupied by a single person.

    • JZ71 says:

      Geez, preservationists never seem to be happy – someone invests a bunch of time and effort in a property, and then they get dinged for making it a “HUGE house” for just “a single person”! Do the math – we have a bunch of old buildings and we've lost half our population. To save a building, it needs to have a viable use (unless you're the government and/or have money to burn). This may seem excessive, reek of gentrification and border on not being “PC”, but the building and the streetscape HAVE been “saved” – pick your poison . . .

      • First, I am not and have never been a preservationist. I am about sustainable urban (walkable) neighborhoods and cities. This type of renovation is not sustainable.

        • JZ71 says:

          Just what isn't sustainable here? The owner was going to do or buy a big house, somewhere. Better here than in the burbs. The only thing that I see that is anti-urban here is the loss of retail in the storefont (and that's not all that unusual). It's big, yes, but until we adopt some maximum square-feet-per-person cap on residential uses, I see this as a win. And, if in 10 or 20 years, the fat cat moves on, the building will still be here, ready for its next incarnation . . .

          • How do you know the buyer was going to buy a big house? He is moving 3 blocks to this house so I doubt a McMansion in suburbia crossed his mind.

          • JZ71 says:

            People vote with their wallets.

            Don't get me wrong, I'm not in favor of single-family-only. Diversity is good, but, in today's economy, financing multi-family, especially condos, is extremely difficult. The challenge then becomes do you make single-family work, even if it's “too big”, or do you just left buildings continue to deteriorate?! This isn't the perfect solution, but it's better than a boarded-up shell and much, much better than a vacant lot, especially on a corner. Plus, the shell is intact, and can be reconfigured to something more dense in the future, if and when circumstances are more favorable . . .

          • “People vote with their wallets.” is so tired — it is no longer 1950. People buy what is offered in the area they want to live. This buyer likes this neighborhood and he has few choices with respect to rehabbed properties.

          • JZ71 says:

            And he has few choices with respect to properties this size in this part of the city.

            I agree, McMansions are stupid, whether they're urban or suburban. The same goes for Hummers and Super Duty crew cab pickups, neck tattoos and arm sleeves. But until we make it illegal or immoral to buy more than we need/make stupid choices, as Americans we have every right to do so. Apparently, making this a single-family residence was either the only financialy-viable or the most-profitable alternative. And while it may not be your or my ideal solution, it IS a huge improvement over what was there five years ago.

            What's your alternative? Do you want all renovations to fit into a narrowly-defined, PC matrix of maximum square feet per person, no parking and maximum annual energy consumption? Are you willing, in exchange, to live with an ever-increasing number of boarded-up properties? Is anything less than perfect fatally flawed?

            If I wanted to live in the Stepford world of true restrictions, I'd move to a covenant-controlled community or a communist country. I prefer to live in the city, where life can be messy and things don't always fit into narrowly-defined boxes. And the only way that you won't see this repeated is to change the overall economy – you don't see this nearly as often in NYC or Hong Kong since it costs so much more to do so!

          • My point was the Aldermen of the 9th & 20th Wards will only consider owner-occupied single family projects. So options that include sizes & prices suited to the current market conditions are not considered if they are not single family. I believe when tax money is being used it should do so in a manner that supports a wider variety of housing options.

          • JZ71 says:

            Agree, but then the issue becomes more one of aldermanic discretion and power than this particular project being “too big” for a single person. Again, what's the solution? More autonomy for the LRA? No aldermanic oversight on the distribution of stimulus funds? Changing FHA requirements on the percentage occupied in a condo development (currently, there's a Catch 22 of no financing if less than 50% occupied)?

  5. theotherguy says:

    Any idea what the house sold for vs. how much stimulus money was put into it? Construction/development has got to move away from subsidies and toward market rates. I hope this is a move in the right direction, but . . .

  6. JZ71 says:

    A more articulate presentation of some of the points I was trying to cover: http://www.governing.com/columns/urban-notebook

  7. DeBalievered says:

    The old real estate idea of “owning your own walls” would likely be a factor in making this a single family unit. Especially in the midwest that seems to be an important consideration.


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