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McGuire on Forest Park/BJC “Deal”

Former Alderman and Director of Parks Dan McGuire has been making the rounds of public meetings letting his thoughts be known on the subject of BJC getting a long-term lease on 12 acres of Forest Park that, due to a road construction project, appear to be “isolated.” Given that most of our city’s 105 city parks (see list) are under 5 acres I just don’t see how you can call 12 isolated but then again the mayor’s office likes to twist things in odd ways.

I first heard Dan McGuire speak on this issue at the May 3, 2006 Planning Commission meeting, a great presentation by the way. He recently updated his comments which you can read here. It is a 5-page PDF document that explains in great detail his background as both the alderman for the area as well as the director of parks.

Last week he sent letters to the small committee looking into the deal. From the letter:

Much has been made of the assertion that this amended lease would provide a “dedicated source” of
revenue for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of Forest Park by combining new revenues from
BJH and matching annual donations from Forest Park Forever (FPF). While, once again, this is a noble
this catchy phrase doesn’t really capture the totality of the deal and, perhaps, simply serves as a

In this letter he does again into detail talking about the financing and how the plan was to ensure the city maintained funding to Forest Park. He also notes how Forest Park Forever has been working since at least 2001 to create a maintenance endowment for Forest Park so it is not like a new source of funding has suddenly been found. Click here to read the four page letter to the special committee.

And finally McGuire is offering amendments to the city budget to correct the diversion of funds away from Forest Park. Click here to read his presentation to the Ways & Means committee.

I have a few questions on this whole “deal.”

BJC apparently approached the city last year to make this happen. Had BJC not approached the city how would the mayor’s office be dealing with maintaining Forest Park?

Even though this deal has been in talks for a while do our leaders have a backup plan just in case?

Until 2001/2002 all of Forest Park had been in one ward but for some reason this section was taken away from the 28th Ward and placed in the 17th Ward during this last round of redistricting. Coincidence or careful long-range planning?

What is the rush? BJC says they don’t have any immediate plans for the site (I’m not convinced) and we’ve not figured out where to relocate all the facilities. Is it too much to ask for our leaders to have their ducks in a row before coming to us with these plans?

In the meantime, it is a hot holiday weekend so get out enjoy some of the city’s great parks.

– Steve


Forest Park/BJC Lease Advisory Committee

The 1pm special committee meeting on the Forest Park/BJC deal started a bit late and in a different conference room than was posted (230 vs. 234). It appears that banker and former head of Downtown Now! Thomas Reeves has been asked by the mayor to join the committee.

Gary Best, Director of Parks for the City, outlined how we got to this point. One of the things I found interesting was in discussing the two appraisals — one obtained by BJC and one obtained by the Comptroller’s office. He acknowledged it was no surprise that BJC’s appraisal was less. So how did they arrive at the final price? They “split the difference” between the two.


Sorry, but when the city has an appraisal we don’t split the difference. The city’s appraisal is also from late 2004 and is now considered by many, including myself, to be potentially low.

Ald. Bosley Sr. brought up some interesting points. First, he said he was certain that BJC already had some idea what they intended to do with the land. He wanted to know what that plan is.

Bosley Sr. also said the Treasurer’s office is concerned about the parking meters along the East edge of the current park space. This parking area was once part of the old Kingshighway (a 130ft right of way per Gary Bess). Bosley was suspicious that BJC would return to the city in the future to ask for much that 130ft right of way, leaving just enough for Euclid Ave. He is right, they will certainly come back and ask for that land because they are not going to construct new buildings and leave that as-is.

The committee went into a closed session to discuss hiring an appraiser. I have to wonder how much the Comptroller’s Office spent on the first appraisal and how much we’ll spend on a new appraisal.

Lots of figures are being thrown around. One of which was mentioned again by Park Director Gary Bess: $4.5 million per year to maintain Forest Park. That is a current figure. But what will the figure be over the next 90 years? What guarantee’s do we have that Forest Park Forever will be able to sustain a 90-year match of BJC’s lease payment. Will this maintenance be minimal cutting grass type maintenance or will it be sufficient to cover all the capital improvements at their current level.

I’m afraid we are creating a situation for many generations to come where the park’s basic maintenance is not longer covered much less keep up all the new structures, bridges and water features. This may be an issue as little as 20-30 years from now.

– Steve


Forest Park Lease Review Committee To Meet Wednesday & Friday

Did anyone else catch this in the Board of Aldermen calendar?

Title: Forest Park Lease Review Committee
Meeting Type: Committee Meeting
Sponsor: Board Alderman
Time: 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Location :Room 234
Message: To be announced.

Room 234 is not a readily accessible conference room. Known as the Congressional room, it is accessed through the Citizen’s Service Bureau offices numbered 234 and located in the NW corner of the 2nd floor of City Hall. The same committee also looks to be scheduled for Friday at 11am, same location.

This is presumably the four aldermen selected by Mayor Slay to review the terms of the deal to lease 12 acres of Forest Park to BJC for the next 90 years. From MayorSlay.com:

As the general plan now heads to the Board of Aldermen for its consideration, I have asked four senior aldermen – Lyda Krewson; Freeman Bosley, Sr.; Fred Wessels; and Steve Conway – to look over the financial details and report back to me. If they believe the City should get more money, we will ask for more.

So if you are interested in the BJC/Forest Park issue I suggest you make a showing at these meetings.

– Steve


Surviving I-64 Reconstruction

Yesterday I attended a luncheon organized by the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. Not one of my favorite organizations but the topic and speakers looked interesting so I forked over the $35 fee.

The topic was I-64 Reconstruction: Getting Prepared. Guests were Marc Cutler, a Senior VP with Cambridge Systematics and Rick Dimino, President of Boston’s Artery Business Committee. Both were brought in to help advise our region on how to get us through the reconstruction of I-64. Their experience: The Big Dig.

They are part of a team looking at ways to address traffic during the construction process. This includes looking at traffic along the construction route, north-south crossings over the construction zone, and other arterial roads that will handle much of the normal traffic.

Other topics briefly discussed were ways the public deals with construction. This was basically three shifts in behavior: time shifting, mode shifting or destination shifting.

With time shifting the idea would be adjust work schedules so that not everyone is commuting at the same times of the day. With mode shifting the idea is to get commuters out of the car and into transit or cycling. Destination shifting is something we’ll hopefully minimize as we don’t want people avoiding destinations. However, minimizing trips can be a good thing.

Working to keep bus service going will be a major challenge as 17 bus lines either use the highway or cross the highway. As the speakers pointed out, the last thing you want to do during a major highway reconstruction project is reduce transit service.

I spoke with Rick Dimino following the meeting and he indicated he was surprised that we were not including transit along I-64 as part of the reconstruction. He also acknowledged how at the end of Boston’s Big Dig they are going to be able to weave the city back together after being severed by their 1950’s highway. A goal that will not be accomplished by our project.

I really enjoyed talking with Dimino as I think he really gets urbanity. He said early designs for the original Boston highway avoided the center of town. Had the original designs been followed the highway would have been built elsewhere and they never would have had The Big Dig project.

The consultant team is expected to have detailed findings by May 16th and a technical report in June.

I’m still not convinced we need to rebuild I-64. I like the idea of looking at how our existing streets can be better utilized by traffic and how mass transit can play a bigger role in our future. While I am very supportive of the route chosen for the Cross-County MetroLink that is set to open later this year, I do think setting aside a right-of-way along I-64 from the new line out West would be very wise. Sadly, we are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and not give ourselves that option.

– Steve


Planning Commission to Take Up Forest Park to BJC Issue

The first thing I want let everyone know is the Planning Commission meeting will not be held in it’s usual location at 1015 Locust. This month, in anticipation of a large audience, it will be held in room 208 of City Hall.

Why the large audience?

Because the areas largest employer wants to use that fact to bully the city into giving up a good-sized chunk of park land.

I’ve heard all the arguments in favor of this deal:

  • People don’t associate this land with Forest Park.

  • Nobody really uses the park.
  • The City needs the revenue to maintain Forest Park.
  • BJC needs the ability to expand.
  • Ok, why don’t we address each of the points.

    True, most people have not associated this bit of land with Forest Park except those persons old enough to recall the old routing of Kingshighway. But, for most of us this has always been isolated. Except that, I’m not sure how you can consider a 9 acre park isolated. Nine acres is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, BJC is seeking another 3 acres South of Clayton Road for a total of 12 acres. To put that into perspective, that is about the same size as Hyde Park on the Northside. Or it is just under half the size of Lafayette Park. I think people would notice if we took away 12 acres from Lafayette Park.

    But Forest Park, everyone says, is so massive and 12 acres is nothing relative to that. Yes, relative to Forest Park this 12 acres is meaningless. But, when you walk through the area, even though built on top of a parking garage, you see green grass, beautiful trees, tennis courts (although not well maintained by BJC as their current lease requires), racquet ball courts and a nice playground. I’ve seen them all used on multiple visits.

    The access to this particular 12 acres is nice, a short walk or bike ride from adjacent neighborhoods. Yes, ducking under Kingshighway will get you into Forest Park but it doesn’t get you right to a playground, or a tennis court. For someone on foot taking their kids to the swing the distance becomes just too far. This park land is used due to its proximity to users and friendly size. If the park is not used to its full potential it is because BJC has failed to uphold its end of the 1973 deal by not maintaining the park and tennis courts as required. But don’t give me the line that nobody uses the park because it is not supported by facts.

    The city does need revenue. During the whole Forest Park makeover for the last decade I’m not sure what the plan was for on-going maintenance? Maybe this was the plan all along? Get everyone to fall in love with all the new landscaping, water features and infrastructure that was built so they’d have to go along with the BJC deal. Others have made good points such as having the land appraised to see what the true market value is or making BJC pay for all of Forest Park’s maintenance, not just half.

    It seems the city should be in a good position to negotiate. We’ve got land that BJC wants. Are they going to move if we don’t give in to their ransom demand? Doubtful. I think they need to be forced to tell us their plans for the future. What do they want to build here? I’d like to see a diagram of land use for BJC property to see how much is used for actual patients. I bet that would be quite small relative to the amount of land used to store cars in parking garages. Ever notice how all their garages, with several under construction now, are all above grade? An urban hospital complex in Chicago, Boston or even somewhere like Milwaukee could never afford to be so wasteful with land.

    Most likely the city will give in and a series of pre-planned concessions will suddenly appear to make it look as though the city played hard ball. A building or buildings will rise faster than we all expected and in 20-30 years they will be back at the table asking for more. They will ask to close Clayton Road, cutting off easy access to Forest Park. Then they will ask to line the other side of Kingshighway with buildings, arguing nobody really uses the land adjacent to the busy road.

    The Planning Commission meeting is Wednesday May 3, 2006 in a special location — room 208 of City Hall.

    UPDATE 5/2/06 @ 2:45pm – The Planning Commission meeting starts at 5:30pm on 5/3/06. Also, check out CWE Greenspace for a neighborhood perspective.

    – Steve