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Meeting Rapper Killer Mike’s $100 Challenge In St. Louis

I first learned about rapper Killer Mike during the 2016 presidential primary, see At a Bernie Sanders rally, an Atlanta rapper makes his political debut and How Killer Mike Became Rap’s Most Influential Political Leader. So it was no surprise he was part of an MTV/BET town hall last month. He suggested to everyone there and watching, to invest in black-owned banks — and many have responded:

Citizens Trust Bank — anchored in metro Atlanta, Columbus, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Eutaw, Ala. — said it has received about 8,000 new applications for depositors in recent days.

One of the catalysts: Rapper Killer Mike called in to a town hall meeting on MTV and BET on July 8 to implore the black community to deploy “a portion” of its financial resources to make a difference.

He wants 1 million people to deposit $100 apiece in small black-owned banks or credit unions, believing that those financial institutions will be more likely than other banks to make loans to black citizens and businesses — and more likely to treat them fairly in general. (USA Today: Black-owned banks get rush of new depositors)

The above linked to a VH1 story:

During the event, radio personality Charlamagne spoke with rapper Killer Mike on economic solutions for the Black community. “We can’t go out in the street and start bombing, shooting, and killing, Mike preaches. “I encourage none of us to engage in acts of violence. I encourage to take our warfare to financial institutions.”

The rapper proposes that we all should take a portion of our money and “put it into a small black bank or credit union” and watch it accumulate over the next few years. His proposal: for 1 million people to start a $100 account with any Black-owned bank. The result: it gives these small banks the ability to give out small home and business loans for areas that are being gentrified, so Black families don’t get pushed out and their businesses can thrive. (VH1: This Major Star Agrees with Killer Mike’s Economic Solution)

This made perfect sense to me, so I thought I’d see about opening an account at a black-owned bank in St. Louis. The VH1 article provide a link to make it easy to support such a bank, which led me to:

There are 22 African American owned banks (AAOBs) with assets totaling approximately $4.6 billion in assets or approximately 0.43 percent of African America’s $1.1 trillion in buying power. (HBCU Money’s 2016 African American Owned Bank Directory)

Their criteria is based on 51% ownership, here are their key findings:

  • “AAOBs are in 17 states and territories. Key states absent are Florida, Mississippi, New York, and Ohio.
  • Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, and Wisconsin each have two AAOBs.2016 Median AAOBs Aseets: $107 551 000 ($113 470 000)*
    2016
  • Average AAOBs Assets: $210 292 000 ($233 583 000)*
  • African American bank assets saw a 1.2 percent decrease or net loss of approximately $57 million in assets in 2015.
  • AAOBs control 0.03 percent of America’s $15.7 trillion Bank Owned Assets.
  • AAOBs control 2.3 percent of FDIC designated Minority-Owned Bank Assets, which is down from 2.6 percent in 2015.
  • There has not been an AAOB started in 16 years.
  • Only 8 of 2016’s 22 AAOBs saw increases in assets.
  • For comparison, Asian American Owned Banks have approximately $46.1 billion in assets spread over 68 institutions. They control 6.0 percent of Asian America’s buying power.
    *Previous year in parentheses”

What about in St. Louis? Nada. the nearest are two options in Chicago: ISF Bank/Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan Association and Seaway Bank & Trust, founded in 1934 & 1965, respectively.

The USA Today article linked to the Federal Reserve’s Minority-Owned Depository Institutions:

Total number of institutions 156
Total assets (thousands $) $131,324,491
Total deposits (thousands $) $107,712,933

Number of institutions by minority code (Min Cd)
1 Black or African American 23
5 Caucasian Women 6
10 Hispanic American 29
20 Asian or Pacific Islander American 61
30 Native American or Alaskan Native American 18
31 Multi-Racial American 1
32 Min Board & Serving African American Community 1
33 Min Board & Serving Hispanic Community 4
34 Min Board & Serving Asian or Pacific Islander Community 9
35 Min Board & Serving Native Am or Alaskan Native Am Community 0
36 Min Board & Serving Multi-Racial Community 2
39 Low Income Credit Union 2
Total 156

With 156 institutions one must be located in St. Louis, right? Nope.

In the entire state of Missouri here are the Minority institutions:

  • Liberty Bank & Trust: 2 locations in Kansas City
  • Central Bank of Kansas City: 2 locations in Kansas City
  • Peoples Bank: Seneca & Joplin, MO

St. Louis did have a local black-owned bank for 44 years, from 1965-2009:

Gateway Bank was established in 1965 on Union Blvd., near Natural Bridge, as the first black-owned and -operated bank in Missouri. In response to the 1963 civil-rights protests of Jefferson Bank & Trust Co.’s refusal to hire blacks, co-founder C. W. Gates and his family committed to providing banking services and loans indiscriminately to the community of North St. Louis.

“Over the years, Gateway took local deposits and made loans in a neighborhood where few other banks focused,” said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the NAACP St. Louis City.

In 2009, the bank failed under the recession, was taken over by the FDIC, and was sold to Central Bank of Kansas City. For the past three years, Central Bank was managing the bank’s $12 million in deposits and about $13 million in assets. Yet earlier this year, Central Bank received permission from the FDIC to permanently close the location in October 2012, arguing that they couldn’t find a buyer to keep the bank open.
(St. Louis American: Gateway Bank Saved)

Gateway Bank was formed after the 1963 Jefferson Bank Protest.  I used to pass Gateway Bank while riding my bike to work further North on Union Blvd in the late 90s — I was unaware of its history.

Gateway Bank under construction
Gateway Bank under construction

However, this isn’t the end of the story.

In 2012, St. Louis Community Credit Union announced plans to save Gateway Bank by purchasing the existing land. The building was demolished in 2015. With the help of additional funding from a Community Development Block Grant, as well as support from the City of St. Louis, Stifel Bank & Trust, the St. Louis City NAACP, TIAA Direct
and others, St. Louis Community Credit Union built a new state-of-the art facility on the original site, while still preserving the great heritage of Gateway Bank.
Many of Gateway’s traditions continue in the new financial institution. It opened in March 2016. (gatewayslccu.com)

Will I be going here to open a new account? No, because I’ve already been a member of St. Louis Community Credit Union since 2010. We got our car loan there in 2014 and will get another in late 2017/early 2018.

Last week I took the #04 MetroBus to see the new Gateway branch.

The New Gateway at 3412 N. Union Boulevard, click image for map
The New Gateway at 3412 N. Union Boulevard, click image for map
An updated version of the classic Gateway Bank sign is in the lobby. Much more historical documentation (photos, brochures) are on display
An updated version of the classic Gateway Bank sign is in the lobby. Much more historical documentation (photos, brochures) are on display

The following hour plus video was produced in 2015 to look back at the history of Gateway, here is a list of the people interviewed:

  • Russel Little, Sr., former Gateway shareholder
  • Barbara Harness, Gateway SVP of operations
  • Mike McMillan. Urban League
  • Thomas L. Mines, Gateway employee 1968-1975
  • Dr. John A Wright, Educator/Historian/Author
  • Delores Jones, former Gateway employee, now a St. Louis Community Credit Union employee
  • Letrissa Bennet, former Gateway employee, now a St. Louis Community Credit Union employee
  • Lisa Gates, daughter of Gateway xo-founder CW Gates and former employee

I listened to the entire video, very interesting. If your among the many who are unbanked in St. Louis or your money is elsewhere, please talk to St. Louis Community Credit Union.

— Steve Patterson

 

Historical Background on St. Louis’ Main Post Office

Last month I posted about how the employee line for the main Post Office parking garage was two blocks long — costing workers time & money — and polluting. My point was to find a way to reduce/eliminate this shift-change queue. However, a few comments were classic strawman fallacy — saying I wanted this post office to close — moving the sorting & processing jobs to a suburban. Uh…no. Again, my point was to collectively find a way to get people to their jobs without having to queue up just to park. That said, the USPS might decide to move mail process out of downtown to more modern facilities. If they do — it won’t be because I don’t like the daily queue for the parking garage.

The possibility of the processing moving got me thinking about the history of the Main Post Office on this site. I knew online city records didn’t have the year built, so I’d need to investigate beyond a quick online search. Buildings from this era usually had cornerstones — people weren’t embarrassed to have their names displayed on them for eternity. Though I’d never seen a cornerstone here before, I knew one had to exist.

I spotted it, but couldn't get closer in my wheelchair. I returned home to get my cane.
I spotted it, but couldn’t get closer in my wheelchair. I returned home to get my cane.
1935 and architects of Klipstein & Rathmann should be sufficient to find out more
1935 and architects of Klipstein & Rathmann should be sufficient to find out more

Back home I found online that an article from October 1935 talks about the design. So off to the 3rd floor genealogy department at the Central Library to find it on microfilm.  Note: searching Post-Dispatch articles 1874-1922 can be done online through a free database, using your library card account for access.

On October 20, 1935 the design was shown in the Post-Dispatch. From the caption: "The present Main Post Office, Eighteenth and Walnut streets, will be wrecked to make way for part of the new structure when it has progressed sufficiently to accommodate postal offices."
On October 20, 1935 the design was shown in the Post-Dispatch. From the caption: “The present Main Post Office, Eighteenth and Walnut streets, will be wrecked to make way for part of the new structure when it has progressed sufficiently to accommodate postal offices.”

So we know the Main Post Office in October 1935 was at 18th & Walnut, from the article:

The excavation and foundation work have been completed for some time. It is estimated that it will take 900 calendar days, approximately two and a half years, to complete the superstructure. The architects are Klipstein & Rathmann of St. Louis, Engineers are W. J. Knight & Co, on structure. John D. Falvey on mechanical work and Joseph A. Osborn on electrical work. 

An earlier post office, at 18th & Walnut, was razed to build the present one between 17th-18th.  An older post office annex building still exists between the Union Station train shred and 18th Street.

Foundations done for some time? An earlier paragraph explains the delay:

Construction of the superstructure was delayed by the Supreme Court decision on the NRA which necessitated asking for new bids. Representative John J. Cochran of St. Louis has been in constant communication with the procurement division of the Treasury and with the Post Office Department in an effort to speed up the project. 

NRA? A different one.

National Recovery Administration (NRA), U.S. government agency established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stimulate business recovery through fair-practice codes during the Great Depression. The NRA was an essential element in the National Industrial Recovery Act (June 1933), which authorized the president to institute industry-wide codes intended to eliminate unfair trade practices, reduce unemployment, establish minimum wages and maximum hours, and guarantee the right of labour to bargain collectively.

The agency ultimately established 557 basic codes and 208 supplementary codes that affected about 22 million workers. Companies that subscribed to the NRA codes were allowed to display a Blue Eagle emblem, symbolic of cooperation with the NRA. Although the codes were hastily drawn and overly complicated and reflected the interests of big business at the expense of the consumer and small businessman, they nevertheless did improve labour conditions in some industries and also aided the unionization movement. The NRA ended when it was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1935, but many of its provisions were included in subsequent legislation. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

The National Recovery Administration was created in 1933, but ended on May 27, 1935 when the Supreme Court unanimously interpreted the Commerce Clause differently than Roosevelt in A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States.

One more quote from the article:

Besides serving the postal needs of St. Louis, the new building will be a distributing center for all postal supplies, machinery ns equipment for post offices throughout the Southwest. 

The new post office opened in 1937. so that takes care of the history, right? Not quite.  From the 1935 photo caption we know the previous Main Post Office was at 18th & Walnut, but because the current post office Walnut Street doesn’t exist between 16th-18th.  So I turned to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps:

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Company, established in 1867, compiled and published maps of U.S. cities and towns for the fire insurance industry to assess the risk of insuring a particular property. The maps are large scale plans of a city or town drawn at a scale of 50 feet to an inch, offering detailed information on the use made of commercial and industrial buildings, their size, shape and construction material. Some residential areas are also mapped. The maps show location of water mains, fire alarms and fire hydrants. They are color-coded to identify the structure (adobe, frame, brick, stone, iron) of each building. 
Between 1955 and 1978, the Library of Congress withdrew duplicate sheets and atlases from their collection and offered them to selected libraries. Maps for Missouri towns and cities were given to the MU Libraries. Documenting the layout of 390 Missouri cities from 1883 to 1951, the University of Missouri-Columbia Ellis Library Special Collections Department has digitized 6,798 of the maps for Missouri cities from 1880 to 1922.

This Project is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as Administered by the Missouri State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State.

Most of the ones for St. Louis are from 1907-1911.

This December 1908 view has Market on the North (top), 16th on the East (right), Clark on the South (bottom), and 18th on the West (left). I'd long assumed that Walnut existed between 16th-18th, but in 1909 it didn't exist between 16th-17th. A street called Moore runs parallel to 17th. Click image to view larger version.
This December 1908 view has Market on the North (top), 16th on the East (right), Clark on the South (bottom), and 18th on the West (left). I’d long assumed that Walnut existed between 16th-18th, but in 1909 it didn’t exist between 16th-17th. A street called Moore runs parallel to 17th. Click image to view larger version.
Trying to find the previous post office I zoomed in on 18th & Walnut
Trying to find the previous post office I zoomed in on 18th & Walnut

In the block bounded by Market, 17th, Walnut, and 18th is Excelsior Brewery. The only thing South of Walnut is a Union Electric building with vacant land. My unconfirmed assumption was a post office was built after December 1908 o the block South of Walnut. So the new post office replaced the brewery? That was my initial hunch, but it’s far more complicated.

An article from October 21, 1917 has the headline: “$1,000,000 HOTEL PLANNED TO FACE UNION STATION”. The “skyscraper type” hotel would have 450-500 rooms, to be built by someone from Oklahoma.  From that article:

The site, which is owned by the St, Louis Brewing Association, will be acquired either under a 99-year lease or by purchase outright. Norman Jones, secretary and treasurer of the brewing association, stated the owners are not interested in the project, but are desirous of leasing the site for improvement with a building of the nature stated. He said the association would either lease or sell the plot, and for that reason it had declined to tie it up with short-term leases. He stated that the association had plans, several years ago, for a large hotel for this plot, but that they had been lost. 

The Market street frontage is filled with a conglomeration of small stores, picture theaters and saloons. The rear, or Walnut street side of the block, was occupied by the Excelsior Brewery, the building of which was recently razed. 

Several years ago a group of Chicago capitalists head this block under consideration for improvement with a large hotel structure, but the project collapsed when Europe was plunged into war. 

This 1917 article says this hotel would be compatible with the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange’s plans for a plaza in the catty-corner block bounded by 18th, Market, 19th, and Chestnut. Side note: that plan eventually doubled in size to 20th, it was fined by a 1923 bond issue. The centerpiece Meeting of the Waters fountain & sculpture were completed in 1939 — two years after the new Post Office opened.

This July 6, 1902 drawing on caves in the area shows the storefronts on the left and Union Station on the right
This July 6, 1902 drawing on caves in the area shows the storefronts on the left and Union Station on the right

An article from November 11. 1917 says an $800,000 13-story hotel with 700 rooms was to be built on the Northeast corner of 18th & Market.

A brewery previously existed where Union Station was built, this was operated by the Uhrigs — who earlier had opened a beer garden at Jefferson & Washington.

  • A Julius Winkelmeyer and Frederich Stifel moved there small operations to 18th & Market in 1846, it was started the year before at Convent & 2nd.

Ok, so both 1917 hotel plans failed, the brewing association sold the Southeast corner years later for the post office?  Yes and no, respectively.

Ever since the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis opened Union Station on September 1, 1894, there was an effort to “improve” the appearance of the blocks facing it. Prohibition lasted from 1920-1933. A week ago I found an article suggesting they had bought the Excelsior Brewery property, my assumption is they sold or donated it for the new post office.

At some point I may return to dig more into the history of this intersection, but I’ll stop for now.

— Steve Patterson

 

Forest Park Dedicated June 24, 1876, 140 Years Ago Today (6 Historic Photos)

Forest Park opened 140 years ago today — nearly three decades before the 1904 World’s Fair:

Forest Park, officially opened to the public on June 24, 1876, is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At 1,293 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York.

In 1904, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, The St. Louis World’s Fair, drew more than 20 million visitors from around the world to Forest Park. (St. Louis)

When Forest Park was created by the Board of Aldermen residents to the North & South also wanted large parks in their part of the city, so O’Fallon & Carondelet parks were created before Forest Park opened. At that time the parks were largely rural, a way to preserve land in a rapidly growing city.

When Forest Park officially opened to the public on Saturday afternoon, June 24, 1876, it was located in St. Louis County, almost two miles west of the St. Louis City limits and a 40 minute carriage ride from downtown. 

The Globe-Democrat reported that the opening day ceremony attracted 50,000 people — at a time when the population of the city was only 350,000.

It was on a railroad line, which had opened only a week before the park was dedicated. The train ride from downtown took 20 minutes. 

At the same time as the dedication, the Democratic Party was holding its national convention in Downtown St. Louis. (The 1870 census called St. Louis the fourth largest city in the country behind New York, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.) (St. Louis)

Yes, Forest Park was in unincorporated St. Louis County when initially dedicated. This was a good excuse for me to scan & post vintage/undated images from the archives of Louis (1907-1999) & Georgia (1918-2009) Buckowitz:

Cabanne Spring, Buckowitz Archives
Cabanne Spring, Buckowitz Archives
Hooved Animal Enclosure, Buckowitz Archives
Hooved Animal Enclosure, Buckowitz Archives
Old Bridge, Buckowitz Archives
Old Bridge, Buckowitz Archives
Old Wabash Bridge, Buckowitz Archives
Old Wabash Bridge, Buckowitz Archives
Superintendents House, Buckowitz Archives. "Constructed in 1875 from plans drawn by St. Louis architect James H. McNamara, the Second Empire style house was conceived as part of the original Master Plan for Forest Park. The Cabanne House was completed in June 1876, in time for the formal dedication of Forest Park/" Click image for quote source
Superintendents House, Buckowitz Archives. “Constructed in 1875 from plans drawn by St. Louis architect James H. McNamara, the Second Empire style house was conceived as part of the original Master Plan for Forest Park. The Cabanne House was completed in June 1876, in time for the formal dedication of Forest Park/” Click image for quote source
Pagoda Bandstand, Buckowitz Archives
Pagoda Bandstand, Buckowitz Archives

Information on the pagoda bandstand is too much for the caption:

The original Forest Park bandstand, or music pagoda, was a wooden structure that stood on an island in Pagoda Lake. It was built about the time the park was dedicated in 1876. Mary J. Rankin donated statues representing the four seasons in 1886.

The bandstand was renovated and was landscaped for the 1904 World’s Fair. It was the site of concerts before and after the fair.

However, the bandstand fell into disrepair and was declared unsafe in 1911. 

Before it could be renovated, it blew down in a storm and was damaged beyond repair. 

In July 1924, St. Louis lawyer Nathan Frank donated funds to build a new bandstand. It was designed by Heffensteller, Hirsh and Watson.

The new bandstand cost about $50,000 and is of classic Renaissance design. It is made of white marble with bronze railings and ornaments.

It was renovated in 1981 with $13,000 from the Central West End Charitable Trust, raised by the Central West End Association. 

It was renovated and landscaped by the Flora Conservancy of Forest Park under the Forest Park Master Plan. (St. Louis)

Now you know why “Pagoda Drive” is named as such. A decade until the 150th. For information on events celebrating the 140th click here.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

St. Louis Hosted Numerous Presidential Nominating Conventions

One hundred years ago today the 1916 Democratic National Convention was happening at St. Louis’ new Coliseum, at Washington & Jefferson. Woodrow Wilson & Thomas R, Marshall were nominated for 2nd terms as President & Vice-President, respectively. As recently noted, the Jefferson [Arms] Hotel was the official host hotel, it opened in 1904.

Postcard for the "New Coliseum" on the SW corner of Jefferson & Market. It was replaced by the Jefferson National Bank. Click image for 2012 post
Postcard for the “New Coliseum” on the SW corner of Jefferson & Market. It was replaced by the Jefferson National Bank. Click image for 2012 post

The old coliseum, better known as St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall, had been located between 13th-14th on Olive — after just 24 years it was razed in 1907 to build our Central Library, which opened in 1912.

Three national nominating conventions were held in three separate buildings in or near the complex between 1888 and 1904 including the 1888 Democratic National Convention, 1896 Republican National Convention, and 1904 Democratic National Convention. In addition to the 1904 Democratic convention, it was used as a large venue for other conventions and congresses during the 1904 World’s Fair.

The 1896 Republican National Convention, held in St. Louis, began 120 years ago tomorrow.  My loft is just blocks from where all this took place, but mansions lined Locust St back then, known as Lucas Place at that time.

Back to the present day and the nominations for the conventions that start in July, not June as they used to.

There is a growing feeling among many of us that 1) the way the two major parties pick their nominee is flawed and 2) having a two-party system has failed the country. From a recent poll:

Some of the poll’s key findings are:

  • Just 10 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the country’s overall political system while 51 percent have only some confidence and 38 percent have hardly any confidence.
  • Similarly, only 13 percent say the two-party system for presidential elections works, while 38 percent consider it seriously broken. About half (49 percent) say that although the two-party system has real problems, it could still work well with some improvements.
  • Most Americans report feeling discouraged about this year’s presidential election. Seventy percent say they experience frustration and 55 percent report they feel helpless.
  • Few Americans are feeling pride or excitement about the 2016 presidential campaign, but it is grabbing the public’s attention. Two-thirds (65 percent) of the public say they are interested in the election for president this year; only 31 percent say they are bored.
  • The public has little confidence in the three branches of government. A quarter (24 percent) say they have a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court and only 15 percent of Americans say the same of the executive branch. Merely 4 percent of Americans have much faith in Congress. However, more than half (56 percent) of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the military.
  • Only 29 percent of Democrats and just 16 percent of Republicans have a great deal of confidence in their respective parties. Similarly, 31 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans have a lot of faith in the fairness of their party’s nominating process.
  • Neither party is seen as particularly receptive to fresh ideas. Only 17 percent of the public say the Democratic Party is open to new ideas about dealing with the country’s problems; 10 percent say that about the Republican Party.
  • The views of ordinary voters are not considered by either party, according to most Americans. Fourteen percent say the Democratic Party is responsive to the views of the rank-and-file; 8 percent say that about the Republican Party.
  • Most Republicans (57 percent) say Trump’s candidacy has been good for the Republican Party, although only 15 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents agree.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Democrats say Sanders’ bid for the nomination has been good for the Democratic Party, along with 43 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of independents (54 percent of independents report it is neither good nor bad).

What options exist?

In multi-candidate races, the winner is often the person with the most dedicated base, not the most widespread support. In many cases, the majority of voters backed another candidate, leaving much of the electorate dissatisfied with the outcome and the winner with a dubious mandate to govern.

Both Republicans and Democrats have attempted to address that in presidential primaries with complicated delegate allocation formulas. But some voters in Maine who have wrestled with a similar problem think they’ve hit on a simpler solution: let voters rank their favorite candidates.

In November, Maine voters will decide whether they want to become the first state in the U.S. to implement ranked-choice voting. If a ballot initiative is approved, future Maine voters in primaries and general elections will be allowed to rank their choices for governor, Congress and statehouse races instead of voting for just one. If no one gets a majority in a race, the candidate who came in last is eliminated and the second choices of their voters are redistributed, in much the same way that a runoff election works. That process continues through multiple rounds until a single candidate reaches a majority. (Time)

See a 1:11 minute video illustrating ranked-choice voting here. Though we haven’t hosted a nominating convention in decades, we do still play a roll in the election process. Once again, a general election debate will be held at Washington University in St. Louis. Back in September the non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) selected Washington University in St. Louis to host a debate on October 9, 2016.

Washington University has earned the distinction of hosting more debates than any other institution in history. This is the sixth time the university has been selected by the CPD to host a debate since 1992, and it will be the fifth debate to be held at the university. The presidential debate scheduled at the university in 1996 was canceled just two weeks prior. (Washington University)

Don’t expect to see Libertarian or Green candidates in these debates, the CPD reinforces the 2-party system. Which brings me to the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: the presidential nominating process in both major parties should be revised

  • Strongly agree 13 [40.63%]
  • Agree 9 [28.13%]
  • Somewhat agree 3 [9.38%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 3 [9.38%]
  • Somewhat disagree 0 [0%]
  • Disagree 1 [3.13%]
  • Strongly disagree 2 [6.25%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [3.13%]

Count me among the the 3/4 who think we need major changes to how we elect presidents to local officials.

— Steve Patterson

 

We Must Ask Different Questions Before Expanding Our Convention Center

St. Louis is again considering keeping up with the Joneses:

The city’s convention center complex should expand to more than 900,000 square feet, half again its current size, according to a report given Thursday to the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.

Such improvements would bring a “minimum” 37 percent increase in additional business and would position the downtown neighborhood “to re-energize and redevelop,” the report concluded. (Post-Dispatch)

So many red flags in this quote. I’m always suspicious about reports promising increased business — especially that conventions will energize downtown. That’s what they said of the Old Post Office parking garage that replaced the historic Century Building over a decade ago! We should have the promised 24/7 downtown by now.

Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D'Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.
Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

In the mid-1960s Mayor Cervantes (1965-1973) had backed an existing plan to build a convention center West of Union Station, serving less than 75 trains per day by then. Other business leaders wanted to raze the Old Post Office and they wanted a barrier to the North to hide the 1952 Cochran Gardens public housing — which was built to clear “slums”. They pushed their own plan — in conflict with the new mayor. They didn’t get to raze the Old Post Office, but they did get to create a physical barrier between public housing and the central business district. However, a 1968 study showed the near north location would perform poorly compared to the Union Station site and another location being considered:

The bulky study that ERA delivered to the city in May 1968 concluded, “the addition of a modern convention center is both appropriate and eco- nomical,” attracting annual attendance of 518,000 (including 386,000 at conventions and tradeshows) and generating 192,000 new hotel room nights in the city every year.

Yet where the ERA assessment was quite positive about the promise of a new convention center, it also argued that the site of the proposed facility would be critical to its achieving its potential. The ERA analysis was quite direct (and prescient) in arguing that, while “a convention center can play an important role in stimulating nearby commercial development . . . construc- tion of a single building regardless of its ancillary economic benefits, seldom stimulates downtown revitalization to any great extent.”

The study examined three possible sites. A civic center location, with proximity to hotels, ample parking, and an excellent environment would yield a net annual income of $71,000. A Union Station location, at a greater distance from the center of the core, would generate a net income of $20,000. The third site, the north side, was far and away the most problematic. While the location was convenient to existing hotels, the ERA conclusion was that a center built there “would operate at a serious disadvantage.” The problem was that the location was a “marginal environment,” filled with “one-, two-, and three-story retail stores in a generally deteriorated condition.” With greater likelihood of traffic congestion, the “North Side location would seriously curtail convention center use by local residents and by conventions.” A center there would attract half the annual convention and local events of an alterna- tive site, generating far less attendance and an annual loss. (Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities by Heywood T. Sanders)

The success of a convention center didn’t matter — they wanted it to form a physical barrier:

For Sverdrup and for Civic Progress, the new Busch Stadium and the proposed convention center served purposes far beyond baseball games or association meetings. Both major public projects were viewed as changing the physical environment of the core area’s fringe, and as spurs to new private investment.

As a wall, the bulk of a massive convention center could literally shut off the business district and the big department stores from the public housing projects and “cancerous” slums to the immediate north. The entrance to the new center would face south, focused on the downtown core, bringing convention attendees from nearby hotels and restaurants. To the north would be blank walls and loading docks facing the land cleared with federal urban renewal funds. (same)

They worked/fudged the numbers and finally got the public to pay for it:

The formal assessment by Disney’s “numbers man,” Buzz Price, that one downtown official termed “very optimistic,” amply sustained the notion that millions of visitors and attendees would flock to downtown. Price’s imprimatur on the Riverfront Square project thus neatly validated the judgment of Sverdrup and the Civic Progress leadership—St. Louis was on the verge of becoming a major visitor destination. When Mayor Cervantes’s Spanish Pavilion plan was hatched, it neatly followed both the model of Riverfront Square and its location. And the premise of the 1966 ERA study of the pavil- ion was that “Millions of local residents and tourists will be attracted” to the Arch, and that the new stadium would draw “Hundreds of thousands of persons . . . many of them from 100 to 200 miles away.”

Buzz Price’s positive assessment of the Spanish Pavilion was reinforced by the Disney connection. In turn, the forecast numbers from Price and Economics Research Associates for the Pavilion’s attendance and revenues bulwarked the sense among the Civic Progress members that the downtown would see a flood of new people and economic activity. When the possibility of de- veloping a major new convention facility surfaced in 1966, the experience of Chicago, Boston, and San Diego appeared to validate the potential of a center. And once again, the assessment by ERA provided a seemingly expert and reliable forecast of the likely performance and attendance of a new convention center.

ERA’s estimates of the performance of a new center were indeed viewed as so reliable by the St. Louis business leadership that Sverdrup and his firm’s staff simply appropriated them—verbatim—for their own analyses and for the formal presentation of the Convention Plaza redevelopment plan. It was the seeming credibility of ERA, Buzz Price, and project manager Fred Cochrane, as well as the firm’s connections and reputation within the theme park industry, that sustained Mayor Cervantes’s extended commitment to the Union Station site.

St. Louis’s downtown revitalization plans were thus based on the expert judgments of the “best and the brightest” in the planning and economic analysis world. Yet the city’s business leaders were not entirely devoted to following the consultants’ recommendations. When Fred Cochrane of ERA repeatedly warned against building a convention center on a north side site, the interests and goals of a unified business leadership simply overrode his conclusion. For the members of Civic Progress and their colleagues, the interests and concerns of “Cubby” Baer, Donald Lasater, Leif Sverdrup, and the Edison brothers fully trumped outside expert advice. The new convention center was far more about “protection from erosion” than potential as a meeting venue. (same)

The Spanish Pavilion was a huge flop — less than a quarter of projected traffic. It closed within a year. Basically, we built a convention center at the location we were told would perform poorly because influential business leaders selfishly wanted it there to protect their nearby interests.

The new Cervantes Convention Center occupied four city blocks — closing 8th St & Dr. King Dr. Ninth & 7th streets were open but faced with harsh blank concrete walls for two blocks. The back of the convention center faced North sending the a message “You’re not welcome downtown.” In the early 90s the center was expanded South to Washington Ave and the dome was added to the East — closing 6th & 7th.

We need to be focusing on reconnecting neighborhoods to downtown — not continuing more than a half century of separation.

The Broadway (5th) & Cole entry to the dome
The Broadway (5th) & Cole entry to the dome
Heading West along Cole
Heading West along Cole
6th St terminates into the North (Cole) facade of the dome
6th St terminates into the North (Cole) facade of the dome
Rotating West we can see where the dome was attacked to the existing center at 7th St
Rotating West we can see where the dome was attacked to the existing center at 7th St
Similar view looking South at what was 7th St
Similar view looking South at what was 7th St
Approaching
Approaching
Looking South, view little connects the two on the North
Looking South, view little connects the two on the North
Looking back North at the area deliberately cut off decades ago
Looking back North at the area deliberately cut off decades ago
Looking North
Looking North at 7th St
Here we see the North facade of the original 1977 Cervantes Center
Here we see the North facade of the original 1977 Cervantes Center
Looking West we get the feeling people aren't expected...or welcomed
Looking West we get the feeling people aren’t expected…or welcomed
Other convention centers have hidden underground docks, but not here
Other convention centers have hidden underground docks, but not here
Ok, past the semi we're almost to the corner
Ok, past the semi we’re almost to the corner
One last obstacle
One last obstacle
Now heading South on 9th next to the now 3 block long blank West wall
Now heading South on 9th next to the now 3 block long blank West wall

A 2014 review of Heywood Sanders’ book gives a good overview of the convention center fallacy:

The idea behind convention centers is to bolster the local economy by attracting visitors who would otherwise spend their money elsewhere. The best measure of success is the number of hotel room-nights they generate.

Sanders’ numbers tell the real story. Washington, D.C.’s new convention center was supposed to deliver nearly 730,000 room-nights by 2010; the actual number for that year was less than 275,000. Austin, Texas’ expanded center was supposed to bring 314,000 room-nights by 2005 but produced just 149,000. The 2003 expansion of Portland, Ore.’s convention center was expected to yield between 280,000 and 290,000 room-nights, but the actual number was 127,000 — far less than before the center’s expansion. Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle are among other cities that have had similar experiences. The challenge is to find an exception to the rule.

That’s not all. When projects fail and debt service mounts, consultants routinely conclude that the center needs a “headquarters hotel,” which at the very least requires a large public subsidy. Sometimes the lack of developer interest results in the hotel being publicly owned. It’s a classic example of finding yourself in a hole and continuing to dig. (Governing)

The topic of expansion/updates was the subject of the recent Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Our region’s convention center, aka America’s Center, should be expanded to accommodate larger conventions

  • Strongly agree 13 [32.5%]
  • Agree 3 [7.5%]
  • Somewhat agree 4 [10%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 2 [5%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [2.5%]
  • Disagree 6 [15%]
  • Strongly disagree 9 [22.5%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 2 [5%]

Half agree on expansion, but the other half are split. As you’ve likely guessed, if you’re still reading, I’m very skeptical about promises made by convention center consultants.  I don’t have an answer for what we should do, only advice to begin asking the right questions.

— Steve Patterson

 

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