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City To Blight An Entire Block Downtown

When you first read the headline you probably assumed the City of St. Louis, right? Wrong. The city faced with blight in their downtown is the City of Clayton. Don’t let the expensive restaurants and valet parking fool you, Clayton is full of blight. So much so they are ready to give tax breaks to a company already located in Clayton.

From a KSDK story:

When you think of blight, crumbling buildings probably come to mind. But what about a bustling block in the heart of downtown Clayton?

It is all part of a plan to grant a tax break. The city wants to declare one block “blighted” so a corporation can expand its headquarters. But, Clayton has never granted tax abatement in the past. And some small business owners say it shouldn’t start now. David Danforth says, “The notion that we have blight here in Clayton is ridiculous.”

The block in question is bordered by Forsyth, Hanley and Carondelet. The Centene Corporation’s existing building sits here. It is also where the healthcare company would like to expand their corporate headquarters.

The city of Clayton wants to help them do that through tax abatement. The first step would be to declare the area blighted. Clayton Mayor Ben Uchitelle says, “Some of the properties along Forsyth are old and the Library Limited property has been vacant for five years.”

The proposal is this: Centene would get a 50% tax abatement for 12 years. They would promise to create 800 new jobs. And they say they would generate $20-million dollars in new property taxes.

Mayor Uchitelle says, “We’ve heard the argument that this would open the floodgates but we don’t think so. We think the effect of this will be to improve properties all around and make other development possible.”

For the Clayton School District, this presents a dilemma. They worry that future developers will also expect tax breaks. Still, they stand to gain $490-thousand dollars a year, even after the abatement. Board President Steve Singer says, “That is our central concern: the issue of precedent. And frankly, the city has made a very good case to us.”

But it is small business owners who stand to lose the most. This whole strip will likely be bought out in the deal. Business owner David Danforth says, “I think the notion that they need to blight private property owners in order to somehow subsidize their development is wrong.” Danforth and others on Forsyth plan to fight this development before the blighting issue goes to vote.

I had dinner last night a few blocks away from the blight. I didn’t see any boarded up windows or anything but with all that blight I was careful as I walked from my car to the restaurant. If something happened because of the blight would the valet across the street parking someone’s Range Rover be able to help? Doubtful. As I left the restaurant I drove past the blighted block, doors locked of course. What amazed me were some of the businesses located among the blight — a couple of high-end restaurants, some fast food places in urban storefronts, a fancy jeweler, a title company, and two real estate brokerages. Clayton’s blighted area contains an interesting mix of building types and materials. Maybe that is why it is considered blight — because it is not one big long boring block like so many of the others in downtown Clayton. Could it be blighted due to the fact MetroLink mass transit will come to Clayton in about a year. Perhaps the critics of mass transit are just getting ahead of the curve and blighting areas before mass transit arrives rather than waiting and blaming it on the type of ‘element’ that doesn’t have their own Lexus?

The City of Clayton should not blight this block for a number of reasons. First, this is a big block with multiple buildings that adds interest to an otherwise sterile area. Second, just because the area doesn’t have a brand new building on it doesn’t make it blighted!!! I really wanted to use an expletive in that last sentence — took all my strength not too.

Those of us in the City of St. Louis should look for the positive side to all this. Clayton’s old buildings can’t even come close to competing with the old buildings we have left. Also, we are on the upswing with a number of new condo projects not receiving tax abatement. Looks like the tables have just been turned.

– Steve

 

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

November 16, 2005 Big Box, Events/Meetings, Local Business Comments Off on Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Yesterday I watched the new documentary film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. The film is as one-sided as the critics claim. But when you are up against the world’s biggest retailer you don’t necessarily want to argue their side. The film is a must see.

A public screening of the documentary will be held Friday night at Mad Art Gallery, 8pm. The event is being sponsored by the independent business organization, BUILD St. Louis. From their press release (PDF):

“BUILD hopes the Wal-Mart documentary screening will increase local discussion about the impact of consumer dollars spent at chain stores as opposed to local, independent stores.”

This film is an important work. I felt a number of emotions as I watched: anger & sadness were the top two. BUILD St. Louis & Mad Art are requesting a $2 donation at the screening. Doors open at 7pm and the screening begins at 8pm.

– Steve

 

Hearing To Reopen Praxair Today at 1pm

Lafayette Square has been a “hot” neighborhood since I moved to St. Louis in 1990. And why not; beautiful homes, convenient location and a magnificent urban park.

But in June of this year it got a little hotter than the residents could stand. Rather than exploding home sales you got exploding storage tanks at Praxair on Chouteau.

During the crisis, which lasted for weeks, Praxair company officials talked of relocating and the city made strong statements about making sure they moved away from such a heavy residential area. It all seemed like it would resolve itself.

Now one side is backing away from their original words and thankfully it is not the City. Praxair has requested a permit to renovate and reopen their facility but the city refused. Praxair has appealed. Today is a hearing on Praxair’s appeal. Not surprising, residents are actively opposing Praxair complete with signs, a letter writing campaign and a new website called, appropriately enough, PraxairWatch.com

From the site you can link to local sources for pictures and video of the explosion, fire and aftermath. Sensational images!

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue to a degree. At various times I’ve wondered if the residents were just pampered NIMBY types (not in my back yard). After all, industry has been around the edge of Lafayette Square longer than any of them have lived there.

But, in the end, I’ve separated in my mind “regular” industry from hazardous and explosive materials. That is where I, and clearly the residents, have drawn the line. Lafayette Square has a number of other businesses at the edge such as an overhead door distributor, a truck repair center and small manufacturers and distributors. These types of businesses have co-existed with the residences for decades and it is a nice mix. St. Louis’ is still very much an industrial city. But explosive gasses?

No resident, regardless of affluence or influence, should be subjected to the risk of such explosions. The mere fact the fire department had to keep water on the scene to cool the contents for what seemed like weeks is proof enough this doesn’t belong anywhere but a highly industrial area where the risk to home and life is minimized. Praxair needs to move to another location.

Today’s meeting is at 1pm in room 208 of City Hall.

– Steve

 

Reversing Trends Since WWII

November 4, 2005 Downtown, Local Business, St. Louis County, Suburban Sprawl Comments Off on Reversing Trends Since WWII

I’m heading downtown in a few minutes for the First Friday Gallery & Design Walk. One stop will be modern furniture store, The Ambiente Collection, located at 10th and Locust.

I happened to be in the hell known as Manchester Road at 141 in far St. Louis County earlier today and drove past Ambiente’s former location in a reasonably new strip center. The tenant in their old space is Dirt Cheap — the beer & cigarette’s place. I love it, we get designer furniture and they get cheap smokes!

Maybe on my next visit way out there I’ll see some pawn shops or check cashing places?

– Steve

 

Bringing Life to a Suburban Corner

seattlewalgreens1.jpg

This weekend I was reviewing pictures from previous trips to Seattle and ran across images of a project I spotted on a 2002 visit. I found it quite interesting at the time and think we could do well to employ such thinking on more than a few corners in our region.

This Tully’s Coffee location is located in suburban Seattle (map). From this view you can see how it conforms to the sidewalk which includes right turn lanes typical of suburban streets. But pedestrians do exist in the area.


seattlewalgreens2.jpg

From the main street you can see the building is not very large but is well detailed. It creates a sense of place at the corner of an intersection that needed it. Street trees and outdoor seating make this a pleasant place.

You’ll never guess what it is in front of.

Walgreen’s!


seattlewalgreens3.jpg

Yes, this small Tully’s Coffee location is in front of a typical corner Walgreen’s store. It includes entrances facing the corner as well as the Walgreen’s. I can envision people stopping at Walgreen’s to pick up something and deciding to run in for a latte. Conversely someone might stop for a coffee and realize they needed a few things they can pick up at Walgreen’s. It is a win-win for both retailers and the community.

I’m not a fan of Walgreen’s — they seem to procreate more quickly than rabbits. Throughout our region we have many stores identical to this one in Seattle. With so many existing and likely more on the way we should give serious consideration to such a concept.

It doesn’t have to be a coffeehouse at the corner. Could be a small restaurant like a Subway (or a locally owned equivalent). The idea is to begin placing buildings at the sidewalk line to make our cities more pedestrian friendly.

– Steve

 

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