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‘BEHOLDER’ Is Interesting Story of Power & Corruption

January 18, 2006 Local Business, Politics/Policy, Religion Comments Off on ‘BEHOLDER’ Is Interesting Story of Power & Corruption

Recently I watched a new independent film, Heart of the Beholder: This American Dream Became a Holy Nightmare. It is the tale of a family that owned a chain of video stores that refused to remove certain films deemed indecent by a small by powerful group of zealots. These zealots blackmail a prosecutor into closing down the video stores, ruining the lives of this family. In the end the prosecutor gets his just rewards. It is an interesting story that everyone should see, especially those living in St. Louis.

I had not lived in St. Louis long when the story of St. Louis Circuit Attorney George Peach being arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer. That was in 1992. Yes, this movie is based on events that happened here in the St. Louis area in the 1980s and early 1990s.

First I want to say the picture is not anti-religious. In does not make light of or disparage Christians but does look at those who are a bit too self-righteous.

One of the movies the group picketing the video stores wanted to remove is one of my all-time favorites, Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks’ movies are many things but they are not morally offensive.

The movie is not being shown in theaters because they are having a hard time getting a distribution deal. I leant my copy to a friend and she watched it twice just to pick up all the details. You can order a copy by clicking on the image at right.

– Steve


Belas Artes Latest Business in McKinley Heights

Many of you are probably familiar with the former Marty’s Baking at Russell and Mississippi in the near south side neighborhood of McKinley Heights. Like the various places before Marty’s, I felt it was too small of a space and not open enough to the sidewalk.

In place of the old Marty’s is the refreshing Belas Artes, a self-described “urban oasis.” For me it is a very pleasing and open storefront design, good beverages, an interesting lunch menu (warm Apple & Brie sandwich w/small house salad for $4.50!) and another place to sit with my Mac and work.

Of note is the new bike rack located out front. It is not my favorite design but it is certainly not the worst on the market. I appreciate the consideration for cyclists and wish more businesses would do the same.

For another take on Belas Artes check out the new healthy food blog for St. Louis called, the Curious Kitchen. The author, Lois Brady, is a close personal friend and believe me she knows healthy food. I was lucky enough to have some of her vegetarian Hoppin John last night.

Just up Mississippi from Belas Artes (@ Geyer) is another locally owned business, Four Muddy Paws. If you have a dog or cat forget about the big chain stores for your pet supplies or grooming. This store operates in another old corner storefront. Owners Matt & Jeff have done a great job with the color scheme on the exterior, the window displays and the merchandising. They are also carrying some really nifty pet journals, called My Furry Tales, written by another good friend.

Across Mississippi from Four Muddy Paws another mixed use building is being renovated. As places like Lafayette Square and Soulard become both fully occupied and higher in price we’ll begin to see other areas benefit from the interest in living an urban lifestyle. McKinley Heights is very convenient and just a short walk over I-44 to Lafayette Square.

While you are looking for a home in the neighborhood be sure to stop and support the local businesses that are making a difference.

– Steve


Retailers Promote Shopping Downtown Through New Marketing Campaign

December 28, 2005 Downtown, Local Business 2 Comments

I was downtown for lunch yesterday and picked up a simple but smart flyer listing 16 “fine independent retailers.” In a small amount of space they’ve managed to communicate all the business names, what they each offer, their addresses and phone numbers as well as pinpoint their locations on a map. Not bad!

Here is the really smart thing these savvy retailers have done, they’ve created one website that lists all of their individual websites along with a printable map. Smart.

So, check out shopdowntownstl.com and support our locally-owned merchants. For your future reference I’ve added the link to the growing list of links in the right hand column of the home page here at Urban Review – St. Louis.

– Steve


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