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Readers Don’t Think McKee Will Come Through With Urgent Care, Hospital/Medical School

October 23, 2019 Featured, NorthSide Project, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Readers Don’t Think McKee Will Come Through With Urgent Care, Hospital/Medical School
Only one wall of the urgent care facility started a couple of years ago is still standing on the West end of the old Pruitt-Igoe site. Photo from 6:41pm last night.

Paul McKee’s 3-bed urgent care facility had been under construction, but after a wall collapsed last year it stopped.

Given aldermen’s failure to do their jobs before Friday’s vote approving tax subsidiesfor McKee, St. Louis taxpayers can only hope those creditors will thoroughly scrutinize the viability of the two-phase medical-complex project McKee proposes for north St. Louis. The first phase of the project, a three-bed urgent-care clinic, will cost $21 million, with McKee having come up with only $8 million in promised credit. The second phase involves building a 103,000-square-foot hospital/medical school. McKee has no funding source in sight for the $73 million he’ll need for that.

Friday’s vote puts taxpayers on the hook for $4.6 million in subsidies to be drawn from tax-increment financing worked out years ago with McKee after he used shell companies and other means to acquire around 1,500 acres of dilapidated, abandoned north St. Louis properties. Instead of improving those properties, he allowed them to deteriorate while punting property maintenance to the city. McKee offered grand designs for housing projects and retail-office complexes surrounding the new site of the $1.75 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency western headquarters. Those plans fizzled. (Post-Dispatch editorial)

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers were skeptical of McKee delivering:

Q: Agree or disagree: The 3-bed urgent care facility and the hospital/medical school will open by the promised deadlines.

  • Strongly agree: 1 [3.57%]
  • Agree: 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat agree: 0 [0%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [7.14%]
  • Disagree: 7 [25%]
  • Strongly disagree: 14 [50%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [3.57%]

If I were a gambling man I’d say not only will he not deliver, but the deadlines will get extended and the subsidies increased. Twenty-three aldermen voted in favor of Board Bill 103, sponsored by Tammika Hubbard.

Ayes (23)
Ward Alderman

  • 1 Sharon Tyus
  • 3 Brandon Bosley
  • 4 Samuel L Moore
  • 5 Tammika Hubbard
  • 6 Christine Ingrassia
  • 9 Dan Guenther
  • 10 Joseph Vollmer
  • 11 Sarah Martin
  • 12 Larry Arnowitz
  • 13 Beth Murphy
  • 14 Carol Howard
  • 15 Megan E. Green
  • 17 Joseph D Roddy
  • 18 Jesse Todd
  • 19 Marlene E Davis
  • 21 John Collins-Muhammad
  • 22 Jeffrey L Boyd
  • 23 Joseph Vaccaro
  • 25 Shane Cohn
  • 26 Shameem C Hubbard
  • 27 Pam Boyd
  • 28 Heather Navarro
  • President Lewis E Reed

One voted “present”:

Present (1)
Ward Alderman

  • 8 Annie Rice

Three were absent for the vote:

Absent (3)
Ward Alderman

  • 2 Lisa Middlebrook
  • 7 Jack Coatar
  • 16 Tom Oldenburg

Only two had the convictions to vote “no”:

Noes (2)
Ward Alderman

  • 20 Cara Spencer
  • 24 Bret Narayan

Aldermanic courtesy, the process of rubber-stamping legislation in another ward, is alive and well.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Will Paul McKee’s Urgent Care, Hospital, and Medical School Open By June 2023?

October 20, 2019 Featured, North City, NorthSide Project, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will Paul McKee’s Urgent Care, Hospital, and Medical School Open By June 2023?
Please vote below

On Friday the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved a bill (103aa) worth $8 million in incentives for developer Paul McKee:

The bill, which passed on a 23-2 vote, will help fund a three-bed urgent care center at Jefferson and Cass avenues that, along with infrastructure improvements, will cost about $21 million.

Under a revised plan negotiated with city development officials, developers must prove by the end if 2021 that they have financing for a larger second phase beyond the initial three-bed facility in order to qualify for all the tax-increment financing, or TIF, subsidies.

That second phase — a $73 million, 103,000-square-foot hospital with a medical school  — would have to be completed by June 2023 before some  subsidies are paid. (Post-Dispatch)

Today’s poll is about this subject.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

White Flight, Black Flight, Abandonment, Poverty, and Gentrification

August 26, 2019 Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy Comments Off on White Flight, Black Flight, Abandonment, Poverty, and Gentrification

St. Louis has some positive things going on lately, Square announcing they’re moving/expanding from Cortex to downtown, Major League Soccer awarded a St  Louis ownership group an expansion team, etc.  These will bring new needed investments and jobs.

Will any benefit reach those north & south of the “central corridor?” The central corridor runs from the central business district west to the burbs.

A friend on Facebook said Square’s move downtown will cause more gentrification.  Not sure he’s correct, but the challenge of attracting investment and jobs without leaving out large segments of the region is real.

This is a good opportunity to talk about how we bring new investments without negative consequences. It’ll help me get these thoughts out of my brain.

5744 & 5748 Highland Ave, Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood

Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as follows:

The process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.

Gentrification is a major problem in many regions, but here we still have so many highly vacant neighborhoods. Sure, the average worker can’t afford a downtown loft, but that’s not gentrification.

First we need to look at how we got here.

By the 1920s the white middle class began leaving the City of St. Louis for life in the suburbs. With new people moving to the city from rural areas looking for work the census didn’t show what was happening.

In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled on a St. Louis case, saying racial restrictive covenants couldn’t be enforced through the courts (Shelley v Kraemer).  This prompted more white middle class residents to flee. Upwardly mobile black middle class residents were now able to purchase nicer housing than where they’d been limited to previously.

This house at 4600 Labadie was at the center of the case Shelley v Kraemer

Post WWII brought many to the region looking for work, others just trying to escape oppressive Jim Crow laws in the South. Basements and attics were crudely converted into living spaces. Large homes were subdivided. The population was too high, our housing stock just couldn’t handle all the people resulting in overcrowding. In 1950 St. Louis recorded its highest population — 856,796.

It didn’t help that entire neighborhoods were being razed for “urban renewal” projects and others being divided as highway construction cut wide paths through densely-populated neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods like Fountain Park remained respectable middle class, just now black instead of white. Eventually the black middle class got older, while some would stay but others began buying housing in North County as the white middle class there began moving to St. Charles County.

Some north city neighborhoods have been without the black middle class for decades now. In these neighborhoods the working poor have also been leaving, seeking affordable housing in other neighborhoods or in older north county areas where the black middle class have left more recently. An example is Wells Goodfellow — more vacant lots than residents.

!912 Clara Ave, left, and 1904 Clara Ave are occupied, the two houses in between were just razed.

Here is what I struggle with. We need money in the city — we need middle class and more affluent people so jobs will be created. This doesn’t mean white, though that’s often what happens.

How do we change long-disinvested neighborhoods so they’re attractive to all people with more money — without pricing out those who still call the neighborhood home?

In the ideal world we’d invest in neighborhoods in a way that attracts & accommodates all races & economic classes. This means housing at a variety of price points — from low-income to high end with everything in between.  Retail & restaurants should appeal to all segments and pocketbooks.

This may not be possible, I know it won’t happen without regulation. Free-market capitalism has demonstrated it is ok with excluding many.  The trick is learning from other regions so we can reduce unintended negative consequences from regulations.

Unfortunately I think our city/region is too laissez-faire to enact regulations to transform vacant neighborhoods so they’ll become great neighborhoods.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Options For The Wells Goodfellow Neighborhood

July 29, 2019 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design Comments Off on Options For The Wells Goodfellow Neighborhood

Looking at the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood last week was very depressing (see Readers Mixed On Latest Blight Removal Effort). On my visits seeing dilapidated houses being leveled I knew nobody was going to invest the money needed to have saved even one structure, let alone hundreds or the thousands throughout the city’s most sparsely populated neighborhoods.

!912 Clara Ave, left, and 1904 Clara Ave are occupied, the two houses in between were just razed.

Basically the city is partnering with a new non-profit, St. Louis Blight Authority, to clear four city blocks of vacant homes, overgrown trees, trash, etc. Occupied homes in the 4-block zone would remain.

The St. Louis Blight Authority is the organization behind a project to clear a four-block area in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood. The organizers believe the initiative could be just the beginning of a more far-reaching program. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Today I have a few critical observations, then I’ll offer some possible solutions.

Last week I searched the Missouri Secretary of State’s business listings to find out more about this new non-profit organization — I wanted to know structure, board members, etc. Guess what — no such organization exists!  I was also unable to find a website — not even a Twitter account. Transparency is important, If we’re told a non-profit is involved that non-profit should actually exist.

Another personal observation is “Wells Goodfellow” is an awful name for a neighborhood — The “Wells” refers to 19th century transit magnate Erastus Wells, “Goodfellow” is a major north-south street — more on that later.

Wells/Goodfellow is part of an historic section known as Arlington, which takes its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. A memorable disaster in the history of the Arlington area occurred in October 1916, when the Christian Brothers College building at North Kingshighway and Easton Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive) was destroyed by fire, one of the worst in the City’s history, taking 10 lives.

The area received its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. More subdivisions were built in the mid-1880s, with residential construction continuing until 1910. By the mid-1920s, the last of the residential subdivisions were opened. (St. Louis)

The 2013 housing development in the neighborhood uses the name Arlington Grove, so that name probably shouldn’t be used for the entire neighborhood.

Former Arlington School in North St. Louis is now residential
The 22 new buildings have similar materials but unique designs.

Some other name with Arlington in it could be good though. Perhaps just the Arlington neighborhood?  Or something to do with land developer William Burd (1818-1885)?  Though Burd isn’t the most marketable name and I don’t know his politics.  Was he a slave owner?  His wife Eliza’s maiden name is interesting: Goodfellow.

A new name could help change perceptions for residents, property owners, workers, and outsiders. The Old North St. Louis neighborhood wouldn’t have had lots of redevelopment & new construction if it was still called Murphy-Blair.

Possible solutions for the neighborhood are varied, need to be discussed in public sessions to obtain a consensus on how to move forward. My initial brainstorming came up with the following:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Push for new infill housing
  3. Abandon the center

Let me explain each of these options.

1. Do nothing

This means nothing different, maintain the status quo. So tear down houses once they’ve become a major eyesore. Continue city services (water, sewer, trash, police, fire, etc) to those who remain.

2. Push for new infill housing

Try to get Habitat for Humanity or another entity to build new housing on vacant lots. It would probably make sense to concentrate new construction on one or two blocks at first. These lots are narrow so you’d need 2-3 lots per new single family house. Include some multi-family construction as well.  Existing infrastructure (streets, alleys, sidewalks, water, sewer, etc) may need to be upgraded on these blocks.

3. Abandon the center

This will likely be the most controversial option, here it goes. Blocks that front onto the major streets of Dr. Martin Luther King, Goodfellow, Natural Bridge, and Union would be supported. New development would occur in these blocks only — to reinforce existing corridors. Everything inside of those blocks would be, over time, cleared.  All interior streets, alleys, etc would be removed. The interior land could be used for urban agriculture or perhaps a large employer. This would create two cleared areas, one on each side of Goodfellow.

The small red area is the 4-block area where recent demolition was concentrated. Occupied residences remain in that area and on every city block. The two purple areas that could be completely cleared for urban agricultural use would be split by concentrated development fronting Goodfellow.

This solution is a drastic measure, but it or something similar might be the best hope for a neighborhood that has lost population to the point where it no longer functions. I don’t foresee anyone being forced to move or sell their home. Nature  and economics is taking a toll quickly enough.

Langston Middle School is within the big purple area, but it is no longer listed as a school on the St. Louis Public Schools website. The building might be usable for hydroponics.

There are likely other buildings within the purple clear zones that could be reused within the cleared area. This area would still need water/sewer but not miles of alleys/streets/sidewalks.

Conclusion

I’ve presented a range of options, I’m sure if we put our heads together we can come up with many more.

The question I have is who will lead the effort to determine what happens next? Will it be the elderly residents who’ve stayed despite their families begging them to leave? The church leaders/parishioners who live elsewhere but drive in for Sunday services? An elected official? The nonexistent St. Louis Blight Authority?

I’m afraid the leadership vacuum will mean the “do nothing” status quo option will be selected by default.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Mixed On Latest Blight Removal Effort

July 24, 2019 Featured, History/Preservation, Neighborhoods, North City Comments Off on Readers Mixed On Latest Blight Removal Effort

Blight was in the news last week, and was the topic of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll.

Before I get to the poll results, let’s talk about blight.

We have obsolete and blighted districts because our interest has always been centered in the newest and latest houses and subdivisions in areas of new development. As home owners have moved to successive outlying neighborhoods the earlier homes have gradually been allowed to deteriorate. No matter how great the extent of disintegration these old homes are seldom adequately repaired and are rarely torn down. This is no way to build a sound city.

The above quote isn’t from a press release about the new effort, it’s from St. Louis’ Comprehensive Plan — from 1947!

Combating blight is nothing new, but what is blight? In 1947 part of their definition was the number of housing units built prior to 1900 (82,000), number of units with an outdoor privy/outhouse (33,000), and the number of units where families shared a toilet (25,000). Today we do still have units built before 1900, but I doubt a single housing unit in the city lacks a private bathroom.

Yet blight remains, in different forms.  Dictionary.com defines blight as:

the state or result of being blighted or deteriorated; dilapidation; decay: urban blight.

St. Louis certainly has lots of deteriorated, dilapidated housing stock. For every home lovingly restored there’s probably 10 in various states of disrepair. St. Louis has struggled with this for generations.  The latest effort because it involves two wealthy individuals trying to leverage their fortunes:

Tech billionaire Jack Dorsey, a St. Louis native and co-founder and CEO of both Square Inc. and Twitter, along with Detroit native Bill Pulte, whose grandfather founded national homebuilder Pulte Homes, were paying for the demolitions — $500,000 for a pilot program to completely clear more than 130 lots in a four-block area of the northwest St. Louis neighborhood hard hit by abandonment and vacancy.

“St. Louis is a lot easier to solve,” said Pulte, who several years ago launched the Blight Authority, a similar initiative in the Detroit area. “This problem can be solved. This problem can be solved in less than 15 years…. This is just about willpower at the government and private sector level.”

So why not renovated, rather than raze? Good question. The answer is complicated, but “willpower” is an important factor. If we look at Old North St. Louis many buildings in very poor condition were stabilized for many years until they could be renovated. It was a huge effort that paid off…eventually. The neighborhood has seen considerable new infill since, from Habitat for Humanity houses to a trendy shipping container house.  Very different than when I lived in the neighborhood, 1991-1994. It helps the neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Former Arlington School on Burd Ave in Wells Goodfellow neighborhood was converted into housing in 2012, new construction was built around it. This former school is the only building in the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. Click image to see my January 2013 post from the opening of the new housing, Arlington Grove.

The Wells Goodfellow neighborhood is very different from Old North.   It’s also old, but at least a generation newer than Old North.

Wells/Goodfellow is part of an historic section known as Arlington, which takes its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. A memorable disaster in the history of the Arlington area occurred in October 1916, when the Christian Brothers College building at North Kingshighway and Easton Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive) was destroyed by fire, one of the worst in the City’s history, taking 10 lives.

The area received its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. More subdivisions were built in the mid-1880s, with residential construction continuing until 1910. By the mid-1920s, the last of the residential subdivisions were opened. (City of St. Louis)

The location is on the far west edge of the city:

Wells Goodfellow general boundaries are defined as Natural Bridge Ave. on the North, southward to Union Blvd. on the East, westward to Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on the South, northward to the City limits on the West to Natural Bridge Ave. (City of St. Louis)

The housing stock is a mix of brick structures like we see in many neighborhoods, and wood frame structures that are becoming increasingly rare.

I photographed this wood-frame home at 1928 Burd Ave in the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood in January 2012. It was built in 1903.
If we look closer the original porch brackets remain, the porch light is on so it was occupied.

I’m a huge fan of old wood-frame buildings, especially large homes from St. Louis’ heyday. The home above was a pile of rubble by August 2017 but not cleaned up until this month.

Across the street 1927 Burd Ave was still standing on Saturday, but both brick structures on each side had been razed. This frame house is likely gone by now, it was built in 1884.

These large frame homes are the exception for the neighborhood, most housing is smaller and modest.

!912 Clara Ave, left, and 1904 Clara Ave are occupied, the two similar houses in between were just razed.

The two that were razed were in bad shape two years ago. 1910 Clara Ave was built in 1908, was just over a thousand square feet in size. 1906 Clara Ave was built a year earlier, was just under 900 square feet. The two remaining houses are similar vintage and size.

The red dashed line shows the initial 4-block “blight elimination zone”

I’m sure the owner-occupant of one of the remaining houses is relieved to have the dilapidated neighboring structure gone. Both of the razed houses might have been technically feasible to renovate, but the economics just don’t add up in Wells Goodfellow.

There is one neighborhood in St. Louis where modest frame & masonry shotgun houses are well maintained, and often renovated. The Hill — the Italian neighborhood.

A couple of modest frame houses in The Hill neighborhood

When these aren’t renovated you’ll see a larger home built where 2-3 once existed.

Here we see a large newer home, left, on the same block as very modest houses. The house two to the right is very small.

The Hill neighborhood is of similar vintage and the housing stock was originally very similar — modest worker housing of frame or brick construction. One has had continuous investment, the other large scale abandonment.  In Wells Goodfellow few buildings are listed for sale in the MLS.  Those that are listed cost less than the average new car. Hell, less than many good used cars. Other city neighborhoods with this type of housing the unfortunate reality is closer to Wells Goodfellow than The Hill.

So when an owner-occupant dies their family sells the house to the only buyer, likely an absentee landlord. At these prices they can recoup their initial investment in less than 5 years.  The landlord rents it for as long as they can, then walk away.

This brings us back to the issue raised in the 1947 plan:

We spend $4,000,000 general tax funds annually to maintain our obsolete areas. (This sum represents the difference in cost of governmental service and tax collections annually in these areas.)

In 1947 we had overcrowding and hadn’t reached our peak population. Since then we’ve lost nearly 2/3 of our population.  Do we write off this neighborhood, or keep investing like the successful Arlington Grove housing immediacy to the south of this blight elimination zone?

In 1975, consultants from Team Four Inc. advised St. Louis planners to pursue a strategy of neighborhood triage: ‘‘conservation’’ for areas in good health, ‘‘redevelopment’’ for areas just starting to decline, and ‘‘depletion’’ for areas already in severe distress. The firm’s recommended strategy reflected the latest thinking among urban planners, but it provoked outrage among residents of the city’s predominantly black North Side, who read ‘‘depletion’’ as a promise of benign neglect. (The Trap of Triage: Lessons from the ‘‘Team Four Plan’’)

While you ponder the implications of not rebuilding the neighborhood, let me share more of my photos from visits this weekend.

I’m in love with the architecture of both 2518, right, and 2520 Clara Ave.
Looking south on Clara Ave at cross street Highland Ave., the frame house on the corner also has very nice proportions.
5744 & 5748 Highland Ave, just before Goodfellow on Saturday.
24 hours later I returned to see 5748 Highland Ave had burned.
5711 Kennerly Ave, left, was the most interesting house on a very depressing block

I get these mass demolitions, if I lived in Wells Goodfellow the decay would be stifling. I also think the mass demolitions will send the message not to invest in the housing, because the neighborhood is disposable.

Here are the non-scientific results of the Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: 15 years from now these cleared blocks in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood will be an asset, lifting the rest of the neighborhood.

  • Strongly agree: 3 [9.68%]
  • Agree: 7 [22.58%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [6.45%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 2 [6.45%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 4 [12.9%]
  • Disagree: 4 [12.9%]
  • Strongly disagree: 7 [22.58%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 2 [6.45%]

It’s very hard to think the area of cleared lots will be an asset in 15 years, a lot depends on what happens next.

— Steve Patterson

 

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