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15th Annual Look at St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

January 21, 2019 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on 15th Annual Look at St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

This is my 15th annual look at St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, but my first as a resident living North of the street named for the civil rights leader.

After decades at Tucker & MLK, the Post-Dispatch will soon be moving to smaller offices nearby.
Dr. Martin Luther King Drive ends a block East of Tucker, at Hadley. Hopefully the new owners of the building will do something to improve the pedestrian experience along the West side of Hadley.
Last year this building at 14th was being prepped to reopen, which it did.
Been watching the back of this building fall away for many years now.
A message on the board covering the door of another vacant building, just to the West of the previous.
Next doors is a charming old service station. This is located on the corner where 3 streets come together: MLK, Webster, and James Cool Papa Bell. Bell was a baseball player in the negro leagues, click image to learn more about him.
Close up of the boards covering the door & windows.
The coffeehouse at MLK & Page, in the Housing Authority building, moved a year or so ago. The retail space remains vacant.
This suburban-style business incubator contains a number of businesses, but also a storefront church and the alderman’s office.
Bricks are starting to fall from this building. It should be stabilized, but it’ll likely be allowed to crumble until neighbors demand it be razed.
Across MLK this building is having some issues at the top center. It’ll likely be worse next year.
Would be nice to see a project that includes the rehab of the former John Marshall School. Click image to view the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Another building in need of stabilization.
After a fire a few years ago I thought this building near Euclid would be gone soon — but it’s still here.
Saw some newer houses so I turned onto Clara Ave., one looks like it has been boarded for a while now. the others all look well maintained.
One of my favorite buildings in the entire city is still hanging on.
Despite lacking a roof…
The hole in the side of this building keeps getting larger every year. I’m thinking now the buildings from here to Hamilton have been razed. Welcome to the once-bustling Welston Loop area.
On the West side of Hamilton the first building is having major issues.
Here’s a close up.
Other buildings on the same block are in better condition. Across MLK is the old JC Penny.
On the South side of MLK another storefront was recently razed.
And finally we have the deteriorating Welston Loop streetcar building.

It’s hard not to get depressed by the lack of investment in this corridor.

— Steve Patterson

 

Now Living North of Delmar in Columbus Square Neighborhood

January 14, 2019 Featured, North City, Steve Patterson Comments Off on Now Living North of Delmar in Columbus Square Neighborhood

A week ago I shared that we moved, leaving the Downtown West neighborhood. I’m happy to report that I’m once again living north of the Delmar Divide. I’ve told the following Delmar Divide story before, but it has been a while, so it’s worth repeating:

When I first moved to St. Louis in 1990 I rented an efficiency apartment on Lindell in the Central West End, I was 23. The apartment manager was a childhood friend of the mom of a friend I’d met in college, the two women grew up in the 1950s near O’Fallon Park in North St. Louis.  The manager, looking out for her young new tenant from Oklahoma, advised me: “don’t go north of Delmar.”

My 3-room flat in Old North at 1422 Sullivan, 1991-1992

I’d just moved to St. Louis after falling in love with the street grid, substantial architecture, and tremendous potential — I had to see this forbidden part of the city where I shouldn’t go.  I fell in love all over, marveling at the beauty being abandoned.

After 6 months in the CWE I moved to a 3-room flat in Old North St. Louis (then called Murphy-Blair). I still have friendships with neighbors from time, and lots of fond memories.

Years later I’m living in my 7th St. Louis neighborhood:

  1. Benton Park (couple of weeks in Aug/Sept 1990)
  2. Central West End (6 months 90-91)
  3. Old North St. Louis (3+ years  91-94)
  4. Dutchtown (9+ years 94-03)
  5. Mt. Pleasant (4+ years 03-07)
  6. Downtown West (11+ years 07-18)
  7. And now: Columbus Square  (19…?)

My friend Mark Groth blogged about the Neighborhood in March 2010, with lots of photos showing the various developments. He concluded his post this way:

Frankly, this is not a neighborhood that overly inspires me, nor one I would take someone from out of town to showcase the city.  I’m just not into 1980’s architecture.  However, if you are interested in the history of public housing and government subsidized housing, check out Columbus Square.  It has a long history of being home to slums and crime; but, it’s a long way from a slum today.  Maybe Columbus Square will actually be a nice doorstep for north city and the site of more positivity and investment for the near north side in the coming years. (St. Louis City Talk)

Ouch, but I agree.

Looking north the Columbus Square neighborhood, view from parking garage located along Cole St @ 10th St. Twin towers of the historic Shrine of St. Joseph can be seen in the background.

Still, I love exploring new neighborhoods. It’s one thing to go down an unfamiliar street occasionally, but its another to get an opportunity to immerse oneself in a new experience.  In future posts I’ll talk about why we moved and why we selected the housing we did.

It feels very good to again be living North of Delmar.

— Steve Patterson

 

Goodbye City Block 1404

November 19, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, North City Comments Off on Goodbye City Block 1404

When I decided to move to St. Louis in August 1990 the street grid was a big factor in that decision. In fact, it’s better to say street grids — plural. Rather than a monotonous grid for miles we get many grids at odd angles to each other. The resulting odd-shaped parcels means we have some very unique building shapes — built to fill the lot up to the sidewalk.

One such group made the top of my April 2015 Buildings I’d Like To See Rehabbed post.

Collection of buildings on North Florissant at Ferry/Gore/Carter. Click image to view in Google Maps.

Every time I’d pass by on the #74 MetroBus, or drive past, I’d admire the fine proportions. I’d usually take a pic or two.

August 2017
September 2018
September 2018

And then a couple of weeks ago…

November 11, 2018

This has been unbelievably depressing. I’m not shocked, I’ve watched it deteriorate and in September I could see one building had a fire. Others hadn’t had a decent roof in years.

Aerial from Google Maps shows poor roof conditions

These all appear on the October 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps:

Sheet 088, volume three

These buildings were all built in 1900-01, with the last in 1908:

  • 4301 Grove Street: 1901
  • 4303 Grove Street/4305-09 N. Florissant Ave: 1900
  • 4311-13 N. Florissant Ave: 1908
  • 4315-17 N. Florissant Ave: 1901

In 2015 I thought there were owned by the City’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), but that was incorrect. The owner is Citibrook II, L.L.C., formed in January 1998.   It’s not clear how long this limited liability corporation has owned these buildings. I still fail to see how tearing down buildings improves neighborhoods.

Hopefully the former Eliot School, across Grove St, will get rehabbed.

Eliot School, built in 1898, at 4242 Grove St

At least this property is for sale:

One of W.B. Ittner’s original designs, this building is listed on the National Register and would be ideal for housing, assisted living or a medical facility. The school was named for William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington University. (Saint Louis Public Schools)

Asking price is $256,000. Maybe with the nearby group gone a developer will be interested? For more on Eliot School see St. Louis Patina.

— Steve Patterson

 

Blairmont Became NorthSide Regeneration, Received Blessing of Mayor Slay and a Majority of Aldermen

June 20, 2018 Featured, NorthSide Project, Planning & Design Comments Off on Blairmont Became NorthSide Regeneration, Received Blessing of Mayor Slay and a Majority of Aldermen

On Monday I took you back through years of looking into various shell companies involving hundreds of properties, many acres, and lots of secrecy — up to the public reveal in late May 2009. If you missed it, see Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’.

That Fall, during the Board of Aldermen’s 2009-2010 session, two bills (BB218 & BB219) were introduced by then 5th ward alderman April Ford-Griffin and 4 co-sponsors: Freeman M Bosley Sr.(2nd), Kacie Starr Triplett (6th), Phyllis Young (7th), and Marlene E Davis (19th).  Of these 5 aldermen,  only Marlene Davis is still in office.

These two bills, despite significant public opposition, moved quickly through the Board:

  • 10/16/2009 First Reading
  • 10/23/2009 Second Reading
  • 10/30/2009 Perfection, Third Reading

Online voting records only go back to 2015, so I can’t tell you who, if anyone, voted against these bills.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay signs 2 bills for Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project on November 10, 2009.

In November 2009 Mayor Francis Slay signed the two bills at an event held in front of the Clemens Mansion, which was going to be rehabbed by state tax credits (low income and/or historic) didn’t come through. The still-vacant property burned on July 12, 2017.

I was there whenPaul McKee  & Mayor Slay kicked off NorthSide Regeneration, here’s there comments that day.

The two bills became  two ordinances:

After the two bills became ordinances, lawsuits were filed, more legislation passed with more tax credits and so on. In the meantime, the National Geospacial-Itellegence Agency (NGA) picked a sparsely populated area North of the old Pruitt-Igoe site for their new West headquarters, relocating from South St. Louis. See New NGA West Location Will Gut St. Louis Place Neighborhood, Not Revitalize What Remains. As mentioned on Monday, the 5th Ward master plan, adopted in 2002, designed the area for new development.

Wednesdays is when I share the results of the non-scientific Sunday Poll, so here they are:

Q: Agree or disagree: Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration project was the only hope for reviving much of North St. Louis

  • Strongly agree 4 [11.11%]
  • Agree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat agree 16 [16.67%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 1 [2.78%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1  [2.78%]
  • Disagree 5 [13.89%]
  • Strongly disagree 19 [52.78%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

I’d planned to share my thoughts on what St. Louis should do next now that McKee’s project has collapsed, but that’ll need a separate post. So Monday won’t be about all the issues frim the past 15 years…it’ll be about the next 15 years as I think they should go.

— Steve Patterson

 

Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’

June 18, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, NorthSide Project, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Before It Was Officially Named NorthSide Regeneration, We Knew It As ‘Blairmont’

With the news last week that the City of St. Louis now considers developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project in default and Missouri suing him for tax fraud, I got to thinking about how we got here.

To my knowledge the first blog post about Blairmont was Michael Allen’s July 21, 2005 entry titled Seeking Blairmont, here’s a snippet:

Blairmont owns many properties on the Near North Side of St. Louis and is notoriously hard to reach. No one can find out anything about Blairmont except that a man named Harry Noble supposedly owns the company — but even that isn’t verified. A search through the Missouri Secretary of State’s corporation registry reveals that the “CT Corporation System” registered the name “Blairmont Associates LC” on behalf of an anonymous party or parties.

Many of Blairmont’s properties seem to be vacant lots in Old North St. Louis, St. Louis Place and other neighborhoods, although the company recently purchased a vacant St. Louis Public Schools property at 2333 Benton.

Other people report needing to make agreements with Blairmont to repair shared utilities or utilities that run through Blairmonnt properties, and having difficulty finding a phone number. 

If you know anything about Blairmont, please post a comment here and maybe we’ll be able to help Lyra and others who are interested in contacting the company.

Many wrote about Blairmont, but Michael Allen was most prolific. For example, in December 2005 he wrote:

The July 15 Quarterly Report of the Jordan W. Chambers 19th Ward Regular Democratic Organization reveals some interesting information about its contributors. Namely, that the following contributors, all real estate holding companies, share the same address:

N & G Ventures LC
Noble Development Company
VHS Partners LLC
McEagle Properties LLC
West Alton Holding Company LLC
Oakland Properties, Inc.
Blairmont Associates Limited Company

That address is 1001 Boardwalk Springs Place in O’Fallon, Missouri .  1001 Boardwalk Springs Place is the address of the largest office building in the sprawling WingHaven development. This also happens to be the mailing address for Paric Corporation and McEagle Development, the well-known companies founded by wealthy developer Paul McKee, Jr. (Paric is now led by McKee‘s son Joe.)

In the above post Allen lists how many properties were owned by each entity. At the time I was in real estate so I could look up all the properties owned by name. Using Allen’s list of names we were quickly able to create a list of hundreds of properties involved. The data was exported in XLS format so he could create a master spreadsheet.

In the meantime, BJC Healthcare was wanting development rights to Hudlin Park — a former piece of Forest Park with their underground parking garage. The local neighborhood group, for which the park was a part of, was to hold a meeting on BJC’s plans.

In April 2006 I wrote:

I just love how all this works:

1) Hatch evil plan around self interests but tied concerns about higher taxes if not accepted.
2) Get politicos on board with plan. After all, that is why we give them contributions!
3) Get local group on board now that they are used to our annual grants.
4) Oh yeah, almost forgot, hold some sort of public meeting now that all the decisions are made. Solicit “input” without laughing.
5) Wrap up song & dance and return to doing whatever we feel like secure in the knowledge the alderman and neighborhood are eating out of our hands.

What a system we’ve got.

Keep the above sarcastic playbook in the back of your head. Blairmont moved from blogs to print on January 10, 2007 when the Riverfront Times wrote about it, here’s a quote on Allen:

Michael Allen has tracked the company’s comings and goings on his Web site, www .www.eco-absence.org. He says that the Blairmont group of companies (which operate under names such as VHS Partners, N&G Ventures and Noble Development Company) has accumulated nearly 400 properties — more than 1,000 acres — in the Fifth and Nineteenth wards. 

“They show no signs of slowing down,” says Allen. 

Among Blairmont Associates’ properties are the historic James Clemens Jr. House at 1849 Cass Avenue, which is a stately-but-crumbling mansion, and the Brecht Butcher Supply Company buildings at 1201-17 North Cass Avenue, which were gutted by fire last October. 

Residents first identified Blairmont as a neighborhood force about three years ago, says Sean Thomas, executive director of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. The nonprofit group, which was established in 1981 to help revitalize the area, grew uneasy because Blairmont didn’t seem concerned with upkeep.

That same day, on January 10, 2007, I saved a PDF of Paul McKee’s bio on the McEagle website. Two issues, BJC/Hudlin Park and hundreds of vacant/derelict properties had one connection: Paul McKee. Ten days later the RFT had part 2 of their Blairmont story:

Before the 2007 legislative session, the developer met with Republican state senator John Griesheimer of Washington. Griesheimer, who chairs the Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee, says a mutual friend suggested the confab to smooth things over with McKee, who had lobbied last year against a tax increment financing (TIF) reform bill the senator favored. 

Griesheimer says McKee seized the opportunity to float the idea of a tax credit to encourage development in distressed areas. The senator ultimately inserted the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act into an omnibus economic-development bill that now awaits the signature of Governor Matt Blunt. A spokeswoman for Blunt says that because there are so many provisions to consider, the governor will take his time signing. His deadline is July 14.

Although I’d read about Blairmont, and worked behind the scenes with Michael Allen on identifying properties, I hadn’t written about it…yet.

My post from February 9, 2007 was my first to use the word ‘Blairmont’, here’s how I opened the post  “Blairmont Scheme” Is Fulfillment of Official City Plans:

Much has been written lately about the sinister plot, known to many as “Blairmont”, to bulldoze North St. Louis (specifically the St. Louis Place neighborhood). The focus has been on various straw companies such as Blairmont Associates, LLC and part owner Paul McKee. McKee is a founder of well known commercial contractor Paric, an officer in McEagle Development and current Chairman of BJC Healthcare. In other words, a prominent citizen for all that’s worth.

The major issue has been these companies are buying hundreds of properties, including some very historic structures, and letting them sit empty and decaying. A few have had some devistating fires. Nobody has been able to track down any more information on the motives & intention behind these purchases. Interestingly, the answer was under our noses the whole time.

This is all part of a public plan, one of many actually. 

The following was an example I cited:

In 2002 the city’s Planning Commission adopted the 5th Ward Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan. It should be noted the boundaries are the old 5th Ward, not the boundaries as changed around the same time as the plan was being adopted. Anyway, in the plan a large swath of land just north of the long vacant Pruitt-Igoe site is shown hatched out with the designation “Proposed Large Land Use (for further study).” In other words, level anything remaining and start fresh. There it is, fully adopted after numerous public meetings and everything.

Fast forward to Monday May 11, 2009 when McKee was to finally attend a North side resident meeting and talk about his plans. So how did the meeting & presentation go? I’ll let Alex Ihnen explain:

Well today the plan was offered to select attendees at meeting on the North Side. The press wasn’t allowed and even Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL was asked to leave as a member of the press. Well, well, bloggers have come a long way huh?

So what’s on the table? 

  • $400M TIF
  • Mixed infill residential with commercial centers
  • 22,000 permanet jobs and up to 43,000 temporary jobs mostly in construction 
  • Commercial centers located near 22nd street & I-64, Jefferson & Cass, Jefferson & Natural Bridge, and the new I-70 bridge terminus. 
  • Light rail and the requisite bike lanes
  • Preservation of existing historic buildings

So what’s missing? Just developers and financing, that’s all. It appears as though McKee will be asking for concessions from just about everyone and I’m not sure that people are clamoring for development on the north side enough to give him carte blanche. This is just the first word, but it appears that the potential $400M TIF will be up for a vote as early as this coming Friday.

Yes, I was asked to leave a meeting. Never mind that where I lived then is where I live — which became part of the 5th ward after the last redistricting. I got into my wheelchair , left the meeting, and joined the press outside.

Sign outside meeting where I was asked to leave

The next week another meeting was scheduled for May 21, 2009  — the press was welcome to attend.  That morning I wrote:

Today “shrinking cities” are studied and various techniques are debated.  In the 70s in St. Louis the Team Four plan was seen as a racist plot to deny services to a minority population.  We know more today about how to adjust to shrinking populations.

Tonight we will see another, a huge heavily subsidized redevelopment plan.  Many are opposed simply based on the history of the project to date.  I for one plan to go with an open mind. I have reservations about both the developer and the political leadership.  Griffin’s view on the role of zoning doesn’t give me a lot of hope for what may be presented in pretty artist renderings actually being completed as promised.  A good framework of a zoning code can help ensure the promised vision develops into reality.

Source: McEagle

Six days later I shared my thoughts, the following is part of what I wrote:

For five years now Paul McKee of McEagle Properties has been acquiring properties in a large swath of land in the near North side of St. Louis.  These were purchased through a long list of holding companies such as Blairmont Associates LLC.  The first few years this was under the radar. But people, notably Michael Allen, began to notice the properties and their common ownership.

Many are upset about how events transpired.  Quietly buying property, little to no maintenance, and so on.  These issues have been hashed out here, on other sites and in the meeting on the 21st when a guy stood and called McKee a f-ing liar.  I’m not going to rehash it all again.  Instead I’m going to jump into the proposal.

I think because of this academic background I’m able to step aside from my anger at the loss of the warehouse at Cass & Tucker and the many other reasons so many are angry.  Three years ago my reaction would have been quite different.   So what do I think of the plan now that I’ve had a chance to see the proposal?

I like it.  I don’t like how we got to this point (Urban Renewal trashing North St. Louis, city dropping the ball, McKee coming in).  Typically we expect government to do what the private market fails to do.  Here we turn this around, the private market is stepping in where the public sector has failed:  planning. I like what it has the long-term potential of doing for the city.

McKee’s plan calls for four job centers — large sites suitable for one or more companies to have a new campus setting.  No surprise here, this is what McEagle does in suburban areas.  This is a chance to get these jobs (and taxes) in the city.

I am excited about the potential this project brings to the city & region. A chance to get some large new employers — or to retain the ones we’ve got.  A chance to change perceptions about North St. Louis.  A chance to fill in the many gaps in our building stock.  A chance to add needed population.  A chance to get a modern streetcar/trolley line connecting the project area to downtown.  A chance to get thousands of parcels of land out of city ownership.

Before someone suggests I was bought off I can assure you I’m still a struggling grad student.  I’ve met Paul McKee twice — the 1st time 3-4 years ago at a meeting of the Dardenne Prairie Board of Aldermen.  The 2nd time was at McKee’s presentation last Thursday.  This 2nd time he knew who I was and he offered his card.  After a couple of emails I got the above images out of him, nothing else.

But while I like the big picture planning involved I have reservations about the follow through on the project.  Paul McKee promised New Urbanism at WingHaven but delivered a half-assed cartoon version.  The St. Louis Board of Aldermen, as a general rule with a few exceptions, do not get what compromises walkable urbanism.  How will they know what to require of McKee? To be sure our old 1947 zoning needs to be tossed aside for this area.  A new form-based code needs to be laid over the project area to guide future development to ensure we get what we are promised.

I want this project to succeed — financially & urbanisticly.  I want to live along the trolley line.  I want St. Louis to be a city of 500,000 people again in 20-25 years.

I’m going to stop here for now, I’ll continue on Wednesday and share my thoughts on what St. Louis should do next.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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