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Why I Use Washington Avenue Rather Than A More Direct Route

When I leave my loft at 16th & Locust to go east into our downtown central business district I often go north to Washington Ave to head eastbound even if I plan to end up on Locust, Olive, Pine, etc. Why go out of my way rather than a more direct path? Why not just stay on Locust or go down to Olive? Here’s why…

ABOVE: The city cites "health and safety reasons" for closing the sidewalks.
Besides accessibility problems, the city has closed Locust sidewalks between 14th-15th.
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Olive has many accessibility issues as well, like this one between 11th & Tucker.
This photo was taken two years ago today at 6:19pm on April 20, 2011

I’ve reported the above problem but like so many others downtown it remains an obstacle.  There are blocks I avoid completely because of a lack of a curb ramp (such as SE corner of 11th & St. Charles, SE corner of 9th & St. Charles).

I’m surprised these have remained for so long.

— Steve Patterson

McKee’s Northside Regeneration Moving Forward

As you’ve likely heard by now, last week the Missouri Supreme Court overturned a 2010 ruling that Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration development plans were too vague for TIF financing:

After over 3 years of litigation, developer Paul McKee’s controversial Northside Regeneration Project is being allowed to proceed.  On Tuesday the Missouri Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision blocking McKee’s use of so-called “Tax Increment Financing,” (TIF) for the development. (St. Louis Public Radio)

I’ve never been thrilled about how McKee handled property acquisition and maintenance, but I recognize the city’s total absence of planning and working toward a common vision left an opening for private interests without public input.

Original outline of McKee’s Northside Regeneration project

The project area is large but it’s a fraction of the city as a whole. There are many other parts of the city, north & south, dealing with continued population decline, increases in vacant buildings, and other signs of decay. Where’s the people upset the city isn’t doing anything to solicit public input in the rest of the city? Transportation, housing, jobs, education, etc are all being ignored.

The Jaco report just had Paul & Midge McKee on taking about their project, see the video here.

One of the biggest issues is the massive TIF (tax increment financing) package for the project. What needs to be understood is the pros and cons of the TIF tool. When a municipality invests in new infrastructure in stable and up & coming areas few tend to object since people see the value of improving desirable locations. Conversely, this means declining areas don’t see improvements in public infrastructure (sidewalks, roads, sewers, lighting, etc).  Both are self-fulfilling in that rebuilding public infrastructure in the sable/improving areas further helps these areas while the lack of infrastructure investment in others accelerates decline in others.

Begin replacing sidewalks & lighting in sparsely populated declining neighborhoods and people will quickly question the return on that investment.  This is where the TIF tool come in, a private developer agrees to invest in a blighted area and pay much more in property taxes than the municipality currently collects but only in part of that tazx is used to pay off bonds used to rebuild the public infrastructure the municipality can’t afford to rebuild otherwise.

The developer needs the new infrastructure to attract investors/buyers/tenants but the municipality can’t rebuild the infrastructure without a way to pay for it. The municipality can’t risk existing revenues to pay off bonds to rebuild the infrastructure so that means new revenue must be used.  Sales taxes are a bad source for these revenues

  • Residential & office development don’t pay sales taxes
  • Sales taxes would take too long to accrue
  • Our sales tax rate is already sky high

This leaves property taxes as a source of revenue. To simplify things say the property is paying $100/year in property taxes but after redevelopment the property taxes will now be $200/year. With the TIF the municipality/school district would still collect the $100 it always did, $5o (increment) would go to pay off infrastructure bonds and the remaining $50 would go to the municipality/school district. Do nothing get $100/year or do the project and get $150/year.

The actual numbers will be different but you get the point: public infrastructure gets rebuilt, building happens, more taxes are collected than if nothing happened. This is a simplified view and there are cons such as favoritism for the developer(s), risk of pushing out good people, etc.

My concern is St. Louis won’t require good urbanism such as strong pedestrian connections. The infrastructure needs to be rebuilt and TIF is the best way to do that, but we need to have a say on characteristics of the final development.

— Steve Patterson

Five Years Since Pyramid Properties Ceased Operations

Five years ago today major St. Louis developer Pyramid Properties, led by John Steffens, collapsed, leaving a long trail of unfinished properties.  From May 2010:

City leaders and Pyramid’s former partners say the transfer of properties is remarkable given the size and scope of the properties involved and the timing of the deals in the midst of the Great Recession.

“It has worked out far better than I expected,” said Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff. “The fact that people were willing to not race to the courthouse steps is the only reason this didn’t end up a total disaster.”

Instead of filing lawsuits or filing for foreclosure, many of Steffen’s lenders, investors and former partners suspended disbelief and instead participated in a workout process that began days after Pyramid closed its doors. (St. Louis Business Journal)

With the properties untangled many have since been completed by others, including, but not limited to:

ABOVE: Art display windows facing 16th Street
Leather Trades, building completed as artists apartments, shown above: art display windows facing 16th Street
The Metropolitan, now artists lofts
The Metropolitan, now artists lofts
South Grand Senior Apartments finished and occupied
South Grand Senior Apartments finished and occupied
Former Dillard's became The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites Hotel and Robust Wine Bar
Former Dillard’s became The Laurel Apts, Embassy Suites Hotel and Robust Wine Bar
St. Louis Centre became the MX. Pi Pizzeria was the first to open.
St. Louis Centre became the MX. Pi Pizzeria was the first to open.  MX Movies, Snarf’s Sandwiches, The Collective, and Takaya New Asian have since opened for business.
One City Centre got a new entrance and a new name reflecting the address change to 600 Washington
One City Centre got a new entrance and a new name reflecting the address change to 600 Washington
The former Carter Carburetor Company headquarters building is now the Grand Center Arts Academy.
The former Carter Carburetor Company headquarters building is now the Grand Center Arts Academy.

The above properties show that even in a down economy projects can happen. Still, the future of a few other former Pyramid projects remains unclear or just getting started:

The Jefferson Arms remains vacant although different developers are trying to  put together a deal to rehab the property.
The Jefferson Arms remains vacant although different developers are trying to put together a deal to rehab the property.
The Arcade-Wright buildings
Dominium Development, the Minneapolis-based company behind the Leather Trades & Metropolitan artists loft apartments hopes to repeat the formula in the attached Arcade-Wright buildings
The Mercantile Library is now at UMSL, the former building remains vacant.
The Mercantile Library collection is now at UMSL, the former building downtown remains vacant.
River Roads Mall was razed before Pyramid collapsed, the site remains vacant. This former bank, adjacent to the mall site, also remains vacant. More on River Roads next week.

Considering how much property Pyramid had tied up in complicated financial transactions it’s remarkable what has been accomplished in the last five years. Hopefully the  remaining projects will be completed in the new few years.

— Steve Patterson

Fascinated By The Rooftop YMCA Sign

I’m a fan of high quality signage, especially neon letters. Living where I do I frequently see the YMCA letters on top of the downtown Y at 1528 Locust (map).

The YMCA sign at 16th & Locust last weekend
The YMCA sign at 16th & Locust last weekend

Last weekend I snapped the pic above while waiting for the St. Louis Marathon runners to pass mile 6. Have a great weekend!

— Steve Patterson

Dumpsters Block Pine Street Sidewalk At The Park Pacific

I’ve not had much reason to walk along the south side of the Park Pacific building but that changed on Monday when three new eateries opened for business: Smoothie King, Alumni St. Louis, & Flying Cow Frozen Yogurt.

Flying Cow Frozen Yogurt in the NW corner of the Park Pacific at 13th & Olive
Flying Cow Frozen Yogurt in the NW corner of the Park Pacific at 13th & Olive
Alumni St. Louis restaurant facing 13th Street
Alumni St. Louis restaurant facing 13th Street
Smoothie King is located on Pine St in the garage attached to the Park Pacific
Smoothie King is located on Pine St in the first floor of the parking garage attached to the Park Pacific

Very handy having these three so close to my loft! Unfortunately a problem exists reaching all three. You see, the roll out dumpsters for Park Pacific are frequently left out blocking the sidewalk along Pine. Depending upon where they are it’s ether a pain in the butt, or impossible, to pass by in a wheelchair. The able-bodied are forced into the street as well.

Looking west toward 13th
Looking west toward 13th
Looking east toward Tucker
Looking east toward Tucker

The dumpsters have a designated space between the Park Pacific and adjacent parking garage, yet someone is just leaving the out where the block the sidewalk. Hopefully this won’t continue!

— Steve Patterson

 

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