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A “proud Catholic” Takes Me To Task…Anonymously

Two years ago the big controversy in town was the tug of war between Archbiship Burke and the lay board of St. Stanislaus Kaska over their property, building and substantial endowment. Although excommunicated, to my knowledge the lay board still controls the church’s financial matters.

Recently someone stumbled onto my post from December 5, 2005, St. Stanislaus Kostka to Welcome Father Mark on Christmas Eve, and had a few things to say

Steve,
You do yourself and your readers a deep disservice when you write out of such ignorance and limited knowledge. Not being a Catholic (or Polish if that has anything to do with it) you show your ignorance of the governance and organization of the Roman Catholic Church when you write about the lay board being more able to govern the finances of the Archdiocese as well as when you write about St Stan’s “belonging” to the parishioners. Study your American Catholic history, friend, and you will find millions of immigrants and native-born ethnic folks who have given their last pennies to their Catholic parish, not because it belongs to them, but precisely because it DOESN’T–it belongs to God, as does all glory, laud and honor. And because the Churches belong to God and not just people, the Catholic Church entrusts them and their finances to the existing Church reporting structure so that prideful, controlling manipulating people don’t try to “own” what belongs to God! I know this is much after the fact, but I just read your blaaagghh and totally disagree. And please keep the judgement call about “harshbishop” Burke to yourself unless and until you ARE Catholic AND Polish!

I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about the Catholic Church, what I do know doesn’t impress. Although I was not raised in a specific faith, my mother was raised Mennonite. My upbringing was largely based on what my mom learned from being raised Mennonite in a small farm community in western Oklahoma (the 2000 census shows a population of less than 600). That whole side of my family is filled with Mennonites and Friends/Quakers. One of my mom’s aunts was a missionary in Africa (the largest Mennonite population is in Africa) and another uncle was a published theologian. One of the things that appealed to me about my family’s history and faith is that it was built around a simple life and local control – values I hold very dear.

So for me the notion of a local man, himself controlled by a man in Rome, having power over a group that has for decades fought to save their church against very high odds is just a foreign concept. Did God make up these rules or men in power? Then we have people giving their “last pennies” to a church that then closes — using those pennies to build new facilities in exurban areas in the region while abandoning areas in the urban core. If the churches belong to God then God needs to do a better job maintaining the buildings that have been left to deteriorate.
As far as my views, I will continue to exercise my rights of free speech and freedom of religion. If you don’t like what I say, you have the freedom to ignore me or vocally disagree. Catholicism is not the official religion here in St. Louis despite my alderwoman referring to areas by their parish. I am curious though, now many “proud” Catholics against a lay board running the finances at St. Stans support the lay board running the finances at St. Louis University?

 

St. Louis University is a Secular Institution, Not a Catholic or Jesuit University

Yes, you read correctly, Saint Louis University is neither a Catholic or Jesuit University. Now I know what you are thinking, that I’ve gone off the deep end this time. Everyone knows Saint Louis University is a Catholic University, right? Well, just hear me out. First, I personally agree with most of you the university is most definintely a Catholic University run by Jesuit priests. So where does this proclamation come from saying the university is secular and not a religious institution? There is a group, which I will reveal in a minute, who are making this claim and doing so in court. The case is on the docket for the Missouri Supreme Court to review on Wednesday February 21, 2007.

Interestingly, the group claiming Saint Louis University is not a Catholic University is…. Saint Louis University! Really, you just can’t make up stuff this good. Saint Louis University (SLU) is saying they are secular and they’ve got at least eight million reasons for trying to convince the court that is the case. Confused yet? Let me help you out but you’ve got to pay close attention because this is a complicated issue.

In short, some years back the city approved a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) plan for the Grand Center Redevelopment Area (itself blighted for some 30 years). Several projects were to be funded with this TIF including the SLU Arena, the old Woolworth Building and the Metropolitan Building. In total, 24 projects were listed within the district totaling some $80 million in TIF funds. Through some clever wording it turns out, critics claim, SLU will get all the area’s TIF money for the next seven or eight years — all going into the new arena, which broke ground last year. This might be as much as $14 million, they claim.

In the United States we have this pesky little provision in the constitution requiring separation of church and state. The Missouri constitution, I am told, goes even further in its wording on use of public money at religious institutions. So the question before the Missouri Supreme court is the use of $8 million in public TIF funds for the construction of an arena at a Catholic university. With $8 million in public tax money at risk, SLU has been quietly arguing in court they are not a Catholic university.

Now, I’m no theologeon but I kinda get the impression from SLU’s mission statement they are indeed a Catholic University:

The Mission of Saint Louis University is the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity. The University seeks excellence in the fulfillment of its corporate purposes of teaching, research and community service. It is dedicated to leadership in the continuing quest for understanding of God?s creation, and for the discovery, dissemination and integration of the values, knowledge and skills required to transform society in the spirit of the Gospels. As a Catholic, Jesuit university, the pursuit is motivated by the inspiration and values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and is guided by the spiritual and intellectual ideals of the Society of Jesus.

SLU’s argument is their board of directors are mostly lay persons, therefore they are not of any religious creed. Of course, all evidence is to the contrary. Here are some more tidbits from their mission statement page suggesting how they support the above mission, the university:

  • Strives continuously to seek means to build upon its Catholic, Jesuit identity, and to promote activities which apply that intellectual and ethical heritage to work for the good of society as a whole.
  • Nurtures within its community an understanding of and commitment to the promotion of faith and justice in the spirit of the Gospels.

There are numerous examples of SLU stating they are indeed a Catholic University, these are well cited in the various court briefs that I have been supplied. Here is one from a press release on the arena groundbreaking:

Saint Louis University is a Jesuit, Catholic university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of 11,800 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University is the place where knowledge touches lives.

Interesting, in the same press release SLU makes it sound like the full TIF is being paid solely from revenues generated by the arena:

The Arena will be funded through fundraising, $8 million in TIF funding and bonds, which will be paid off with revenues from the Arena.

If the arena were a single project TIF, such as say a downtown loft building, this would be completely true. But, the arena is part of the Grand Center revelopment area which was expanded to include the site, even though it is a substantial distance away from what we think of as Grand Center.

Basically the incremental increase in property taxes, sales tax and such from redeveloping the district are to be used to help fund projects. The reality is other property owners in the area are involuntarily helping subsidize SLU’s new arena. I was told by one opponent, intimately familiar with the issues involved, that one commercial property’s taxes were reassessed so that taxes increased from $5,000/year to roughly $35,000 per year.

By getting the property taxes raised, on the argument the district has increased in value thanks to SLU and former Alderman Mike McMillan, the owners are helping fund the TIF. Their choices are to pay up or sell. Say you’ve got a great building in the area and you want to redevelop it yourself or sell to a developer. You, like developers throughout the city, look for TIF and/or tax abatement to help make the project feasible. Here is where it gets a bit tricky.

First, you are graciously given a B or C bond on within the TIF. But, the chances of you ever getting any money on this bond are way down the road, after SLU has received their money first. SLU hold a “B” bond which is subordinate to their “A” bond. All other bonds that have been issued are subordinate to both of the SLU bonds which total over $10 million. So say you decide to go foward without a TIF but you want tax abatement to lock in the current (and increasing) property taxes at the current rate. Oh, sorry — no can do. What that means is even if you raise a substantial amount of money to complete a project within the district the property taxes will go up immediately and you’ll be helping fund, with public money, the arena for SLU.

Through a number of ordinances the city has determined that up to $80 million in TIF bonds can be sold. These will be broken down in A, B and C bonds with the A’s getting paid first and so on. SLU’s arena project got the first A bond, worth $8 million. The master developer for the area, Grand Center, Inc headed by former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl, has the authority to increase the bond by up to 30% making the $8 million bond rise to over $10 million. The second bond for SLU at $2.5 could easily go to $3.25 million. If that is not enough, and the tax revenue is there to support it, the Board of Aldermen could simply pass another ordinance to subordinate other bonds and issue another to SLU. SLU’s President, Father Biondi, argued in a deposition the TIF was necessary for the arena:

Q. Is it your opinion that the eight million is a necessity, and, if so, why?
A. Yes. It is a necessity . . . Athletics plays an important role here at St. Louis University. . . Why is an arena important? Because it’s an attractive venue for students from across the United States to come to this campus to be educated in the Jesuit
tradition. [emphasis mine]

They come to be “educated in the Jesuit tradition” at a non-Catholic, non-Jesuit university? I don’t think so.

Several issues are at play here. First, Grand Center has been blighted for decades and has a blanket TIF to aid in redevelopment but all the tax revenue is going to a single SLU project located a good distance from Grand Center. Second, SLU does not need the funds so the criteria used to determine if a project is eligible for a TIF, the “if not but for” test fails. SLU could build the arena without the $8 million in public funds. And finally SLU is a Catholic, Jesuit university and therefore is ineligible to receive public moneies based on the Missouri constitution.

I haven’t told you who filed the original lawsuit challenging the use of TIF for SLU, the Masonic Temple Association of St. Louis. Yes, this is the Masons vs. the Jesuits. Both sides been through a couple of rounds with SLU coming out the winner. The stakes are big and others have submitted “friends of the court briefs” on both sides the issue.

In addition to the above links, here are documents for your review:

Articles in the Press:

Most of the above articles are from the St. Louis Business Journal and all of those show a clear bias in favor of SLU and the TIF subsidy.  Basically this seems like an unfair deal and it explains why projects such as the Metropolitan Building and the old Woolworth have not gone forward.  No TIF for them, no project for us to consume.  With both TIF financing and church-state issues all wrapped up into one this will certainly be interesting to see how the Missouri Supreme Court rules on this case.

 

Edwardsville Church Votes for Sprawl

Edwardsville’s First Presbyterian Church voted a week ago yesterday to begin construction of a new larger facility on a large tract of land on the edge of town, next door to a mega church. For decades the church has been located in a very cute neighborhood just blocks from Edwardsville’s Main Street and literally around the corner from the Post Office. From their website:

First Presbyterian Church was founded March 17, 1819. It has the distinction of being the first church organized in the city of Edwardsville, and one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in Illinois…. Construction on our third and current home of worship took place in 1924. A large Christian education annex was added in 1960. Several improvements including the elevator, and a covered courtyard called “The Inner Room” were completed in association with the 175th Anniversary celebration in 1994.

Apparently some years ago the church purchased a 30 acre tract of farmland on the outskirts of town  as an investment. Indeed, the land has increased in value as expected but now a faction of the church wants to relocate to the sprawling edge- to be more “visible” in the community. With a vote of roughly 90 to 68 they’ve decided to begin the process of building a new church and apparently make plans for a gym. Visibility in the community no longer means being in the midst of a neighborhood in the center of town where a pedestrian might be alble to hear your service as they pass by but on a busy road where motorists can read your flashing sign from hundreds of yards away. Some look at sprawl and auto-centric development as a reaction to poor inner-city schools and white flight, but neither are the case in Edwardsville where they have a single school system and are nearly 90% white (87.7% per 2000 census data). So what explains all their sprawl? Auto-centric development has become completely ingrained in our society from homeowners, business owners, developers, bankers, architects & engineers to elected officials. Sprawl is the norm. What does it say about our society when a church votes to leave a charming neighborhood adjacent to an equally charming small town main street? Normal Rockwell would paint a picture of the current setting but wouldn’t go near where they plan to locate. Sadly, all the moves to the edge are ruining what was a picturesque landscape. I’m certainly not going to tell people what sort of faith to have but I will question the motives of a church for leaving the place where they’ve been for decades simply for a big parking lot, a gym and visibility on the scale of a fast-food restaurant. Churches have an important role as part of the community, not helping destroy the community by bolting to the suburban fringe. I talked with a couple of the members just days before the vote, they were hoping to stay put. Some members of other nearby Edwardsville churches were also lending support as they collectively want to strenghten the core of Edwardsville rather than see it left behind as sprawl engulfs the nearby farmland. I hope those that wish to stay in the center of Edwardsville do so, including their money. The suburban group may not be able to raise the $3.8 million they need to build their gym with attached santuary (in phase II). Update @ 8:10am — By the way, I forgot to mention that FBC’s architects are St. Louis Design Alliance which has offices on the Delmar Loop near the MetroLink stop.

 

Rumor: St. Aloysius Demolition to Start This Week

stal_01.jpgSadly, it sounds like demolition of the lovely St. Aloysius Gonzaga will begin later this week. I don’t have any details but I’ve heard rumors that someone was in talks to buy the property as-is from the current developer but a deal never materialized. I have been unable to confirm this information.

This unique setting is to be replaced by 25 ordinary homes as part of a development called Magnolia Square.

Just how spectacular will the view from Magnolia be next week? From all over the neighborhood one can see great views of the steeple. I have a feeling that many of the people that didn’t think this would be a big loss will wake up one day and realize they’ve lost a great view.



… Continue Reading

 

Preservation Board to Orchard: Move Those Meters!

The Preservation Board had many agenda items on their plate last night. The following is a run down of each item and how they voted. If you want to know about the Lafayette Square gas meter issue scroll down, it is the last item.


The first item up for review was approval of an encroachment on the public right of way for a sculpture along the riverfront (agenda item A). The sculpture titled, The Captains’ Return, depicts the “arrival of Captains Lewis and Clark and their dog Searnan, at the St. Louis Levee after the completion of the ‘Corps of Discovery’ expedition of 1804-1806. The idea is to have the sculpture installed by September 23, the date in which Lewis & Clark returned from their expedition.

Two guys off on a journey with their dog, how very Brokeback Mountain. The Preservation Board unanimously approved the temporary encroachment with conditions as noted in the agenda.


Next up was an encroachment at 2028 Lafayette Avenue, a new gazebo/pergola in Lafayette Park. This structure would be attached to the west side of the Park House and visible from Lafayette near Mississippi. From the staff report:

Staff has worked with the designer of the proejct to make the pergola smaller in scale and more compatible with the adjacent historic Park House. The columns on the pergola are still too neo-classical and should be simplified, and the cupola on the roof is still too tall and ornate for the period.

The Preservation Board approved the encroachment with conditions as noted in the agenda.


In an attempt to dress up one of our many new parking garages a piece of public art, entitled Walking Figure, is proposed for the corner of Olive & 7th. The sculpture is owned by the Gateway Foundation. Rollin Stanley testified about how great our sidewalks are but that we need more public sculpture — I agree on both accounts. He also said the sculpture is not liked by all, but that is what makes good public art. Anything to take your eye off the wheel cover motif on the parkign garage is a good thing in my book! The Preservation Board approved the encroachment

A very vocal resident spoke passionately against this sculpture, saying “this is a scheme, who is getting the tax write-off?” He indicated this sculpture has been shopped around quite a bit with the last location where the sculpture was placed was in Europe, but “nobody wants it.” Speaking of the artist, this resident said “he can’t draw, he can’t sculpt.” The Preservation Board approved the public encroachment by a vote of 4-2.


The St. Louis Zoo is proposing a plaza & prominent sculpture (Animals Always) at the corner of Wells and Concourse Drive (basically the entrance from Hampton). HNTB is the engineering firm on the project. This will not be a new pedestrian entrance to the zoo so I am a little confused who will actually use the plaza. The sculpture looks pretty cool, it is made of core-ten steel which will intentionally rust. PB member Luis Porrello abstained from the vote since he works for HNTB. One interesting note, when the I-64 project is done this intersection will become a roundabout. The Preservation Board approved the encroachment with one abstention.


Fourth Ward Alderman O.L. Shelton requested the city expand the boundaries of The Ville local historic district, including the historic design standards. The process to research and recommend the approval was about a two year process. The Ville is the only historic district that currently doesn’t qualify for tax credits. This was due to the fact the that when the district was first approved in the late 80s it was thought nationally that districts of varied architecture shouldn’t qualify. Cultural Resources director Kathleen Shea indicated expanding the boundaries should help qualify the area for tax credits.

A couple of residents spoke in favor of the expanded district, including one woman that rehabs properties in the area. She indicated she has lived in The Ville since 1964. PB member Richard Callow moved that the board approve the petition to expand the district, request staff to prepare legislation to submit to the board of aldermen and that one member of the PB speak at the public hearing in favor of the bill.

The Preservation Board unanimously approved the motion.


Another district was up for discussion, this was an expansion of the Benton Park local historic district. A number of residents were present to speak in favor of the expansion although a couple left early because at this point we are already two and a half hours into the meeting. Preservation Board Chair Tim Mulligan recused himself as he lives in the area to be affected.

Todd Brandt,VP of the Benton Park Neighborhood Association, spoke in favor of the expanded boundaries. He mentioned renovated and newly constructed homes that are of questionable aesthetics. They are seeking some control to protect the value of the neighborhood. Some examples shown by the staff in their report

A number of residents spoke in opposition to the expanded district. One has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years (since birth). She was very passionate in her testimony. Her basic concern was the standards would force out low income residents such as herself.

This is a common problem where you are trying to get design standards implemented. She said people “try to make their properties presentable.” My view is often it is the people trying to “make improvements” that end up spending lots of money destroying the historic character of their homes. The Preservation Board unanimously approved the petition to expand the boundaries. Like The Ville previously, this goes next to the Board of Aldermen.

As an aside, I plan to look at some of the recent rehabs and new construction in the near future.


It is now three and a half ours into the meeting and the next issue is a proposed new home at 1419 Dolman in the Lafayette Square Local Historic District. Staff had issues with a few items in the design such as the building width and some window placement. The foundation material was unknown.

The applicant indicated a willingness to address concerns of the Preservation Board and the neighborhood. The building is on the Lafayette Square agenda for March 7, 2006. The Board gave preliminary approval.


A very interesting project was next on the agenda. The applicant is seeking to purchase a city-owned property that is a serious state of deterioration. The building is a short two-story structure with not much left. The applicant is seeking to add a third floor with a second empire mansard roof. The staff feels this building never had a third floor and it should not be added.

I see both arguments. A good question came up, do the remaining brick walls indicate brick pockets for a level third floor or a sloping roof? Nobody seemed to know. I’m torn on holding to what would have been built vs what makes sense today.

Discussion among board members centered on making sure the renovated structure “blended in.” But staff’s point is that it didn’t blend in when originally built and therefore we should not re-write history a hundred years later.

The Board gave preliminary approval as indicated in the agenda.


Must have food…


One of my favorite subjects began shortly after 8pm, replacement windows in a historic district without a permit. Basically the owner replaced a two wide double hung with some awning windows.

Time for this owner to go back to the window company that should have obtained the proper permits because the board denied approval of the non-conforming replacement windows already installed.


A new in-fill project is Soulard looked good but had a couple of small issues with the staff. The biggest issue was a request for a new curb cut on the side street. This odd site only has 14 ft along the alley.

Board approved the project with two conditions, one being that the project have a “Baltimore Chimney” on the south elevation as indicated on the north elevation. The other is that it not have the curb cut.


Another Soulard project is the expansion of Molly’s at 816 Geyer. The board approved the project with the condition the east elevation either be all brick or have windows.

This project has additions to two sides of an existing structure. It is intended to give the appearance of several buildings. However, the new facades do not have any front doors, either useable or fixed for appearance sake.


More new construction, this time in Lafayette Square. Staff had no major issues with the design. However, the neighborhood spoke against the project simply on the basis that neither the architect or owner submitted their proposal to the neighborhood.

The board gave preliminary approval.


Starving…


And finally, the gas meters in front issue!!!! Take a look at the last item on the agenda (linked above) for more info and photos. The project, called Lafayette Walk, includes 37 units in a total of six buildings. Building #1 is the first built, located at the corner of Mississippi and Chouteau. Building #2, not yet built, will be the other one facing Mississippi.

This item took a lot of time and I’m not going to go through all the points. Here are the highlights:

  • Staff indicated the issue of utilities has never come up before but will require utility locations on future drawings. Laclede Gas would not return their calls. Front doors & transoms are possibly not as indicated on final approved drawings but it is hard to tell because the drawings were photo reduced.
  • Developer admitted they could have done a better job in working with utility companies to locate the utilities. Sought to create a compromise by modifying the front stairs to help hide the electric meters. Gas meters, while still located in front, would be lowered and the pipe into the house would go through the foundation wall and not the more visible brick wall. They indicated they would have the electric installed on the side of the buildings on those not yet constructed. I felt the developer made a very professional presentation and took appropriate blame.
  • Discussion and debate from staff, the board members, developer and area residents focused on the electric and natural gas utility companies, AmerenUE and Laclede Gas, respectively. Mary One Johnson kept harping on “the law” requiring utilities in front even though that is most likely not the case. Building codes will indicate what cannot be done such as running utilities through units but otherwise it often comes down to what the local utility company is willing to do. Based on my experience this can come down to who you talk to from the utility, how you ask them, how insistent you are about a better solution and finally it often comes back to money in the form of paying additional fees to get the best look. Staff admitted they are not aware of all the rules regarding utility requirements but in their defense I’ve known utilities to make up frequent new rules.
  • About four Lafayette Square residents spoke on the issue. They were adamant the situation be corrected, not just allowed to remain. They were organized and concise. Basically they said the neighborhoods design standard (which are a city ordinance) should be strictly enforced. They also asked that city building inspectors be aware of historic standards and not approve mechanical work such as these utilities that do not comply with historic standards. The neighborhood indicated a willingness to look at compromises.
  • One of the best points made by the neighborhood regarding the developers, “they are big boys, this is what they do for a living.” Ouch. Sadly I think this is a valid point. They indicated the developer screwed up and therefore they should be required to correct the mistakes, regardless of cost.
  • Density came up as an issue with this project. The neighborhood said a number of times, “too much in too small a space.” Well, yes and no. I don’t think 37 units on that site is too many, it just depends upon how you arrange the units. In this case they went for two-story row houses and as a result you’ve got some narrow alleys and many units face a pedestrian walkway rather than a public street. A mixed-use plan with a 3-4 story corner building would have allowed for as many units (maybe more) without the feeling of being a bunch of row houses wedged into the space. Remember, density is not the issue. We need density and lots of it. It just has to be done right.
  • “Forgiveness should not be easy,” said one resident. Well, it was not. The Preservation Board took the most strict route they could. Anthony Robinson, an architect, moved they require all utilities (including those already installed on building #1) to be relocated to a semi-public facade. This sets up a conflict between the city, developer and utilities. Perhaps if Laclede Gas wants to serve this site they’ll now have to return a few phone calls.
  • The other piece of the picture was the front doors to the units. They were thought to be too short (standard 6ft 8 in) rather than a better proportioned 7ft tall. The transoms over the doors were also thought to be out of proportion to what is acceptable for the standards. The motion also requires the developer to change the doors and transoms, even on the completed units.
  • A stop work order was discussed but I’m not quite clear if they are allowed to proceed or not.
  • Interestingly the grand open house for Lafayette Walk is Thursday 3/1/06 from 4pm to 8pm.

  • The meeting concluded at 10:25pm. This is way too long. As the amount of development in the city continues to rise and as more and more historic districts are established something needs to give. A 3-minute policy may need to be implemented for all speakers or they may need to meet twice per month if they have many items to review.

    – Steve

     

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